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Drive To Restructure Boston School Committee Dies

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Although frustration with the workings of the Boston School Com mittee has been mounting for months, efforts to ask voters to re structure the committee appeared to have died last week.

The Boston City Council had been considering several proposals to change the composition of the 13- member committee, which is widely viewed as being too large and politi cally divided to govern the city's schools effectively.

But an emerging consensus on a plan that called for an unusual combi nation of mayorally appointed and elected members was shaken last eek when William Bolger, the presi dent of the Massachusetts Senate, an nounced he would not support any proposal that did not also include giv ing Boston students the right to choose which school they attend.

Larry W. Faison, an administra tive assistant to Boston's interim su perintendent, Joseph M. McDonHough, said the superintendent was notified Thursday by a council mem ber that the city council's efforts "were not going anywhere.""

Another proposal by a coalition of school activists calls for widespread changes in the system to give Boston parents a much greater say in the de cisions made at individual schools. But an extremely tight deadline for securing the required approval of the city council, state legislature, and governor also made it unlikely that such a proposal would be successful, observers said.

"Things do not look bright at this point for any change," said Ellen Guiney, the education adviser to Mayor Raymond L. Flynn.

The Mayor last year supported a nonbinding referendum that asked voters to approve giving him the pow er to appoint a seven-member school committee. Mr. Flynn continues to fa vor that arrangement, Ms. Guiney said, because it would make the com mittee more accountable for its ac tions. Currently, the city council allo cates all funds to run the district, which has no taxing power of its own.

Although voters approved the ref erendum question, the Mayor did not pursue the matter because it was opposed by residents of Boston's low-income neighborhoods. (See Ed ucation Week, Nov. 15, 1989.)

But in the year since then, the school committee's decision to fire Superintendent Laval S. Wilson-- and its subsequent lack of progress for nearly eight months in hiring a new superintendent--have promptH ed fresh criticism. The committee L also is at a standoff with the city council over its budget, which cur rently is 1 million over the 389 million allocated by the city.

"To go into a school year without a superintendent is very irresponsible on the part of the school committee," said John Grady, a committee mem ber. "There are certainly some justi fications for the criticism we've tak en."

Mr. Grady said he had favored L creating a seven-member elected school committee that would have its own taxing authority. But he L questioned whether simply chang ing the governance of the city's schools would substantially improve student achievement in Boston.

"I said the other day to the Mayor, 'Fine. You take over the school com mittee, what's your first move? How are you going to improve education for the kids? If we're doing it wrong, you must do it right, so tell me,"' Mr. Grady said.

Both Harold Raynolds Jr., the state commissioner of education, and Mr. Flynn have threatened to put all or part of the school system into "receivership" if improvements are not made quickly. (

The state already has withheld L 86, in special-education fund ing from Boston, and has threatened to withhold 1 million more. (See Education Week, Sept. 12, 199.)4

In addition, Mr. Raynolds has no tified the school system that the L state "would explore any and all oth er options" if the school committee fails to submit a report on a new stu dent-assignment plan by Dec. 1.

But Edward S. Melikian, a spokesman for the education depart ment, said the commissioner was re ferring in his letter only to overseeH ing the development of the student- assignment plan, not to taking over the entire school system.

Mr. Flynn's comments about putting the schools into receivership re< flected his "frustration" with the L current system, Ms. Guiney said.

The Mayor is particularly con cerned that the school committee's factionalism will make it impossible to hire a top-notch superintendent, she added. To help entice qualified candidates, leaders of Boston's any universities have formed a L committee that is considering creat ing an adjunct professorship at a lo cal institution for the new schools chief, she added.

Meanwhile, the search committee charged with recruiting the superin tendent has hired a consultant to screen candidates and has moved its target date for finding a top admini strator to Jan. 1.

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