Consultant recommends BPS shut and sell up to 50 schools, slash central administration and increase student/teacher ratios

An outside audit of Boston Public Schools concludes the system needs to close and sell off between 30 and 50 of its 125 schools and make a wide range of staffing changes to balance its books and get BPS back on track towards bringing test scores up.

The report, by McKinsey and Co., was actually completed a year ago. BPS released the main final report in December, although without a specific school-closing number. But Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), a BPS parent group, obtained a copy of the initial draft report through a public-records request this month and posted a copy online this week.

McKinsey cited three particular problems with BPS: It now has way too many seats and schools for the number of students it has, it's rudderless under a central administration with little accountability or ability to monitor results and it has way too many kids in expensive special-education classes. The result, McKinsey writes: remarkable increases in test scores between 1995 and 2009 have slowed or stopped and the "achievement gap" between white students and black and Latino students remains the same.

The result, McKinsey wrote, is that Boston spends more per pupil than comparable cities across the country - although McKinsey does acknowledge in the middle of its report that this could also be partly due to the fact that Massachusetts puts more of an emphasis on education than other states and so spends more and on the fact that Boston has a higher cost-of-living than most other cities (in fact, McKinsey acknowledges that when cost-of-living expenses are subtracted, Boston has a lower educational cost than comparable cities).

A key part of the report is an analysis of building use in a public-school system that has 50% fewer students than in the 1970s, but still has many of the same school buildings.

BPS has a significant number of underutilized buildings and classrooms, spreading funds thin across the system and lessening the impact of resources on a per pupil basis.

To concentrate resources more effectively for students, BPS can right-size the district to reflect current and projected BPS enroolment.

McKinsey estimated Boston could earn $120 million to $205 million by selling off those 30 to 50 schools and save $50 million to $85 million a year on top of that through increased efficiencies that would come from running fewer, larger schools - especially if BPS coupled that with increasing the average number of students per teacher, speeding up the mainstreaming of special-ed kids into regular classes, centralizing breakfast and lunch preparation, outsourcing night-time school custodial work and reducing the number of central administrators.

Also, BPS should increase the maximum distance young students might have to walk to a school-bus stop from a tenth of a mile to a quarter of a mile.

The savings, McKinsey says, could help pay for one brand-new, state-of-the-art high school (which McKinsey estimated would only cost $30 million) and a number of similar new elementary schools at $10 million a pop, and would let BPS guarantee a standard level of electives (such as physical education and art) at all schools

And the staff savings would help pay to hire new support workers, such as teacher's aides and counselors, McKinsey wrote.

Although BPS has taken no specific school-closing steps based on the McKinsey report - delivered just before Tommy Chang became school superintendent - officials said during hearings on the BPS budget for the coming fiscal year that they are looking at possibly significant restructuring of BPS. Before voting for the budget, School Committee member Michael LoConto, for example, said that without looking at consolidating schools, the School Committee will face the same agonizing budget process - which included a largescale student protest and walkout - year after year.

The largest cuts in the coming year do reflect the McKinsey suggestion to prune back central administration services.

QUEST, however, blasted the McKinsey report:

In examining the report, QUEST found multiple examples of unsound methodology, particularly around the number of excess seats in Boston Public Schools. “The Mayor and others should stop falsely referring to BPS having 93,000 available seats,” said parent Mary Lewis-Pierce. “The McKinsey report’s ‘seats’ aren’t real. They don’t look at educational needs, and count the square footage of hallways and bathrooms as classroom space.” Parents said the report’s recommendations, which include selling school buildings with high resale value, closing schools with low test scores or which are expensive to repair, increasing class size, and cutting costs to students in need of special education services, would harm children and communities. QUEST stressed that in cities such as Chicago and Newark, school closures have disproportionately impacted children and communities of color, and undercut efforts to close achievement gaps.

The group also questioned why it took the city a year to release the report draft - and four months to do so after the group filed its public-records request.

Three arrested at West Roxbury pipeline site

Resist the Pipeline reports three protesters were arrested yesterday when they blocked the entrance to the site where Spectra Energy is building a "metering and regulating" station to transfer natural gas from the Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline Spectra is building from Westwood to West Roxbury.

The three were charged with disturbing the peace, in the first protest arrests against the pipeline since last fall.

Second suspect hunted for stabbing of elderly man in Roxbury robbery

Boston Police report they are now looking for a second person for a mugging-related stabbing Wednesday that sent a man in his 70s to the hospital.

Anybody who sees or knows this woman, or the man identifed yesterday should contact B-2 detectives at B-2 detectives at 617-343-4275, or the anonymous tip line by calling 800-494-TIPS or by texting TIP to CRIME (27463).

Cleveland Circle burrito place closes; no, not the Chipotle

The Boloco outlet at 1940 Beacon St. sent mail to customers today that today's its last day ever, more than 18 years after it opened and despite the continued patronage of singer James Taylor and the sale of an estimated 2 million burritos:

Why are we closing, you may ask? The simple truth is that for the last 3-4 years we have lost money at Cleveland Circle - quite a bit of it, in fact. With Boloco's high quality ingredients and highest paid employees in the industry, we needed more customers every day to run a sustainable business and whatever we were (or more likely not) doing at that location just didn't attract enough of you. It really always comes down to simple math.

Many assumed that due to the recent Norovirus outbreak at our national competitor next door we would thrive going forward, but we didn't see significant improvement. In fact, as a (really sick, pun intended) April Fool's joke one of the Boston College rags accused Boloco Cleveland Circle of spreading Norovirus and claimed that Chipotle was rejoicing. While we were appreciative they took it down (and that they issued an apology after attorneys got involved), and for the record this is not why we decided to close, we knew in our hearts that the tea leaves were telling us to finally call it a day.

Boloco's complete e-mail to customers.