Boston Officials Urge School Overhaul

By Robert Rothman — April 24, 1987 3 min read

A group of political, business, and civic leaders in Boston--including Mayor Raymond L. Flynn--has called for revamping that city’s school system to improve performance, enhance fiscal accountability, and increase parental involvement.

The group, which released a draft of its proposal last week, called for strengthening the superintendent’s authority in the day-to-day management of the system, while making him responsible for meeting goals set for the schools.

At the same time, the group urged that principals be made more accountable to parents, that schools be required to set performance goals, and that the school department be prohibited from overspending its budget.

“For too long, superintendents have been able to hide behind the school committee, and say, ‘If only my hands weren’t tied, I could make things better,’'' said John A. Nucci, president of the Boston School Committee and a member of the group that made the proposal. “Now we should say, ‘Here are the tools, hire the people you need, make it work--or else.’''

In addition to Mr. Nucci and Mayor Flynn, members of the group, which has met regularly since January to discuss school issues, included Samuel R. Tyler, executive director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a private fiscal-watchdog organization; James Darr, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council; and other members of the school committee and the business community.

The school committee held a meeting last week to discuss some of the proposals, and Mr. Nucci said the panel may act to implement the recommendations by the end of next month. “On the substance of the initiatives, I sense general support,’' he said.

Several provisions must also be approved by the city council, which has been holding hearings on the school system’s structure. Bruce C. Bolling, president of the council, said the new proposal could serve as a starting point for the council’s deliberations.

“As a working document, this is a major step forward,’' he said. “But we are looking at a draft document. This is not sacrosanct in any way.’'

The group’s proposal comes at a time when a growing number of Boston officials have called for changes in the city’s schools, which have been plagued by high dropout rates and low test scores.

‘Dark Cloud’

“Clearly, one would have to be deaf not to hear dissatisfaction with the school system,’' Mr. Nucci said.

For example, Mayor Flynn, in an interview last month with the Boston Globe, called education “the only dark cloud hanging over the city.’'

In an effort to improve the city’s schools, Laval S. Wilson, who was named superintendent of schools in 1985, has launched a comprehensive 16-point plan to address such issues as early-childhood education, student assignment, adolescent health, and “at risk’’ students.

Other officials have proposed that the system’s structure be changed.

For example, Michael J. McCormick, a city councilman, has said the school committee has involved itself too closely in day-to-day management, and he has suggested that the size of the 13-member board be reduced and that members be appointed, rather than elected. (See Education Week, Jan. 14, 1987.)

‘Carry More Weight’

Rather than “use the school committee as a scapegoat,’' Mr. Nucci maintained, the new proposal would help solve the schools’ problems.

“We do not believe the school committee needs reform or restructuring,’' he said. “We have nothing to apologize for.’'

Furthermore, he said, the involvement of the mayor and the business community would ensure that needed reforms are implemented. “Initiatives that have the support of other major players will carry more weight, and earn more public confidence, than initiatives brought about solely by the committee,’' he said.

The proposal represents a “general outline,’' reflecting an agreement among the group’s members, according to Mr. Tyler of the municipal-research bureau. Details will be worked out later, he said.

In coming weeks, the group will also seek advice from parents and teachers, who have complained that they were left out of the group’s deliberations, Mr. Tyler added.

“Teachers, and their union, must be an integral part if it is to be successful,’' he said.