Educational Survey Shows Mayoral Candidates Similarities, Differences

September 10, 2013
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Like most issues in this crowded mayoral race, seven candidates who responded to a survey on educational priorities conducted last month by the nonprofit Downtown Schools for Boston share the same basic position on education: All school-age children must have equal access to quality schools and the new school Superintendent must make that happen.

They also agree that community-based task forces should be appointed to work with Boston Public Schools (BPS) on the future of schools in the downtown neighborhoods, and that new public elementary schools should be built if needed in neighborhoods like the Fenway/Back Bay area where none now exist.

But when asked what BPS’s top priorities should be to ensure quality education for all, differences between some candidates appear.

Decentralization

All but Felix Arroyo stated that increased autonomy should be granted to the schools. Dan Conley agrees that putting our schools in a position to succeed by giving principals, parents and teachers real autonomy and control can close the achievement gap. Rob Consalvo wants to end the divisiveness and build more collaboration between administrators, parents and community leaders. Charlotte Golar Richie proposes a school-based management model that focuses on selected budget, personnel and curriculum decisions. Referring to BPS headquarters, Mike Ross advocates giving the new Superintendent “a political mandate to clean out Court Street.”

Only John Connolly, who has made transforming the schools the heart of his mayoral campaign, and Bill Walczak talked about the financial benefits of decentralization. Connolly, whose top priority is getting more resources to the schools, advocates “making steep cuts to the BPS top-heavy central bureaucracy that oversees a $1 billion budget that fails to properly leverage resources on behalf of the classroom.” Bill Walczak agreed that decentralization would promote maximum autonomy, financial soundness and accountability at both the school and district level.

Extending the school day

Four candidates – Arroyo, Connolly, Conley and Ross – gave top priority to making arts, theater, dance, music, physical education and sports available to all students by extending the school day. “[In addition] expanding access to [science, technology, engineering and math], improving vocational-technical educational offerings and implementing curriculum that reflects today’s world should give students the foundation they need,” said Felix Arroyo.

Early Education

Guaranteeing universal early education is advocated by Arroyo, Conley, Ross and Walczak. “We all know that the number one thing we can do to dramatically improve our education system is to fully invest in early education,” said Ross, who supports real revenue legislation at the state level to pay for it.

Charter Schools

The seven candidates are split on the future of charter schools. Arroyo opposes eliminating the cap on the number of charter schools that can legally operate in the state and instead wants to focus on making sure all schools are quality schools. Ross thinks charter schools are important but not a panacea, and opposes the broad expansion of out-of-district charters.

On the other side are Conley and Walczak, who would eliminate the cap on charters schools altogether and Richie who supports raising it. Consalvo supports an increase in the cap only on in-district charters, which are overseen by PSB but can deviate on curriculum, budgets and scheduling.

Connolly wants to get away from the “district vs. charters paradigm” and instead collaborate to bring the best practices of all high-quality schools, both district and charter, to every school.

School assignment

One of Consalvo’s top priorities is to eventually implement a school assignment plan that will ensure every family has access to quality schools close to home. He and other candidates believe the new assignment plan is a step in the right direction, but will only work when quality schools exist in every neighborhood. Only Connolly openly opposes the plan, which he said fails to guarantee every family a seat at a high quality school close to home, does not end waiting lists and still subjects families to a lottery system.

Capital Expenditures

The candidates were asked how they would address the school’s construction and renovation costs. Arroyo said he would move facility improvements to the top of the budget. Richie would leverage public/private partnerships, including mitigation funds from large developers. Walczak would assemble a cross-sector facilities commission to develop a comprehensive plan to upgrade schools. Connolly’s proposed Building Blocks initiative would offer institutions proposing development projects the option to receive fast-track permitting in exchange for funding new school construction or major renovations at the schools. He and Ross said they would take better advantage of The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) funds facilities plan.

Conley said that he would maximize revenue and resource opportunities with state and federal partners as well as public private partnerships. Consalvo stressed the need for the city in general to maintain a strong fiscal foundation with a high bond rating, which would allow the flexibility to make needed school repairs.

The full responses by are available on the Downtown Schools for Boston website – www.downtownschools.org.

Although the Downtown Schools for Boston survey was sent to all 12 mayoral candidates, John Barros, Charles Clemons, Charles Yancey and David Wyatt did not respond to the year-old nonprofit group of about 500 Boston parents, grandparents and other supporters working to enable more children in downtown. An aide to Marty Walsh said they were too busy to complete the survey by the deadline.

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