Divided Board Rehires Wilson For Two Years

April 19, 1989 2 min read

A sharply divided Boston School Committee narrowly agreed last week to renew Superintendent of Schools Laval S. Wilson’s contract for another two years.

But the agreement, approved by a 7-to-6 vote after a 90-minute closed-door session, also calls for the panel to review Mr. Wilson’s performance every six months, after which the contract could be terminated.

Mr. Wilson, Boston’s first black superintendent, announced immediately after the committee’s vote that he accepted the new contract, and pledged to continue “working for the betterment of young people in Boston.”

But in a signal of his difficulties ahead, Robert Cappucci, one of his critics on the school committee, grabbed the microphone and reminded reporters that six members of the panel “still feel Laval Wilson should not be superintendent.”

Mr. Wilson, who was hired in 1985 to replace Robert R. Spillane, has faced mounting criticism in the past few months from committee members who consider him aloof and too reluctant to make the kinds of broad-based changes they feel are needed in the 57,000-pupil system.

But at least two members of the school committee--John A. Nucci and Thomas O’Reilly, the president--said the panel should renew Mr. Wilson’s contract in order to maintain stability at a time when the schools face difficult problems, including the implementation of a new student-assignment plan, negotiations over contracts with the teachers’, bus drivers’, and custodians’ unions, and a tight budget.

School observers said last week that the performance reviews and sharp divisions on the school committee will make it difficult for Mr. Wilson to address such problems.

“This is a very difficult time to have a superintendent who doesn’t have a strong mandate to lead,” said Samuel R. Tyler, executive director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog group.

Added Ellen Guiney, Mayor Raymond L. Flynn’s education adviser, “The kind of effort [needed to address the school system’s problems] will take all the skill and energy Wilson is able to muster.”

New Compact Approved

The school committee last week also defused a potential point of contention with the city’s business community when it voted unanimously to approve a new “Boston Compact.”

Under the original compact, signed in 1982, businesses and universities pledged jobs and college admission for graduates in exchange for improvements in the city’s schools. Last fall, however, business leaders abruptly announced that they would refuse to renew the agreement until the schools quickened the pace of reform. (See Education Week, Nov. 9, 1988.)

Late last month, the compact’s steering committee, satisfied that the schools were moving forward on reforms, agreed to a new compact. In addition to higher goals for school improvements, it calls for implementation of the student-assignment plan, greater control over school decisions at the building level, and a new system for measuring school performance.--rr

A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 1989 edition of Education Week as Divided Board Rehires Wilson For Two Years