Should the Boston School Committee be elected?

The night of Dec. 11 was cold and biting, but didn’t keep Boston’s residents from making their way to City Hall to attend a nearly three hour hearing, where people spoke of accountability, racial and class discrimination, and freedom when debating the governance structure of the Boston School Committee.

Two panels spoke in stark opposition to one another, with one contending that the school committee should continue to be appointed by the Mayor, and the other side arguing that the current system is undemocratic, and the school committee ought to be elected.

Boston Public Schools educate 56,000 students spread among 125 schools.

The governance structure of the Boston School Committee has very much divided Boston’s residents for decades.  In 1991, the House voted to transition Boston’s School Committee from a 13 member body elected by the residents to a seven member Mayor appointed body.

City Councilor At-Large, Annissa Essaibi-George, began the hearing by saying, “I know this can be a contentious topic, but most conversations that are important are.”  

The first panel to speak consisted of  former council member Lawrence Tecara and President of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau Sam Tyler.  

Both showed earnest and intense opposition to changing the appointment structure.  Tecara mentioned several times that the benefit of an appointed school committee would be that it would not impede on the day-to-day school system operations, as he contends the previous, elected system did.   

The Boston school system, according to Tescara, is far more complex than it’s fellow cities, and he thinks an appointed school committee allows it to function better.  

“The wonderful thing about the appointed committee is that they do not interfere in the day to day operation of the school system.”  

He continued with his fear of officials leaving the city if it were to divert back to an elected school committee.

“I believe, as do many others, that for us to return to placing names on the ballot for election to the school committee would result in extraordinary divisiveness and would make it less likely that superintendents…would stay in Boston.”

Tescara added that he believes many of those who used to run for Committee spots were doing with possible ulterior motives.  Because the position was elected, Tecara said, there were many opportunists running; those who would use the position as a stepping-stone as opposed to those wanting specific responsibility of the School Committee.

“There were many who ran only because there was an available office.  And whose interest in education was de minimis.”

Continuing with Tescara’s message, Tyler stated that “the primary benefit of the appointed committee is that it holds one person accountable for Boston schools’ performance; the mayor.  The fundamental flaw of the elected committee was that it did not ensure direct accountability.”

The second panel then took their seats. This panel included Chair of the Education Committee of the NAACP Boston Branch Jose Lopez who addressed the appointed versus elected argument in his opening remarks.

In his opening remarks, Lopez stated that he felt there were many who will not be thinking about the Boston Public Schools and the committee when voting for Mayor, effectively robbing them of their say in who sits on the school committee.  

After confirming that 26 percent of Boston’s children do not attend Boston Public Schools, Lopez said “We have to be careful to assume that everyone’s approaching the election of a Mayor with education at the top of their list.”  

Also on second panel was Director of Boston Education for Justice Alliance Ruby Reyes, who continued the panel’s argument by stating that the current system is undemocratic and only working for the rich, white residents of Boston.  

“Black Bostonian’s have a median net worth of eight dollars in comparison the median net worth of white Bostonians at $247,500.  It is the corporate elite that benefit from the harsh inequity in Boston. That, according to today’s Boston Globe, most supports an unelected, undemocratic school committee.”

NAACP Boston Branch President Tanisha Sullivan followed with a take that had not yet been raised in the hearing.  “I think what’s troubling to me most, is that in 2018 somehow democracy is like, this radical idea. Right? Like, we’re fighting for our right to vote for our representation?  To me that’s crazy and deeply disheartening.”

This bafflement was also reflected by former Boston School Committee member Jean McGuire who spoke after each panel was done. During her impassioned closing words, McGuire all children deserve a decent education, “and there is only one child in the world, and that child is all children.  Doesn’t matter their color, their size, their gender. They have to have an education to the best of our ability.”



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