Education

Governor Signs Bill Abolishing Boston School Committee’

By Peter Schmidt — July 31, 1991 3 min read
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Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts has signed a bill that abolishes the Boston School Committee and creates a new education-policy panel appointed by the mayor.

The measure, backed by Boston’s mayor, Raymond L. Flynn, and city council and opposed by some black officials and community groups, calls for a seven-member panel to take office in January. It ends 169 years of educational governance by an elected school panel.

In signing the bill this month, Governor Weld said he had “anguished” over his decision and “had to weigh the very real fact that the citizens of Boston will be disenfranchised by this legislation.”

But, he said in a statement, Boston’s schools are “in desperate need of fundamental change,” and “the case for a systematic overhaul of the system has been well-documented by educators, parents, and students.”

“Simply put, students in the Boston public-school system are losing their opportunity for education and any hope for a meaningful and successful future,” Mr. Weld said.

“And after three years of public debate and legislative action,” he continued, “this is the one proposal that has emerged from both the City of Boston and the state legislature and reached the Governor’s desk."Blacks Said Disenfranchised’.

Mr. Weld noted that the bill contains a provision for a binding referendum in the fall of 1996 that would allow Boston voters to return to an elected school committee.

But that safeguard appeared to mean little to those who have attacked the new law as an attempt to disenfranchise African Americans, who now hold four seats on the 13-member elected panel.

Officials of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association, the Black Political Task Force, and an ad-hoc group called the Right to Vote Movement all said they were examining the law to see if it could be challenged in court as an unconstitutional attempt to deprive minorities of their voting rights.

Donald Brown, director of operations for the Right to Vote Movement, accused Mayor Flynn of having “a plantation mentality” and said the Mayor, Governor, and legislature have “pronounced that the people of Boston are not fit to elect their own School Committee.”

“It is ironic that this action is taken at a time when the black, Latino, and Asian communities of the city of Boston appear to be gaining a greater presence in the city,” Mr. Brown said.

“These communities,” he said, “are being penalized politically and stripped of their voting rights be cause of the failure of a decaying school system over which they have

But Neil Sullivan, chief policy adviser to Mayor Flynn, denied that the new law was intended to disenfranchise black voters. “The focus from the beginning has been to remove the barrier to school reform, a dysfunctional school-committee structure that left no one accountable for educational results,” he said.

The Mayor has said his powers of appointment will give him an opportunity to place Latin and Asian Americans on the committee.

The new law cancels this year’s School Committee elections and calls for the Mayor to select the new school- committee members from a list of 21 names submitted by a nominating panel. The nominating panel is to consist of four mayoral appointees, four parents appointed by community groups, a business representative, a public or private college or university president, a teacher, a principal or headmaster, and the state commissioner of education.

Even while its fate was being determined by state lawmakers, how ever, the Boston School Committee continued to operate, and this month approved a four-year contract for Lois Harrison-Jones as the district’s new superintendent.

Superintendent Hired

The decision to hire Ms. Harrison- Jones, at a $130,000-per-year salary, came fully 16 months after the last permanent superintendent had been dismissed.

Final approval of the contract was stalled for weeks by haggling between the Mayor’s office and the school committee.

;

Mayor Flynn had objected to a five-year contract proposed by the committee because he wanted more authority to renegotiate the superintendent’s contract after an appointed board was in place. In addition, the city’s corporation counsel contended that some provisions of the contract violated state law.

The school panel subsequently re vised the contract, and aides to the Mayor said late this month that he expects to approve the new agreement with Ms. Harrison-Jones, who most recently served as associate superintendent of the Dallas schools.

A version of this article appeared in the July 31, 1991 edition of Education Week as Governor Signs Bill Abolishing Boston School Committee’

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