Marty’s moment of reckoning

When all the snow has melted and the debates are done about space-saver policies and how well — or poorly — the city did at digging out from under it all, we’ll realize that Marty Walsh’s real moment of wintertime reckoning came with his selection of new superintendent to lead the 57,000-student Boston Public Schools. The Boston School Committee is scheduled to vote on the pick tomorrow night. No one has exactly spelled out how all the behind-the-scenes conversations have taken place, but the mayor-appointed board will be ratifying in public a decision Walsh has essentially made in private.

Scrutiny of the candidates and public exploration of their records and views has been in fairly short supply since the four finalists were announced less than two weeks ago. That is a shame, because this is by far the most important personnel pick Boston’s mayor will make, with Walsh’s choice having a far more sweeping effect on the lives of thousands of Boston residents than his picks for police or fire commissioner, or any other top city post.

Sunday’s Globe had brief profiles of the four finalists: Dana Bedden, Tommy Chang, Guadalupe Guerrero, Pedro Martinez. WBUR’s Delores Handy also profiles them. And Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin had write-ups on each of the candidate’s showing at the day-long set of public interviews they had in Boston last week.

Everyone around town seems to have an idea of who is in the lead, who may be out of the running, and what factors are shaping Walsh’s decision. Some of the speculation may be on the mark, or it may be that nobody actually knows anything.

It would be unfortunate if identity-politics was the deciding factor, but there has been talk that Walsh wanted a Hispanic superintendent. As it is, two of the finalists are Hispanic, one is black, and one is Asian-American.

Former state education secretary Paul Reville, appearing last week on WGBH radio, was critical of the whole selection process, saying the decision to insist that finalists go through a round of public appearances meant the city lost out on potential top-shelf picks who were unwilling to have current employers know they were in the hunt. WGBH’s Peter Kadzis picked up on that theme, and added some further thoughts about the so-called “circus” or “arena” approach to making the selection.

On Saturday, the Globe weighed in with an editorial saying, after a private phase of the search process that went on for months, the public vetting of the choices ought to be given more than the handful of days City Hall has allotted. The paper suggested giving the public process at least a month.

There is no indication that city leaders will be heeding that call. They may, however, be minding the one opinion the paper proffered on the individual candidates: that Guerrero is not the right guy for the job. He was principal of a Boston school from 2002 to 2008 that struggled mightily with student achievement, winding up two years ago in state receivership because of its woeful performance. It “would surely send the wrong message to make him superintendent,” said the editorial.

Meanwhile, a few observers have detected a bit too much swagger in last week’s presentation by Martinez, who seemed to suggest he wanted to help the district regain the national luster it had somehow lost. “This is an interesting strategy for someone hoping to lead a system,” wrote Kevin Murray, a Boston public school father, on his education-focused blog Parent Imperfect.

If the choice, then, comes down to Bedden versus Chang, they offer very different profiles and seem poised to lead the district in very different ways.

Bedden, the current superintendent in Richmond, Virginia, has held a succession of leadership jobs in various districts. He seems cut from the same mold as many urban superintendents, moving up the ladder to a bigger district every few years, leaving enough of a mark in each job to point to some sort of positive impact, but not exactly a change-agent who looks to upset the status quo.

At one point in last week’s interviews, Bedden said he was “okay with” giving individual schools more autonomy, as long as they were accountable for their results. It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the move toward greater school-based autonomy that Boston has been following. But Bedden’s steady hand has its fans.

Chang, superintendent of the Intensive Support and Innovation Center in the Los Angeles school district, where he oversees a group of more than 130 low-performing and pilot schools, is seen as more willing to shake things up. He has worked in both the charter school and district school sectors, and is a big believer in giving individual schools more leeway to experiment and giving school leaders more authority over teacher hiring.

In those ways, Chang seems to fit with the direction the Boston system has been heading. There has been a conscious effort here to break down the wall — and the accompanying acrimony — between the city’s charter and district schools,beginning with a 2011 compact struck between then-Mayor Tom Menino and charter school leaders. Meanwhile, Interim Superintendent John McDonough has quietly overseen something of a revolution in the district’s hiring policies that aligns closely with Chang’s approach.

Walsh has supported McDonough’s hiring reforms, and he spoke often during the 2013 campaign of his support for charter schools, pointing to his own service as a founding board member of a Dorchester charter. What direction he’ll now take, though, is unclear.

Maybe Guerrero and Martinez are still in the running. But if it has come down to Chang or Bedden, selecting Chang would clearly signal a willingness by Walsh to go bolder on school reform. Bedden seems a safer choice, more in the mold of the district’s last superintendent, Carol Johnson, or Tom Payzant before her.

–MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

In an embarrassing blow to Gov. Charlie Baker, his handpicked choice to helm a commission reviewing the troubled MBTA, Paul Barrett, quit after the Globe reported on a string of financial troubles he faces, including $200,000 in unpaid federal taxes.

The Baker administration will seek approval to offer early-retirement incentives to state employees, but says layoffs could be possible if such an incentive program does not do enough to trim state spending.

More than two-thirds of the $93,000 new state Treasurer Deb Goldberg raised for her inaugural celebration came from special interests that deal with her office.

Boston magazine comes up with “11 Things You Didn’t Know” about Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Swansea’s Board of Assessors disputed a charge by a town selectman that they are forcing agricultural landowners, who had exemptions that saved thousands of dollars, to sell their property to developers.

The board of directors of the Brockton 21st Century Corporation, funded by taxpayer money to spur economic development in the city, has hired a new executive director despite questions over his last two jobs.

The decision to move the top farm team of the Red Sox down the road to Providence is hitting hard in Pawtucket, the hardscrabble former mill town the team is leaving.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Republicans are beginning to worry that, if the Supreme Court goes against Obamacare, their 2016 prospects may diminish.

ELECTIONS

Meet the new and — in terms of what’s needed in a potential presidential candidate — improved Bernie Sanders, a warmer and more personable version of his former curmudgeonly self.

New Fall River Mayor Sam Sutter apparently likes and wants to keep his job, hiring three contracted consultants to work on his reelection campaign.

Middleboro officials are resisting shortening voting hours to save money in the upcoming town elections, which feature all uncontested races. Last year, when the town also had uncontested races, just 1.8 percent of voters turned out.

EDUCATION

Worcester and Shrewsbury officials tell lawmakers and other officials that the formula used to dole out state education aid is broken, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

An MIT freshman died early Sunday in an apparent suicide, the third such deathat the university this school year.

The Globe follows up on a mid-February CommonWealth story about Northeastern ponying up a portion of what it owed last year in in-lieu-of-tax payments to the city.

HEALTH CARE

Teen birth rates are at a historic low in Massachusetts, which officials say can be attributed to educating teens about safe sex and pregnancy prevention.

An NPR poll suggests poverty is a big factor influencing a person’s health.

A federal study determines there is an overuse of psychiatric drugs by older Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and recommends Medicare officials take action to stem unnecessary prescriptions.

TRANSPORTATION

US Rep. Stephen Lynch, in a sit-down with Keller@Large, says the MBTA’s application for federal emergency assistance could run into problems because reimbursement doesn’t apply to neglect or the failure to maintain a system.

MassDOT officials assured residents at a public meeting that the $2.2 billion South Coast Rail project is still on track despite the recent MBTA and commuter rail woes. Meanwhile, the MetroWest Daily News take is that the T “over-promises and under-delivers.

Speaking of transit expansion, a Globe editorial says it may be a fanciful pipe dream at this time of existing-infrastructure implosion, but the idea that a rail link connecting North Station and South Station could be feasible at some far-off point in time means current development decisions in downtown Boston should not preclude the possibility of such a subterranean passageway.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon has been battling for his proposed wind farm for 14 years, but he says he’s just begun to fight, CommonWealth reports.

Homeowners with federal flood insurance will see a spike in their premiums even higher than the anticipated 18 percent because of surcharges in the law.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

With opening statements scheduled for this week in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, various legal experts offer views on the pros and cons of his lawyers seeking a plea deal. Meanwhile, the family of one of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s friends, who was killed by FBI agents in an encounter in Florida weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, will file a $30 million wrongful death suit against the agency.

Gunmen fire shots into a home in Lowell, severely injuring a woman lying in bed. Others inside the home, including a baby, were left unharmed. Law enforcement officials are seeking to make it a crime just to fire shots into a house, the Sun reports.

The Baker administration will propose a modest boost in funding for a witness protection program that prosecutors say is a critical component of the effort to crack unsolved homicide cases, but the proposed budget bump falls far short of what prosecutors say is needed.

The New York Times reports a nearly completed Justice Department study will fault Ferguson, Missouri, police for engaging in racially motivated traffic stops of African-Americans for years that led up to the Michael Brown shooting last summer.

Probably not mother of the year: A Falmouth woman is facing charges after she allegedly sped off from a Wal-Mart with a stolen flat-screen TV with a car door ajar that led to her 5-year-old son spilling out of the vehicle.

MEDIA

The number of reporters covering state politics across the country keeps shrinking, but there are some reasons for optimism, Governing reports.

Rebekah Brooks, who was acquitted last year in connection with the phone hacking scandal in Britain, is returning to News Corp., the New York Times reports.

  • Bruce Kiernan

    It’s hard to evaluate what conclusion should be drawn from Mr. Guerrero’s time at the Dever. Even now, after so much has been learned the hard way, we’re not providing the support students deserve at many turnaround schools. Personally, I’d be surprised if the record showed that in 2002 Mr. Guerrero had the level of support needed, as we now understand it.

    But either way – it seems clear we’re once again illustrating the unfortunate lesson that anyone with career ambitions shouldn’t take on the toughest jobs in education, in our cities.