Bring back Boston’s elected school committee

It's time to end the failed 30-year experiment with an appointed board

SINCE 1991, Boston has been the only one of the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts without an elected school committee. In 2021, Boston voters sent a resounding message that the 30-year experiment is over when they overwhelmingly voted in favor of a non-binding referendum to return to an elected school body.

Even the most optimistic proponent could not have imagined that this question would mark the first time in Boston’s storied political history where a ballot question would win in every ward and precinct encompassing the city’s sprawling, diverse citizenry. Boston voters said loud and clear, bring back an elected school committee.

As a lifelong Boston resident, I have lived through it all. I was a student of busing. I am a mother, who like all others, struggled to find a world-class educational experience for my children. As a student of Boston politics, I watched the turmoil, disruptive school committee meetings, and racial strife as the educational interests of Boston’s children got sidelined. Ironically, I believed that BPS was just beginning to settle down in 1990 with the addition of the late John D. O’Bryant, Juanita Wade and Dr. Jean McGuire to the elected school committee.

The Boston School Committee actually began to look representative of the children who attended BPS. Clearly, what excited me obviously concerned others. At the very time Black and Latino officials began winning election to the school committee, others thought it better not to have Boston voters elect its members.

Mayor Flynn moved in 1991 to secure the support of the Boston City Council, the Legislature, and governor to move to an appointed body, and with that, the forward progress was over. They were sold on the argument that appointing the committee would bring calm, stability, a focus on student achievement, while placing accountability in one person, the city’s mayor.

Instead, the Boston Public Schools have existed in a constant state of turmoil, widening racial achievement gaps, turnover in district leadership, dilapidated buildings, low teacher morale, decreased parent and community engagement. The situation culminated last year in a near state-takeover that would have put the district in receivership. It’s time to move on from the 30-year failed experiment.

I learned the importance and value of meaningful protest and activism, and felt absolute pride in what I had learned, which became the foundation of my life’s work to grow our community’s political empowerment and strengthen our democracy. While we rightfully celebrate the political advancements achieved in Boston in 2021, with the most diverse City Council in history, the reality is that the 1991 elected Boston School Committee was a forerunner, with as many elected members of color 30 years ago.

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The Boston City Council is expected to get a home rule petition to return to an elected school committee on the mayor’s desk shortly. Mayor Wu must sign and forward it to the Legislature without delay. To do anything less would amount to a blatant disregard of Boston’s voters. Change cannot wait any longer.

Mukiya Baker-Gomez is lifelong Boston resident and veteran political organizer and campaign manager.