Riley forcing a reckoning on Boston schools
THE BOSTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS are a mess, but it’s not clear what will or should be done about it.
That’s the situation as the district approaches a moment of reckoning with state education officials, who have completed the second comprehensive review of the district in two years and are now contemplating what steps to take, including a possible move to put the district into state receivership.
In March 2020, a state review painted a dire picture of the school district. It pointed to a huge swath of schools performing in the bottom 10 percent statewide, special education services “in systemic disarray,” and persistent problems delivering instruction to English language learners, a problem that had the district under federal oversight. Based on the harsh report, the state and city struck a “memorandum of understanding” that outlined a number of areas to be worked on. State Education Commissioner Jeff Riley stopped short of recommending receivership for the district, but seemed to leave that door open, noting that such a move “could be applied here given these vast and persistent challenges.”
Fast forward two years and the fact that the district is now the focus of another comprehensive state review is entirely a matter of Riley’s doing. Nothing forced his hand to announce two months ago that the state would again conduct such a probe. That’s why the talk of receivership has taken on a fever pitch. It’s hard to imagine that Riley ordered a new review in order to then do nothing with it.
But what he will recommend, say lots of those who have been part of conversations in recent days, remains “fluid.” The new report is done and has been shared with city officials. The issue of what to do with the Boston schools is likely to be discussed at next week’s state board of education meeting.
In the interval since the 2020 review, accuracy of the district’s reporting on graduation rates has been called into question, explosive revelations about bullying and sexual abuse by students at the Mission Hill K-8 School have raised new questions about systemic breakdowns in oversight of schools, and yet another superintendent is heading for the door in what’s becoming a revolving door of district leadership.
Mayor Michelle Wu has argued forcefully against the idea of state receivership. She has spoken generally of continuing to “partner” with the state to drive improvements. What’s unclear is whether she and Riley will come to agreement on further steps the district must take and added oversight the state will exercise, or he looks instead to the unprecedented move of seizing control of the state’s largest school district.
“Honestly, I don’t know what the right way forward is,” said Roxann Harvey, chair of the Boston Special Education Advisory Group. When it comes to the possibility of state receivership, she said her group has members who fall on both sides. “One thing I think we all agree with,” Harvey said, “is things like the denial of special education services systematically at the Mission Hill school – we don’t think these are isolated issues. Special education needs significant change to start to service all our students.”
Mary Tamer, state director of Democrats for Education Reform, said it’s one thing for Wu and other city leaders to oppose receivership. She said they haven’t clearly laid out what the alternative path looks like.
“I have heard Mayor Wu and some city councilors speak out against receivership,” said Tamer, a former Boston school committee member. “Then what is their plan to rectify this organizational dysfunction that is failing tens of thousands of kids in the city of Boston?”
Paul Reville, the former state education secretary who helped craft the 2010 law allowing state takeover of districts, said in an interview on Tuesday that receivership would be the wrong move for Boston. He questioned the state’s capacity to run the district and pointed to the limited success the state has had with takeovers beyond some positive results in Lawrence – where Riley himself served as the first receiver.
When the state and the district announced the 2020 MOU, Riley said, “We’re deviating from the old playbook, trying to create something new to get good results for kids.” Two years later, Riley seems to have concluded there is a need for a new play. What it will look like is now the question.
Cost-cutting proposal: Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest hospital system and private employer, submits a plan to the Health Policy Commission that pledges to cut costs by $70 million, with the bulk of savings coming from reductions in outpatient charges.
– The Health Policy Commission required the performance improvement plan as part of an effort to bring the hospital system’s spending growth in line with the state’s cost growth benchmark. Mass General Brigham is the first hospital system to go through the process, and the next step is a commission review of the plan.
– Critics of Mass General Brigham are questioning whether the plan provides real savings and whether the savings are sufficient. They note $70 million is a tiny fraction of the hospital system’s roughly $12 billion in patient revenue. Read more.
Prison moratorium: House leadership is backing a bond bill provision that would impose a five-year moratorium on new prison construction. Inmate levels are declining, not increasing, so there is not much momentum for adding prison space right now but there is interest in replacing or renovating the badly deteriorated Framingham prison for women. Backers of the provision say replacing the prison would only extend a cycle of incarceration when the focus should be on rehabilitation and treatment. Read more.
SJC backs Hodgson: The Supreme Judicial Court rules Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson can keep collecting commissions on prison inmate phone calls. Read more.
Next steps: Abortion rights activists Rebecca Hart Holder, Carol Rose, and Jennifer Childs-Roshak outlines the next steps Massachusetts must take to make abortions more accessible if Roe v Wade is overturned. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
A special commission votes unanimously to replace the state’s seal and motto. (GBH)
A panel tasked with figuring out how to plug a hole in the state fund that pays for unemployment benefits deadlocks on recommendations. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Gov. Charlie Baker cancels two public events because of illness, but tests negative for COVID-19. (MassLive)
US Attorney Rachael Rollins has opened an investigation into whether the city of Quincy has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act through its opposition to rebuilding the bridge to Long Island, where Boston housed a campus for addiction treatment. (Boston Herald)
A report finds that the city of Beverly’s overwhelmingly white staff – in city government and schools – does not reflect the population’s growing diversity and creates barriers to providing programs for people of color. (Salem News)
A year after Polar Park opened in Worcester, neighbors say their biggest concerns are issues with traffic, parking, and homeless people. (Telegram & Gazette)
The South Hadley Board of Registrars resigns en masse as the town clerk retires. (MassLive)
Springfield bans commercial pet sales. (MassLive)
The Swampscott Select Board votes to acquire several parcels of land to add open space in the community. (Daily Item)
State Sen. Adam Gomez is recovering after a five-day hospital stay due to COVID-related complications. (MassLive)
The Justice Department sues Steve Wynn, the longtime casino mogul, for failing to register as a lobbyist for China. Wynn’s lawyers denied the charges. (Associated Press)
The chair of the Rockport Democratic Town Committee, D. Nathaniel Mulcahy, is mounting a primary challenge against Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante. (Gloucester Daily Times)
The race for auditor shapes up with three candidates – Anthony Amore, Diana DiZoglio, and Chris Dempsey – qualifying for the ballot. (Eagle-Tribune)
Attorney general hopeful Andrea Campbell becomes the first Black woman to get the 10,000 signatures needed to run for statewide office. (MassLive)
Workers at Trader Joe’s begin fighting for unionization, starting with a store in Hadley. (Associated Press)
Some restaurants are tacking new fees onto customers’ bills to address rising costs related to COVID-related supply chain issues, price increases for ingredients and gas, and the rising cost of living. (Patriot Ledger)
The engine growl in some of America’s best selling cars and trucks is fake. (Washington Post)
The Boston Public Schools get a new communications team, headed by Elizabeth Warren alum Gabrielle Farrell, one the Boston Herald says it hopes is more communicative than past press flaks, who the paper says routinely didn’t respond to their inquiries. (Boston Herald)
Immigrants without legal status begin getting their documents from their homeland in anticipation of legislation that would let them obtain drivers licenses. (Standard-Times)
CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTSHolyoke City Councilor Wilmer Puello-Mota is facing child pornography charges in Rhode Island and is accused of deceiving prosecutors and his commander in the Air National Guard in an attempt to keep his job as a military security forces officer. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden says he will complete investigations, and make any charges he deems appropriate, in nine deadly force encounters involving police in Boston, Revere, and Chelsea dating back to 2017. (Boston Globe)