Riley recommends Boston be designated ‘underperforming’

At impasse with Wu, state assumes bigger role but not receivership


ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY  Education Commissioner Jeff Riley on Tuesday will recommend that Boston Public Schools be designated an “underperforming district,” a move that stops short of seeking receivership but would allow some additional state oversight.

In a memo to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which will vote on the recommendation, Riley wrote that state and local officials were unable to come to agreement on a possible systemic improvement plan for BPS after more than a month of talks.

A scathing May state report found that the district continues to fall short of an “acceptable minimum standard” in several critical areas, including transportation and special education, turning up the temperature in the debate over possible receivership and the future of BPS.

Mayor Michelle Wu and other local officials have opposed the idea of state receivership.

“I am confident that Mayor Wu and I share the same belief: that BPS needs bold, student-centered decision-making and strong execution to ensure the district delivers the quality education its students deserve,” Riley wrote in his Friday morning memo.

He said his team and Wu’s exchanged drafts of a plan and had “collaborative, productive discussions” but were unable to reach consensus on steps to track the accuracy and transparency of the district’s reporting of its progress. Riley said his department wanted to hire and oversee an independent data auditor while the city and BPS wanted to hire their own, a move he said would be insufficient “as numerous such audits have not prevented ongoing inaccuracies with data.”

Under Riley’s recommendation, if it is approved by board members, Boston would be designated an underperforming district starting July 1, next Friday.

Unlike receivership, the local school committee and superintendent would still run the district, but the status would allow Riley to appoint “an assistance lead, an accountability monitor, and an individual or team to conduct monitoring site visits to the district.” Boston would also have to submit — and receive state approval on — an improvement plan.

After the education department approves an improvement plan, Riley said it would make “significant funds” — up to $10 million over three years — available to support BPS in its efforts.

Tuesday’s vote would “not foreclose other interventions, such as receivership, in the future, if BPS does not correct the serious deficiencies identified in the Follow-Up District Review Report,” Riley wrote in his memo.

Meet the Author

Katie Lannan

State House News Service
The board meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Malden offices, and its meeting will be livestreamed.

Boston, the state’s largest school district, is in the final stages of a search for its next superintendent, with a vote to select a candidate from two finalists — Somerville superintendent Mary Skipper and Tommy Welch, Boston’s region 1 superintendent — scheduled for a Wednesday school committee meeting.

“Now is the time to build on the progress of the past three years, lay a foundation for systemic change while we also onboard our next superintendent,” Wu told the state education board in late May. “We feel tremendous urgency doing this work, and we ask DESE to commit your expertise and resources to support our work in making the lasting improvements our students deserve.”