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Boston School Committee selection: It’s a stacked deck and the house always wins

Sharon Hinton

I applied for the Boston School Committee four times.

When I applied, I naively thought experience, credentials, community activism and willingness to be part of the solution would give me a decent shot, despite naysayers who said, “You’ll never get on the School Committee because you speak your mind. You’re who the community needs, but the mayor will never pick you.”

Three different mayors later, they were right, and I was tired, disappointed by the political deck disguised as democracy. I sought advice, attended meetings and was  a  finalist the first and second  attempts. The third attempt, I was told my application wasn’t received. After I proved otherwise, my application was “found” in a spam folder. A vote would have to be taken by the Nomination Panel to decide if I would be interviewed.

I was denied an interview with no further official explanation. An insider told me a statement posted on my social media supporting an elected School Committee caused panelists to doubt whether I would be committed to an appointed position. I was not given the opportunity to confront that statement.

Each time, it was like discovering the underground railroad and ending up back on the plantation. The first time, I read about the appointed “winner” in the newspaper after receiving no official notification. Each time I applied, I was denied with fewer explanations and transparency. People who weren’t candidates knew more than I did.

When a fifth opportunity arose, despite having gained more experience between applications, pursuing a higher level of education, and gaining stronger allies and collaborations with education advocates, I gave up. Because even though I stayed engaged in public discourse and the process, and attended countless School Committee meetings, the deck was stacked in favor of the mayor. What good is playing the game and following the rules when they can change based on the whim, opinions or decision of one person?

In this current Boston School Committee, the outcome of the game is predictable because the cards are marked, the players are picked, and the house always wins.

If parents, students and teachers are going to have a voice that can’t be ignored, the School Committee must be elected, not selected. Last November, 99,000 registered voters supported a non-binding referendum for an elected School Committee. What happened to me is important if you believe that in a democracy, citizens should have the right to determine who runs our schools.

Currently, Boston residents cannot vote for the school committee. Until 1991, voters had a say in who governed the education of our kids. Since then the School Committee has been appointed by the mayor. As a child of the 60s, I learned the importance of voting as I watched African Americans being beaten and killed in pursuit of the vote. As an educator, I believe civics should be taught again in public schools.

School Committee candidates are recommended to the mayor, who decides the next member. Regardless of skill, qualifications, talent or experience, the final outcome depends on one person. I think we have to ask ourselves if the game is really open to anyone or is it determined by one person from the start?

At present, the mayor (the “house”) has not publicly responded to the 99,000. Tell your elected officials to support a home rule petition to elect the School Committee so the question will be on the next ballot, and then vote. After my experience and in light of the current selection process for the School Committee, I wonder how many other potential players have left the game and chosen not to play or even watch? And if we don’t make changes to the current game, the house will win again and the students, parents and teachers will be the losers.

Sharon Hinton is an educator and executive director and founder of Black Teachers Matter.