Councilor: BPS could build a brand-new school with all the money it wants to spend to move several schools around
A skeptical group of city councilors urged school officials today to reconsider a school-moving plan that would send a Mission Hill elementary school to Jamaica Plain. The full council could vote on the issue at its regular meeting next week.
At a hearing on the proposal today, City Councilor Tito Jackson (Roxbury) said the $19 million school BPS wants the city council to approve for loans - down from an earlier $21-million estimate - could be used to leverage additional state school construction money to simply build a brand-new school, reducing the number of students in 19th and early 20th-century buildings. State officials are currently sitting on payments for the renovation of Hyde Park High School, because BPS shut the school not long after renovating it.
"It really makes me angry that we've been given miserable choices amongst horrible options," Jackson said of the plan, in which Fenway High School would move to the Mission Hill K-8 building, the Boston Arts Academy would take over the Ipswich Street space it now shares with Fenway, the New Mission High School and Boston Community Leadership Academy would move to Hyde Park and a new Margarita Muniz Academy would move into the Agassiz School in JP along with Mission Hill.
"For the second year in a row, we have put some of the most engaged parent communities against one another," he said, referring to the previous year's decision to shut 10 schools. He added he's concerned city officials will have to have the same exact discussion next year, after the mayor and Superintendent Carol Johnson release yet another proposal for revamping school assignment.
Johnson acknowledged a small group of students would be adversely affected but said a far large number of students would benefit from this "Access to Excellence" plan, in which schools that have done well - and have the waiting lists to prove it - would be allowed to expand. She said her staff had looked at alternatives - such as moving Fenway High to JP instead of Mission Hill K-8 - but they just didn't work.
Nearly half the money in the plan would go to expand and retrofit the Mission Hill School for uses as high school. Johnson and Fenway Headmaster Peggy Kemp said Fenway needs to stay near the Longwood Medical Area, where its students can take classes at colleges there, such as Emmanuel. Moving the school to the Agassiz - proposed by Councilor Mike Ross (Mission Hill) would jeopardize that because it's too far away.
But Councilor Mike Ross (Mission Hill) urged Johnson not to strip the elementary school out of its neighborhood, warning officials would ultimately be judged on how they treated "the least among us." He called on his fellow councilors to resist lobbying from the mayor's office.
Several Mission Hill parents attended the hearing to urge councilors to reject the funding plan.
Councilors Felix Arroyo (at large), Ayanna Pressley (at large) and Charles Yancey (Dorchester) also expressed concerns. Councilor Mark Ciommo (Allston/Brighton) said he sympathized with the parents, but said a similar series of moves in his district a few years back wound up to have worked out well.