After Months of Delay, Dallas Educator Named Boston Chief

By Ann Bradley — May 22, 1991 3 min read

The Boston School Committee last week selected Lois Harrison Jones, a top Dallas school official, to be the city’s next superintendent, but Ms. Harrison Jones did not immediately accept the position.

The committee’s long-awaited choice of a successor to Laval S. Wilson, who was fired in February 1990, was overshadowed by doubts about whether Ms. Harrison Jones would take the job.

On Wednesday, school-committee members called a press conference to reassure the community that Ms. Harrison Jones was not reconsidering her interest in Boston.

Ms. Harrison Jones, who could not be reached for comment last week, told The Boston Globe that there were “assurances” she wanted from the committee before she would accept the job and certain conditions under which she would not take it. She declined to elaborate, however.

Last week, negotiations on salary and the length of Ms. Harrison Jones’ contract had not yet begun, according to aides to John O’Bryant, the president of the school committee. The expected date of her arrival in Boston also was unclear, although Joseph M. McDonough, the interim superintendent, is stepping down from that post July 1.

Ms. Harrison Jones, who is 57, is now the associate superintendent for education in the 135,000-student Dallas school system. She was selected in a 10-to-3 vote over Joan M. Raymond, the outgoing Houston superintendent, and Frank Tota, the superintendent of the Roanoke, Va., schools, to head the 57,000-student Boston school system.

An Uncertain Fate

One factor that may be contributing to Ms. Harrison Jones’ apparent hesitancy is the uncertain status of the school committee itself.

A bill now being considered by the Massachusetts Senate would abolish the 13-member elected commit8tee in favor of a 7-member body appointed by the mayor of Boston.

The home-rule petition was approved by the city council and signed by Mayor Raymond Flynn last month. It was crafted after the state legislature refused to consider another home-rule petition, approved in December, that would have made the school department a line item in the city’s budget. (See Education Week, Dec. 12, 1990.)

Under the proposed bill, which is expected to be taken up in the Senate this week and then must pass the House and be signed by the Governor to become law, a 13-member nominating panel representing a wide range of interest groups would make recommendations to the mayor.

If the bill becomes law, the school-committee elections scheduled for the fall would be canceled. The terms of the new, appointed committee members would begin in January 1992.

Although the bill specifies that the mayor should appoint “individuals who reflect the ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity of the city of Boston and its public school population,” it has been widely denounced by members of minority groups.

The two black members of the city council, four black school-committee members, the four black state representatives from Boston, and the lone black state senator have all criticized the proposal as robbing minority groups of their right to elect their own representatives to govern the schools.

Byron Rushing, a black Democratic state representative from Boston’s South End, said last week that the bill serves to distract Bostonians from what he believes should be their first priority: forging a consensus on how to improve the school system and working toward it together.

Mr. Rushing said Mayor Flynn has failed to spell out how an appointed school committee would significantly improve education.

Michael McCormick, a city councilor who strongly supports the proposal, charged that the minority community is “playing the race card” and noted that voter turnout for school-committee elections is very low.

Mr. McCormick also argued that Hispanics and Asians, who have virtually no chance of electing committee members now, would stand a much better chance of gaining representation under the Mayor’s proposal.

But Mr. Rushing said members of minority groups do not want to be “given” representatives, but to “produce them.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 22, 1991 edition of Education Week as After Months of Delay, Dallas Educator Named Boston Chief