Rather than simply expanding the number of school-assignment zones, two city councilors and four state representatives today proposed giving elementary students seat in a school in their neighborhood - but with a network of citywide magnet schools for parents dissatisfied with those schools.
The plan is an alternative to plans now under discussion by Boston school officials to expand the current three assignment zones to six or nine (school officials have also published maps of zones with 11, 23 and no zones, but have said those would fail to allow for school choice in a system that continues to have educational inequalities). City Councilor John Connolly, who chairs the council's education committee, Councilor Matt O'Malley and state representatives Linda Dorcena Forry, Nick Collins, Ed Coppinger and Russell Holmes unveiled their proposal this morning at the State House.
The plan also calls for the city to find a location in the Back Bay or Beacon Hill for a new school to serve the growing numbers of families who calling for a public school - and to grandfather not only existing students, but their siblings, in their current schools.
Connolly, whose own daughter was initially unassigned in the kindergarten lottery, said the goal is to not only improve current schools but to draw more parents back into Boston Public Schools. Parents would be guaranteeed a kindergarten seat at one of the four schools closest to their home as well as gain the right to have their student placed in a K-8 school - even if that means renting modular classrooms in the short run. Groups of parents would be allowed to bulk enroll their kids in an underserved school, in an attempt to use parental involvement to improve that school.
Holmes said all the current BPS proposals would cut his constitutents' access to quality schools - only one of the elementary schools that do well on standardized tests are in the current East Zone, he said. Forry said she and her husband failed to get their choices for schools and and so enrolled them in Catholic schools. She said her family is lucky - it had options - but that not everybody is that lucky.
Under the plan, BPS would supplement the Hernandez - open to students from across the city - with 15 other magnet schools open to any student, through a lottery system.
The representatives and the councilor also propose dedicating extra money and resources to 59 elementary schools that serve mainly poor students, including guaranteed space in after-school programming and "academic coaches" for students in English and math.
The councilors and representatives called on BPS to create eight "fully inclusive" schools for students with and without disabilities. and nine dual-language schools.
Connolly said Boston already spends $1 billion a year on 56,000 students and that that money, combined with roughly $6 million in annual savings from busing should be enough to start the plan. "This forces BPS to be better with the money it has," he said. He added that an increase in enrollment would bring additional state aid, which is based in part on the number of students.
The elected officials say they have forwarded their plan to School Superintendent Carol Johnson and are hoping the advisory committee studying assignment zones over the next month will include their plan.