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Residents, politicians concerned about Boston City Council for new school assignment plan

Kassmin Williams | 7/10/2013, 11:07 a.m.

More than a dozen city residents gave testimonies at the Boston City Council’s committee on education public hearing last month opposing the new school assignment plan that would allow students in kindergarten through eighth grade to attend schools closer to their home.

The hearing at St. Katherine Drexel Church in Roxbury attended by city councilor’s Felix Arroyo, Tito Jackson, Charles Yancey and several mayoral candidates was held to discuss the new plan’s impact on students living in areas with lower performing schools.

Approved by the school committee in March, the new plan provides families with at least six school options based on quality, location and capacity starting in fall 2014.

The proposal for a new school assignment plan came after Mayor Thomas Menino requested Superintendent Carol Johnson to form an external advisory committee to conduct research and provide feedback on school choice plans, and give a recommendation to the school committee.

Arroyo, Jackson and Yancey expressed concern over the new plan giving black and Latino students living in areas like Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan — with a large number of low performing schools — a slimmer chance at a high quality education.

For the councilors, the plan falls short of improving the quality of low performing schools.

Arroyo referred to an analogy he was given during a discussion about the new plan where 40 apples were put on a table and 100 kids were asked to look at them and then told “40 of you get them and 60 of you don’t.”

“In the end, to me, I think we all can struggle to figure out what is the fairest way to distribute those 40 apples, but I think we all know there should be 100 of them,” Arroyo said. “I think we all know there should be a good seat, a quality school for each child that goes to our Boston Public Schools.”

Jackson said he felt the new plan placed transportation over quality education.

“When we look at all of the plans, the baseline of the plan was around transportation, not the central issue of quality, so we want to make sure that we deal with that central issue and the issue of transportation would take care of itself if there was a quality school in every single neighborhood,” Jackson said.

Throughout the hearing, Boston residents echoed the concerns laid out by the city councilors.

To Roxbury resident Nora Toney, the discussion on providing quality education to all students hasn’t changed since 1965 when the state enacted the Racial Imbalance Act requiring schools to desegregate.

“Our community is tired of waiting for this school department and this school committee to provide our children with quality education,” said Toney, who is president of the Black Education Alliance of Massachusetts.

Residents also had the chance to hear from members of the school department and mayoral candidates Charolotte Golar Richie and Bill Walczak who tried to assure residents that the new school assignment plan is a step forward.

Golar Richie acknowledged the gap in quality schools but told attendees that she’d like to respect the community process used to create the new plan and asked that they give it a chance.