Letters to the Editor

Opportunity to Promote Equity and Accountability

To the Editor,

Statement on Mayoral Transition and Overwhelming Public Support for Elected School Committee 

The Boston Coalition for Education Equity (BCEE) believes the appointment of Marty Walsh as Labor Secretary presents a timely opportunity to promote equity and accountability to the Boston Public Schools through the restoration of an elected School Committee. We call on the City Council and on Council President Kim Janey, who will take over as acting mayor, to start the process by affirming their support for an elected School Committee and beginning public discussions on the board’s new formulation. Boston is the only municipality in the Commonwealth without an elected school committee; recent events have proven that this governance structure has failed and must be immediately reformed.

A recent poll conducted by Poll Progressive indicated that 60% of eligible voters would support the reinstatement of an elected school board, with just 14% expressing opposition (the remaining respondents had no opinion or were neutral). The voters cited the appointed board’s lack of responsiveness to the parents and students whose interests it is supposed to represent. In recent years the school committee has made several decisions that went against the wishes of BPS families, including the expropriation of the McCormack Middle School’s athletic fields, the closure of both the Mattahunt Elementary and the West Roxbury Educational Complex, and instituting drastic changes in start times at schools throughout BPS (this decision was later rescinded after unprecedented levels of pushback). 

In 2019, the Boston Herald analyzed a year’s worth of School Committee votes and found that the committee approved all 111 action items put before them, with just four abstentions and no votes against. Then-Chairman Michael Loconto refused to comment on the body’s voting record and told a Herald reporter not to reach out to other committee members. In 2016, School Committee member Regina Robinson was the only member not to vote in favor of closing the Mattahunt Elementary School. She was also the lone member not to vote to close the West Roxbury Education Complex in 2018. Less than two weeks after her second abstention of her four-year term, Mayor Marty Walsh announced that he would replace Robinson with Quoc Tran, a state official and civil rights lawyer. 

These are just a few examples of how a mayorally appointed school committee is responsive directly to the mayor, and through the mayor to the power elite of the city, rather than to the students, families, and educators it is intended to represent. BCEE finds the School Committee’s performance particularly galling in a system made up of more than 80% students of color, reinforcing structural racism. 

Returning to an elected school committee is a necessary and critical action Boston must take toward dismantling this undemocratic and racist power structure. A majority of Boston City Councilors support electing at least some of the School Committee members, as seen in BCEE’s 2019 City Council Candidate Questionnaire. (https://www.bosedequity.org/city-council-questionnaire-responses). The Coalition will be releasing a new questionnaire later this year for the 2021 election cycle.

In the recent Poll Progressive poll, support for an elected school committee was consistent across demographic groups, including age, gender, education level, and racial identity. For a full breakdown of the poll results, visit Poll Progressive’s website at https://www.pollprogressive.com/. 

The Boston Coalition for Education Equity is a collaboration among civil rights, education, and community organizations from across Boston that are committed to dismantling education inequity.

Bathrooms Very Needed in Public Parks

To the Editor,

We cannot deny that bathrooms are necessary for a basic human need. This need for bathrooms in public space is denied now more than ever. I am not alone in this concern. I am a volunteer with Common Cathedral and Common Art. I have heard from many homeless people about the difficulty and often the impossibility of finding an open public bathroom on the Common and at Copley Square. I have also heard about the horrible indignities they suffer when they can’t find a bathroom, indignities which no human should have to suffer. I cannot ignore this and I beg you not to ignore it.

This lack of accessible, safe, clean bathrooms continues to be a serious public health problem which affects us all: homeless people who sleep outside as well as the many residents and tourists who enjoy these beautiful parks. Many homeless people formerly used the bathrooms at the Copley Library, now closed since last March. Hotels won’t let non-guests use the facilities. Burger King on Tremont Street won’t even let customers use their bathrooms. Currently there is no place for them to go since so many places are closed because of the virus.

We do not need to re-invent the wheel. I think there are some simple solutions. There already are some great bathrooms on the Common: at The Frog Pond and at the Visitors Information Center. However, the City of Boston doesn’t manage them. The Frog Pond bathrooms are managed by the Skating Club of Boston and are open currently from 10 to 4 Saturday through Thursday and from 10 to 5 on Fridays. I think the Frog Pond bathrooms could stay open all night. Or even at the least they could be open the hours that the Common is open to the pubic – which are 6 AM to 11:30 PM. The Visitors Information Center on the Common next to Tremont Street also has great bathrooms. It is managed by the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, but sadly their bathrooms are now closed until further notice.   They had to furlough some employees as a result of the pandemic.

I am sure that if the Skating Club and the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau had more funding they could be able to be open longer hours. The extra staffing needed to supervise and maintain these bathrooms could be quickly hired. I believe money can be found in the city’s budget and also raised from local businesses. 

Other cities have responded to the bathroom crisis. Cambridge has public bathrooms in Harvard Square and in Central Square. Why can’t Boston just get the bathrooms it already has open longer hours and/or put up some porta potties and supervise them?  For about $1500 a month five porta-potties and a hand sanitation station can be rented and installed with weekly maintenance included. San Francisco has 24 supervised San Francisco Pit Stop stations, most of which are open 24/7. Why does Boston continue to ignore the problem? If there is a big event, like the Boston Marathon, there’s no problem having porta-potties at Copley. But now with everything shut because of the virus and with the need for public bathrooms greater than ever, the city of Boston has its head in the sand and ignores the problem.

Bathrooms are a necessity in public spaces. Simply put: The city can and should collaborate with the Skating Club and the Greater Boston Convention Bureau so they can  extend their hours and hire the staff needed to maintain and supervise these bathrooms. Or install some porta-potties which can be supervised and used in a safe and clean manner. This is not impossible given the combined resources of the city, the Skating Club and the Greater Boston Business and Convention Bureau. A workable solution  must be found and implemented as soon as possible to have bathrooms on the Common and at Copley Square 24/7. All people should be able to take care of a basic body function and keep their dignity.

 Maria Termini

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