Governor Creates Panel To Monitor Chelsea Accord

By Robert Rothman — June 21, 1989 2 min read

Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts last week signed legislation enabling Boston University to take over the management of the Chelsea Public Schools for 10 years.

But in a move that pleased some critics of the landmark plan, the Governor also announced the creation of an advisory committee to monitor the agreement and ensure that the university complies with the “spirit as well as the letter” of state public-interest laws.

Nevertheless, a group of 51 Hispanic residents of Chelsea, contending that the agreement came about through a process “hostile to and ignoring the wishes of the Hispanic community,” last week filed suit to block the plan. Hispanic students constitute 52 percent of the district’s enrollment.

“That there are problems in the Chelsea schools--and there are some--lies with the duly elected officials heretofore responsible for running those schools,” the lawsuit states. “It does not follow, however, that the remedy for the ineptitude of those political officials lies in depriving their victims, the people of Chelsea, of their rights.”

Robert B. Schwartz, Governor Dukakis’s education adviser, said the advisory committee would ensure that the university met its educational goals as well as its obligations to Chelsea residents.

“We all hope this demonstration project succeeds, and we want to be positive about it,” Mr. Schwartz said. “But the state has a continuing obligation to make sure state laws are fully complied with.”

Mr. Schwartz added that such an advisory body is unprecedented, but noted that “there is no precedent for a demonstration project of this magnitude.”

The legislation authorizing the management agreement was passed by the legislature this month, after the Senate defeated amendments that would have limited the university’s exemptions from open-meeting and open-records laws. As a private institution, the university had sought the exemptions to ensure that it would not have to open all its records and meetings to the public.

Paul Devlin, president of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, which had opposed the exemptions, praised Governor Dukakis’s action.

“While we still vigorously object to the legislation and the essential nature of this takeover,” he said, “the formation of this panel offers encouragement that an appropriate body will work to ensure that public-interest laws are not violated.”

Thomas D. Cashman, the university’s vice president for public affairs, said the Governor’s proposal “opens a two-way street.”

“The state can learn from what we are doing, and we can learn from the members he appoints,” he said.

The enactment of the legislation, according to Mr. Cashman, enables the university to focus its efforts on raising funds to implement its reform proposals. To date, he said, officials have raised about $900,000, less than half of the $2 million the original proposal estimated would be needed.

Meanwhile, the New England Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm, has intervened on behalf of Chelsea parents who support the management plan in a lawsuit filed earlier by the teachers’ union and other critics.

The suit charges that the agreement violates the state constitution by transferring authority over the public schools to a private institution. In papers filed with the court, the parents claim the unusual arrangement is necessary to rescue the troubled school system.

A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 1989 edition of Education Week as Governor Creates Panel To Monitor Chelsea Accord