Appointed, elected, or hybrid school panel?

This is the third article in a series showcasing the answers of 10 of the 12 Boston mayoral candidates to questions posed at forums in June and July hosted by CommonWealth, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, A Better City, and the Chiofaro Cos.

To read the full transcripts from the three forums in this series, click here: June 25th transcript | July 11th transcript | July 18th transcript

Since January of 1992, the Boston School Committee members have been appointed by the mayor. If you’re elected mayor, will you continue to support the appointed school committee or would you prefer returning to the electoral structure or a hybrid mix of elected and appointed members?

Eight candidates favored an appointed school committee, although John Connolly expressed some reservations. Charles Yancey supported an elected committee and Felix Arroyo favored a hybrid committee with elected and appointed members.

Favor the appointed committee

John Barros: “More than anybody else’s base up here, I should be saying elected. But I believe it should be appointed. It needs to be an appointed school committee. However, Mr. [Michael] Ross, there are members of the school committee who are not rubber stamp members and are actually bold leaders with bold ideas. The process is flawed. We cannot have a school committee that’s a closed-source conversation. Look what happened when we opened the conversation around school assignment, put out data, put out information, engaged more people in the community, brought families and parents in, and had them help solve solutions with us. We got a really innovative idea for school assignment, and that’s what we need to do on the school committee. We need to make it more participatory. People are calling for an elected or a hybrid school committee because it’s not working for them. As public officials, as the leader of the city, I would listen to that, create subcommittees, ways to engage, put out information so people can help us problem solve together. Parents can’t feel like they’re looking inside to the system that is teaching their children. They have to feel like they have a voice. We need to make it a more participatory, open process.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley: “I am in favor of retaining an appointed school committee. I think that anyone who is serious about ed reform cannot seriously consider going back to an elected school committee. [When] I was a young boy, I knew where we were when we had an elected school committee. If you want true education reform in this city, we need to have an appointed school committee and the mayor needs to be held accountable. Mike [Ross] referred to polls. If we believe the Suffolk and Herald poll (which reported that 64 percent of those polled favor an elected committee], I just made a very dumb statement, right? That’s not what I’m about as a candidate. That’s not what I’m about as a public servant or a professional. This is very important. The next mayor has the opportunity to be a transformative mayor with regard to urban education. And this school committee needs to remain an appointed school committee so the mayor is held accountable and responsible.”

City Councilor John Connolly: “This may be the one issue in education where I’m undecided. I’ve been having a real debate internally about where to go with this. I must say I lean toward keeping the appointed school committee. Let me tell you why I don’t think it’s not the easiest issue in the world. What we really want, whether it’s elected or appointed, is a school committee that should be independent, demand transparency, and push the superintendent and the mayor to do the absolutely best that they can with the schools. My worry on the elected is that we’re going to have the union come in and spend a lot of money to elect members and we’re going to have other special interest groups come in and spend a lot of money to elect members. So it’s just going to be beholden to an agenda that puts something other than our children first. My concern with the appointed is that I’ve watched it in action in my six years on the City Council and it’s a rubber stamp for the mayor. No real critical element. No real ability to demand that we do better. No real ability to stand up and say no when you get a teacher’s contract that doesn’t add a minute on to one of the shortest school days in the country. And doesn’t press to make sure we’ve got an achievement gap plan in place. So I lean toward keeping it as an appointed because I don’t want to see those special interests come in.”

City Councilor Rob Consalvo: “Look, this is a personal issue for me. I’m the only one on this stage that has kids in the Boston Public Schools. I’m proud that we chose the BPS. And I’m proud that I’m investing my three children’s future in public education in the Boston Public Schools preparing my kids for a future in high school and college. So I think we should keep the appointed school committee. My dad was executive secretary of the school committee during the Flynn administration. He told me the stories of how it operated then…. We need to keep the politics out of the school system. We need to make sure we’re appointing the best and the brightest to the school committee. That means we need to think outside the box with folks who may want to have a role in public education in our city, people who may be nontraditional, people who may not be in the education field. We need to also engage the citizens in the neighborhoods and the parents of children in the Boston public school to have a real voice on the next school committee.”

Charlotte Richie: “I have been scratching my head to come up with some wonderful, positive memories that stem from our experience having an elected school committee and frankly I cannot come up with one. However, I’m going to say that, and I’m on the record having supported the appointed school committee back in 1994/1995, it was soon after I was elected a state rep, and this came up as a ballot question, and I was one of very few elected officials that said lets give the appointed school committee a try. So now we have had an appointed school committee for almost 20 years. It is not perfect. I just want to say this, very quickly, the issue that is of concern to communities is that with an appointed school committee we do not get the give and take and the exchange and we don’t get the information and we have got to work on that.”

Councilor Mike Ross: “Appointed, but I will not appoint a rubber stamp. There’s been a lot of talk by a lot of the candidates about going hybrid, going elected. I read polls also. I’m not trying to be cute here. I think the appointed school committee has served our city well. It has. Statistically, it has served our city well. Our schools have a long way to go, but are better than they’ve been these last 20 years under this appointed school committee. What I mentioned about the rubber stamp is also important. We need bold visionary leaders who are on the school committee and that means, sometimes, pushing back. I think the next mark of this mayor will be how much he or she is willing to hire the best and brightest and then allow them to do their job. That’s what we need if we’re going to bring this city to the next level.”

Bill Walczak: “I’m going to be 59 years old, so I have a long history of remembering what the elected school committee was like. I remember the indictments; I remember wondering why people would run for an office that paid nothing. It was so difficult to think of that. Now we had great school committee members in those days but we also had a lot of instability because of the [undecipherable] of going from one election to the next election. And as a result it was a destabilized system where we went through a lot of school superintendents over short periods of time. The appointed committee allowed us to go to more stability, stability of having direction and not having the elections interfere with things. So as a result we’ve had longer term superintendents who have been able to achieve a great deal of success in improving the schools. As a result, I support keeping the appointed school committee.”

Rep. Martin Walsh: “I am for the appointed school committee. I think the appointed school committee can work and I think we can make it stronger. The people of this city of Boston voted twice for an appointed school committee and they overwhelming voted for an appointed school committee. That’s a statement in and of itself. Secondly, I think we want to keep elected politics out of education. I say that, and John touched upon it briefly, about having people who run for this seat not to better our schools but as a launching pad for their own careers. That’s the biggest concern I have if we go back to an elected school committee. Third, I think there’s an opportunity here for the new mayor. Look to the school committee and the way it’s made up and restructure the school committee so that every community, every zone that’s out there today, will have an opportunity to have representation.”

Favor an elected school committee

City Councilor Charles Yancey: “I challenge Sam Tyler [of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau] and those here who support the appointed school committee to explain to me why, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with 351 cities and towns, only one has an appointed school committee. I challenge those advocates of an appointed school committee to explain why, in spite of that, other communities in Massachusetts can elect their school committee members. Sam Tyler goes back to his community and he votes for his school committee. Are the people in Boston less able to discern what education leaders should be?…We must keep our eye on the prize and fight for quality education whether it’s an elected body or appointed. I don’t believe that the appointed body has significantly improved the quality of the Boston schools. We’ve made progress in a number of areas but we have serious challenges today.”

Meet the Author
Favor hybrid school committee

City Councilor Felix Arroyo: “My family’s first introduction to politics was my father running for the elected school committee. And later he got on the school committee as an appointed member, and served two terms, eight years on the school committee. I still support and do support a hybrid option, where four of the members would be appointed and three of the members would be elected. What I think a hybrid option brings is it allows the appointed process for folks to be thoroughly vetted around their credentials on education and what their plans are for our schools. But the elected option allows for direct parent accountability. By creating a hybrid, I believe you can create a very serious body that will work on the issues but still have a connection with our neighborhoods, still have a connection with the parents in our schools. So that is why I would support a hybrid option.”