Boston city and school officials push back on state’s ‘unrealistic timelines’ for reforms

As the school year draws to a close, negotiations over state-supervised reform in Boston’s public schools have soured.

In a letter dated June 21, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and senior school officials say they share the “urgency” of state education officials to address various pressing concerns about protocols. safety, facilities and district educational services.

But they raise their own concerns: namely, that the state’s preferred approach – rapid change, implemented with limited support and strict oversight – could backfire.

The letter is the latest salvo in a flurry of proposals and counter-proposals between the city and the Department of Elementary-Secondary Education, prompted by May’s highly critical DESE report on Boston’s public schools.

When it comes to improving the accuracy of the district’s data, for example, Wu notes that the city and the school system have agreed to hire an independent data auditor approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. from Massachusetts.

“We believe this meets and exceeds DESE’s stated goal of third-party access and stakeholder trust without imposing a version of top-down control that would constitute a form of escrow,” the letter said.

The state blamed Boston for inaccurate or misleading data on its school bus speeds and graduation rates.

Wu, outgoing superintendent Brenda Cassellius, and school board chair Jeri Robinson shared these and other concerns with Jeff Riley, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, in a brief text. of two pages. letter sent Tuesday.

Beyond Data Review, City leaders have identified other potential risks in Riley’s proposals: what they call “unrealistic timelines” for sweeping changes and the proposed structure of the oversight agreement.

Their letter notes that, in Riley’s words, the largest district in the state – which serves more than 46,000 students in 113 schools – would only have seven weeks to institute major changes, such as: identifying and hiring a specialist team to reform special education services and write a handbook on special education at the district level; develop “a system to ensure that all English learners…receive all appropriate instruction” in age-appropriate content; and finalize its multilingual learning strategic plan.

Wu, Cassellius and Robinson argue that such “accelerated timelines” would force the district “to execute rushed and flawed processes that would also limit opportunities for community and family engagement.” Typically, the city has proposed timelines that are weeks or months later.

Boston Public Schools is just days away from selecting Cassellius’ successor as superintendent, with public interviews of the two finalists taking place Thursday and Friday.

Letter charges for ‘limited commitments’ from state

The letter from city officials says Riley’s latest proposal places the onus for change on Boston officials and offers only “limited commitments” in the form of state support.

DESE officials did not respond to request for comment on Wednesday.

Riley’s latest proposal from earlier this month promised some support, including $10 million in targeted funding to be spent over three years, as well as requested training.

As the two sides work toward a deal, their differing approaches — which emerged earlier this month — hardened into what Riley called “sticking points” during a June 17 meeting. letter in Wu, obtained via a public records request.

With the city tasked with renovating the district’s long unreliable transportation system, aging facilities and basic services for thousands of its most vulnerable students, Wu’s office has repeatedly sought to craft an agreement that establishes a partnership between city and state officials.

The idea of ​​a partnership has defenders outside the town hall. Paul Reville – former state education secretary and former chair of its education board – called for “a strong state partnership” in a Boston Globe Editorial in mid-May, saying “there is no magic bullet” to BPS problems and that Wu’s team has “momentum”.

The District’s ongoing negotiations with Riley are now themselves on a tight deadline.

At the May DESE meeting, Riley said he hoped to have “assurance from the mayor” that some of the basic functions of the district could be fixed before a new superintendent is appointed. The district plans to name its new leader in less than a week, on June 29.

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