Chelsea-Boston University Pact Wins Approval in Legislature
After rejecting amendments backed by the plan's critics, the Massachusetts legislature last week approved and sent to Gov. Michael S. Dukakis a bill that would allow Boston University to implement its unprecedented agreement to take over the management of the Chelsea Public Schools for 10 years.
The measure passed in the House on a voice vote, and in the Senate by a vote of 29 to 10.
Mr. Dukakis has not indicated whether he will sign the measure. His education aide, Robert B. Schwartz, said last week that the Governor was "troubled" by provisions that would exempt the university from state public-interest laws.
Regardless of Mr. Dukakis's decision, representatives of the state teachers' union and local Hispanic groups said they would press a lawsuit charging that the plan violates the state constitution by transferring authority over public schools to a private institution.
"We believe that those who expend public funds must be accountable to the public," said Paul Devlin, president of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers.
The landmark agreement, which has attracted national attention, was approved this spring by the Chelsea School Committee and the city's board of aldermen. City leaders and their supporters in the legislature argued that drastic steps were necessary to rescue the troubled school system.
But critics, including the state board of education and the Massachusetts chapter of the watchdog group Common Cause, objected to provisions exempting the university from the state's open-meeting and open-records laws.
Compromise Efforts Falter
In an effort to achieve a compromise, representatives of the teachers' union, the university, and the state education department had met with Representative Richard Voke, who represents Chelsea. But negotiations broke down when the House went ahead and passed the enabling legislation while the talks were proceeding.
When the measure reached the Senate, lawmakers rejected, by a 15-to-24 vote, an amendment to eliminate the proposed exemptions, as well as a proposal to authorize the exemptions for only four years.
"Chelsea is no longer a public school system," said Senator Salvatore R. Albano, who had proposed removing the exemptions. "It is a private school system, for all intents and purposes."
The Senate did, however, adopt an amendment to require the university to report to the legislature annually, beginning in 1992, on whether it had made progress in 17 specified areas of achievement. Those include reducing the dropout rate, raising student test scores, and improving rates of student and teacher attendance.