Freedberg: Receivership of Boston’s Public Schools? Not yet!




Subjecting Boston’s enormous school system to C. 69 MGL receivership is a drastic remedy.

Receivership puts the entire management of a huge system in the hands of one person. Yet the comprehensive incompetence that has been a feature of the Boston Public School system for decades — to say nothing of its gross mismanagement of what is now a $1.255 billion annual budget — cries out for a drastic act. In principle, receivership is the very least the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can do to rationalize a vast school system which lives by the irrational, even the absurd.

So why do I say “not yet”?  

It is the kids who will have to live the consequences of waiting. Why should they?

I will explain my reasons for saying “not yet” later. First, let me enumerate the battalions of failure the BPS brings to its battlefield:

(1) Gross financial mismanagement including unsupportable budget allocations. To learn more about these, I refer you to an extensive column I wrote for the present publication about three months ago. I note especially the $135,000,000 earmarked for “transportation” for school year 2021, when NO kids were transported. What happened to that money? So far, crickets.

(2) The widespread inability to transport kids to school on time, leaving parents having to choose between transporting them and going to a job. Completely unacceptable, and particularly scandalous given the soaring costs of housing in Boston.

(3) The utter inability of “BPS” to keep violence out of school facilities. A constant stream of shocking assaults upon teachers, no less, has forced the system to respond, with no plan that I can find, just thoughts and prayers. Why were school police removed? Who made such a rash decision, and who ratified it?

Attorney Joseph Coffey’s 2021 report of a 2015 bullying and assault incident at Mission Hill Pilot School — read it here  — makes for grim reading. And, as we have seen, this is far from the only such incident. Teachers are mandated 51A reporters. Why were no 51A reports made to Department of Children and Families (DCF) Why have no “CHINS” petitions been filed by BPS attorneys with a District Court? There are bullying laws involved as well as State criminal laws; why is the school system covering up such scandal? Reportedly, school nurses are urging teachers not to report such assaults. Why? More on this topic in the second part of my paper, which I will write under the title “What a Boston Schools receiver must do.”

(4) An un-elected school committee given to bouts of silly statements and accountable only to a Mayor who must answer for far too many matters to be held to the fire for only school matters

(5) A teachers’ union which refuses to accept any reform that it is not chosen to carry out.

(6) A reluctance by “BPS” or the City Council to let the exam schools do the job they were established to do. The City Council last year codified a quota system for exam entrants. It should be ashamed of doing something that has always discriminated against the groups not given an advantage quota.

(7) Facilities built for 92,000 students but which currently serve barely half that number, and no plan to consolidate thus saving millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

(8) The constant underperformance at many schools, especially serving kids of color and English language learners.

(9) An unreadiness to let school principals choose their own teaching staff.

(10) A revolving door of superintendents brought in from outside the system, who spend all their (brief) time here just trying to learn the system and make the personal connections which enable a manger to accomplish stuff. Why doesn’t BPS choose a superintendent from its existing management?

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently issued a 188-page report detailing the need for receivership. What was the reaction of the teacher’s union? They played a race card. Disgusting, especially when you realize that it is mostly kids of color who are ill-served by the current practices.

East Boston news Boston School Committee
November 29, 2021- Mayor Michelle Wu swears in Lorena Lopera and Fafaela Polanco to the Boston School Committee as reappointments to serve the remainder of the term that ends January 1, 2021. (Mayor’s Office Photo by Isabel Leon)

I find it difficult to give the slightest credence to arguments against receivership from folks who think its fine to make a racial issue out of gross malfeasance that hurts kids of all sorts.

I’m also not impressed by arguments of any kind made by activist Democrats whose first agenda is electing Democrats to everything, not educating kids. Frankly, the strongest argument in favor of receivership now is the political selfishness of those charged by the voters with giving taxpayers value for their money and students value for their time, effort, and attendance.

Nonetheless, I do accept Mayor Wu’s plea that, having been elected only eight months ago, she ought to be given some time to create her own plan of action. I have zero confidence that her plan will require even a soupcon of what such a broken system as BPS needs. But we did elect her and she ought be given the chance to take command, as the city’s strong mayor charter allows.

The spotlight now falls squarely on Mayor Wu and on Mayor Wu alone.

How much time, then, should we the people give Mayor Wu? I say six months. No more than that. The kids of Boston have lives to lead. Time grinds on them as on everyone.

Six months, Mayor Wu. We are anxious to see what you do.

Another factor: in January a new governor will take over from Charlie Baker. I like Maura Healey, the probable winner of this year’s election, but I have zero confidence that she will reappoint State Education manager Jeff Riley, much less appoint a school receiver.

As a Democrat, her support comes from the interest group determined to reject any and all school reforms except the ones they want. If I read the teachers union correctly its “reforms’ will only aggravate 50 years of misdeeds and incompetence.

No wonder that parents of school age kids keep moving out of the city even when they can afford to stay.

— Mike Freedberg

Postscript: Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute wrote a report, some years ago, advocating that a receivership system be reconstituted as all charter schools. That too would be drastic and probably politically un-doable, given that Massachusetts school systems are run by school committees. Yet, I think the suggestion worth expanding upon. All kinds of schools – including vocational schools and job apprenticeships — should be the consensus goal. It’s a shame that our political culture refuses to take this step.

Mike Freedberg is editor and publisher of the blog, Here and Sphere. He is also a political consultant. He regularly contributes original, participatory content to