Councilor Edwards Calls on City, State to Wait on Schools MOU Work

Calling it tone-deaf to proceed on, Councilor Lydia Edwards is calling on the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and Boston Public Schools to put on hold the transformation work detailed in a recent state report and agreed to in a March 10 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

With all of Charlestown’s schools – including the Eliot K-8 in the North End – affected with new programming as part of the MOU, and the fact it was signed just days before COVID-19 closed the schools through May 4, Edwards said now is not the time to work out critical education decisions when families are in disarray.

“Most parents are trying to figure out how to pay rent or mortgages, how to feed their kids and deal with being home all the time or losing their jobs,” said Edwards. “This is not the time or space to begin talking about radical school re-design. Our schools right now are totally focused just on feeding kids and Supt. Cassellius has been doing a great job with that. To want to continue with this conversation on the MOU for BPS is inappropriate and tone-deaf in my opinion.”

A three-year MOU was signed on March 10 by DESE and BPS and it sets up a novel partnership involving commitments by both the district and state. In the MOU, BPS agrees to deliver measurable results on four priority initiatives drawn from the findings of the district review, and DESE agrees to support BPS on four complementary initiatives. Over the next three years, a major focus of the district will be on making measurable improvements in the 33 schools that face the most challenges in student achievement. Those schools will be defined as “transformation” schools. Boston Public Schools will also address student success in high school, programming for students with disabilities and English learners and transportation challenges, as outlined in Superintendent Brenda Cassellius’ recently released strategic plan. The strategic plan, along with the BPS budget proposal, aim to accelerate the district’s efforts to improve outcomes for students and close achievement gaps through intensive, targeted investments that will support students and educators, starting with those with the highest need.

In Charlestown and at the Eliot K-8, all of the schools are being proposed for placement in the Kaleidoscope Collective for Learning program, with the Eliot already being admitted in January. Joining the Eliot would be the Warren Prescott School, the Harvard Kent School, the Edwards Middle and Charlestown High.

All of the plans must be developed by May 2021 according to the MOU, and state officials have voiced a desire to begin now.

Edwards said there is no clear indication of what the Kaleidoscope program is, how schools are placed in it, and what might change within the schools that are performing well. Many parents, she said, would likely want to be a part of these discussions, but that cannot be done in a time when there is a National Emergency and there are higher priorities in most households – in addition to the schools now being scheduled for nearly two-month closure.

“We need to wait until this pandemic crisis is over and then re-assess our needs,” she said. “While school is out, the gaps that were identified in the report likely will turn into canyons. Imagine kids who have limited English at school and are now home with families that only speak Spanish or only speak Chinese and there is no English all day. We need to see what happens after this interruption and then work on the MOU…To be going on to work on this plan as if nothing has happened is like being in a house that’s on fire and commenting that it’s a little hot.”

•EDWARDS PROPOSES CITY-SPONSORED RENTAL RELIEF

Councilor Edwards also is proposing city-sponsored emergency rental relief for residents economically impacted by COVID-19. In a  letter issued on Tuesday, Edwards urged the City to reallocate $2 million of Community Preservation Act revenue to an emergency rental voucher program. 

In February, the Walsh administration recommended 40 projects, totaling over $24 million, for CPA funding. Of these, $8 million are dedicated to citywide housing programs, with $4 million proposed for the Acquisition Opportunities Program and $4 million proposed for the One+Boston Program. In order to address the urgent and pressing needs of renters who are suddenly out of work, the city could utilize a portion of funds already collected and available to help ensure stable housing for Bostonians during the pandemic. 

Edwards said everyone seems on board with using the $2 million to help, particularly the middle class who don’t qualify for a lot of programs and the small landlords who are worried. She said it could equal out to about two $1,000 checks.

“I’m hoping it is enough to help small landlords calm down and enough that the tenants can pay the difference,” she said. “The money is already allocated and already in the City coffers and it’s for affordable housing…This is not a new tax…It is money we were going to give out and I’m asking them to be creative. It’s our own sort of housing stimulus.”

With COVID-19 in mind, the Massachusetts Housing Partnership has recently issued recommendations for utilizing Community Preservation Act funds for rental assistance. Communities across Massachusetts including Georgetown, Gloucester, Somerville, Waltham, and Martha’s Vineyard have used CPA for rental assistance. 

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