Mayor Wu to testify at state education board amid concerns of takeover of Boston Public Schools

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the state education board amid concerns that the state could take control of Boston Public Schools.

Wu is expected to join the Boston Teachers Union, Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia, and other education advocates in speaking before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its Malden headquarters shortly after 9 am, livestreamed here.

Concerns about the state attempting to place BPS into receivership mounted last week, after news broke that the state would conduct a review of the district, its second since March 2020, which is a step that state law requires within a year of the state moving to take control of a district. State officials, however, have not actively attempted to place BPS into receivership. On Tuesday, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said the review was necessary to accurately update board members on Boston’s status, two years after the state entered into an agreement for improvement with Boston following the initial audit.

The debate comes at a time of transition, as Wu and other city leaders start new political terms, the district searches for a new superintendent, the city has moved toward an elected school committee, and Governor Charlie Baker is in his final months as governor.

The March 2020 audit, released right before the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures, found a special-education department in “systemic disarray,” inadequate services for English language learners, practices that promoted segregation, inequitable funding of schools, crumbling buildings, and a host of other issues. Among them: one-third of BPS students attend schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the state. The pandemic has added to those challenges.

Under Massachusetts law, the state can impose a receiver to take control of a district that’s found to be chronically underperforming on standardized tests, as defined by the state. Many education advocates in Boston opposed to receivership point to the fact that Boston currently outperforms all three districts currently under state control: Holyoke, Southbridge, and Lawrence.

“What our school communities do NOT need right now is receivership,” the Boston Teachers Union said in a bulletin to members Tuesday. “Receivership in our district and state has a terrible track record and could nullify any and all of our hard-fought contractual gains, including anything from class sizes to salaries.”

The state’s upcoming review will begin the week of March 28. BPS will postpone MCAS testing in grades 3-8 for a week to make way for state education experts and outside consultants to visit BPS central offices and more than three dozen schools. State officials will examine reams of data and documents, interview staff, and observe classroom instruction.

“The short notice and disruption of this audit brings will only contribute to the instability of the district, paving the way for a failed, expensive and undemocratic state takeover scheme which will hurt communities, students and families,” the union said Tuesday, urging members to send letters to the state board titled “Boston Public Schools Need Resources and Stability, Not a State Takeover!” As of Tuesday morning, 2,808 letters had been sent.

Not all Boston education advocates oppose the state’s recent actions. Roxann Harvey, chair of the Boston Special Education Parent Advisory Council, said last week she was pleased the state is conducting another review, noting that BPS hasn’t made significant changes in the last two years.

“It is time to stop using COVID as a reason for continuing to fail our students since before the pandemic and to deal with the racism in the district that is impacting our students,” she said.

Last September, state board member Matt Hills publicly encouraged Riley to consider state receivership for BPS, saying the issues found in the March 2020 audit had likely worsened.

“I don’t know how you can address the organizational-wide issues that were laid out a year and a half ago that have probably gotten worse without someone who has both the responsibility, authority … as well as the accountability of a receiver,” Hills said then. “Organizations don’t just kind of run on their own. And there’s something lacking.”

At the time, Riley said he heard Hills’ concerns.


Naomi Martin can be reached at naomi.martin@globe.com.

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