Parents, BPS Officials Discuss School Choice at Local Forum

October 18, 2012
By

City Councillor Sal laMattina and Lindy Williamson look over the school map at Saturday’s Community Meeting on school choice.

The last local community meeting on the proposed changes to the school busing plan was held at Charlestown High School on Saturday morning.  More than 60 parents, elected government officials, and Boston Public School (BPS) officials attended the meeting at which the various options for school busing were presented, as well as the goal of the BPS was described to elevate the quality of all schools throughout the city so that any neighborhood school would provide a quality education.  Presently, the Warren Prescott School and the Harvard Kent School, both in Charlestown, and the Elliot School in the North End are highly sought by students throughout the city due to the great teachers and leaders at these schools.

The three zone school assignment currently in place was implemented more than 20 years ago and has the city schools divided into three zones.  School children can attend any school in the city. However, as a result, the busing component of the currrent school budget costs more than $80 million per year and on average a student has to travel more than one-half miles.

“Getting your feedback is important to us,” Carleton Jones, Executive Director, Capital and Facilities Management at BPS, told the parents.  “We have heard from more than 2,300 families and students on the proposed options,” he added.

Jones pointed to the fact that 14 K-8 schools that had been targeted by BPS officials were in need of quality improvement have been addressed and now these schools are among the top performing schools in the state.  He also said that there are 21 additional elementary, middle and K-8 schools that have now been targeted and are going to be put on the same track.

Another BPS official Dr. Ross Wilson, Assistant Superintendent, of Teacher and Leadership Effectiveness, and a Charlestown resident with three sons said, “no matter what plan is awarded, a quality school will be there for the BPS students.”

There were four new zone plans discussed at the meeting. Two plans while different in the number of entire city zones are essentially the same for Charlestown parents.

The first option called the 6 Zone Option divides the entire city into six school zones; and the other option called the 9 Zone Option that would divide the cityinto nine zones. In both options Charlestown, East Boston and the North End would be in the same zone.  The travel distance for students would still be more than 1.25 miles .

In the third and fourth option called 11 Zone Option and 23 Zone Option Charleston and North End would be in one zone without East Boston and this gives parents options closer to their homes as opposed to the 6 Zone or 9 Zone where Charlestown students possibly could be bused to East Boston.

After the general presentation, there were two focus group sessions at which parents were able to ask specific questions. “East Boston lies across a cold and deep Harbor,” one parent told BPS officials.

Jenn Herlihy asked if there were enough seats at the Kent and Warren schools to accommodate all Charlestown students.  Carleton said that he did not remember this as being a problem at the present level.  However, one parent pointed out that there are 56,000 students in the BPS system, but there are an additional 18,000 students that attend private schools.  She queried  “what would be the impact on these zones if more of these private students attended the public schools?”

Another parent said that she loved the city and Charlestown, but now that her daughters are nearing kindergarten age, she is considering that if they cannot go to the Kent or Warren, she would have to move out of the city.

“We are losing choices in these options,” Lynne Soutter said. “The Hurley is no longer an option as well as the Josiah Quincy.  East Boston was not on my list.  Certainity (of school placement) is more important,” she added.

Carleton again emphasized that placement at one of the neighborhood schools was not guaranteed but he did not recall this as being a problem for Charlestown students. While the issue of the possible savings in bussing was discussed, BPS officials said that short term cost would increase under all the options and that $40M will always be needed for special needs students.

There were several more community meetings planned in various neighborhoods this week.  After the meetings, the several options would go back to the various committees and the School Committee would make the final determination in January.  For more information, BPS officials urged residents to go to www.bostonschoolchoice.org.