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As BPS enrollment continues to shrink, audit says schools have too much unused space

An outside audit of Boston public schools finds that even with school closings in recent years, there are way too many empty classrooms in BPS schools.

According to the audit, highlights of which BPS released this morning, BPS enrollment this year is 54,000 in a system with 90,000 seats.

The audit potentially paves the way for BPS to begin closing more schools - but also suggests that the $1.7 million to $2.2 million that could be saved from each school closing be used to boost after-school programs, add electives across the remaining schools and even build the "state-of-the-art high school" that outgoing City Councilor Charles Yancey spent 20 years unsuccessfully fighting for.

Officials did not identify any specific schools they feel should be shut. Separately, BPS is conducting its own review of school facilities to come up with a ten-year plan school-building plan and said:

Additional, targeted analysis would be required to confirm specific opportunities, as well as public engagement and strategic evaluations to weigh the costs and benefits of the different options.

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Comments

So much misinvestment. Too many schools, too little technology, too few homes except for downtown luxury.

Everybody loved the guy but if you ask what was his greatest achievement most people I've spoken to are stumped to come up with anything significant.

Love Marty or hate him he has to start every day with a face palm wondering why some of this stuff wasn't done a decade ago.

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I've often heard that the revitalization of places like Roslindale was at least partly due to Menino's push to help neighborhoods in the city. That the city was able to support the Village Market and Main Street district which helped kick off the local success of other businesses. Anyone want to back this notion?

But yeah, it's too bad he ran and won that last term because he wasn't up to the challenge. At least the Red Sox got a free street forever out it though.

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As originally conceived, Main Streets (a federal program) was intended to bolster rural, small town business districts. Menino saw its potential for Boston neighborhoods and persuaded the feds to fund an urban pilot in Rozzie. Its success there led to its being replicated across the city and adopted by many other cities nationwide.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2013/03/29/protecting-historic-build...

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Menino used his plan to bring Main Streets to Boston, starting in Roslindale, as part of his campaign for city councilor back in 1983. It's pretty cool to have this video around to document that statement, and to be able to look back 32 years later at a campaign promise that was fulfilled and continues to have a huge impact on the city's neighborhoods.

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Yeah Menino did a great job in
Hyde Park. Business district is
like 3rd world slum.

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Third-world slum? Really?

Using words like that, it seems your problem is all those icky black people doing all their icky black things like opening and patronizing stores and restaurants and walking down the streets and terrorizing the good white people of Hyde Park.

Jesus.

I spend a fair amount of time in Cleary Square and River Street. Really (if nothing else, Ron's is the closest ice-cream place to us). Yes, it has its issues, but so does Roslindale Square (and both have a Jerusalem Trading Company for all your large-ceramic-elephant needs). But don't worry: Sooner or later, gentrification will hit even Hyde Park and all those stores selling things you don't want to people you don't like will be priced out and you'll be safe to stroll among the boutiques and tapas places with people who look just like you. Unless, of course, you're priced out as well.

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You don't have to let anonymous comments like this through your filter, do you?

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Showing just what sorts of people still lurk out there in our otherwise, rather integrated city.

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This isn't about excess space, it's about making properties available for charter expansion and it's shortsighted because BPS will need the seats over the next 2 decades.

2006 Schools:145 Students: 57,900
2016 Schools:125 Students: 56,650 (-1250)

Averaged closing 2 schools a year over a decade.
Averaged losing 125 students a year over the decade.

In 2015, BPS made $100,000,000 in cuts
In 2016 BPS made $42,000,000 in cuts (wide-ranging cuts, from closing two schools to eliminating more than 130 central office positions.)

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The Department of education cites 57,349 students for the 2005-2006 school year.

For 2014-2015 it was down to 54,312 - about what they are saying the current enrollment is in BPS with 54,000 "seats" occupied.

Where do you get that 56,650 number? (I've actually seen numbers that do run about 2k above what the state reports - but I've never seen the source).

As for the budget - the city's operating budget went up by $87 million in each of the 2015 and the 2016 fiscal years - about 8% each year. Note the city plays a shell game with the numbers - they use outside budgets when it suits their needs (for example when ARRA funds ran out), but they ignore it when it suits their needs as well (for example when they got the ARRA funding in the first place). The only true apples to apples comparison is the operating budget - capital budgets and external funds by their nature will always have high variability from year to year. As a percentage of the budget, spending on BPS has been rock solid at about 35% of the total city revenues - even as the budget has increased well above the rate of inflation and BPS has shrunk by over 10%.

Note in 2009 both the school department and "all other" had about 8600 employees. Now the school department has almost 8800 employees and every other department in the city has about 8200 - for a city that as a whole is growing and for a school system that is shrinking.

Where do you see all these magical kids coming from? The birthrate has ticked up a little - but not much and millennials are reportedly having fewer and fewer children.

If anything, BPS, even without the impact of charters, will likely shrink another 5-10% unless there is a major change in demographic trends.

Your numbers don't stand up to scrutiny.

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The magical kids come from the same place they always do: greater early elementary enrollment is projected to create greater enrollment later in elementary, in middle, and in high school, ignoring the historical reduction at each stage as more parents pull their kids out of BPS each year to go private or move to the burbs.

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Any proof on "more parents pull their kids out of BPS each year" there, chief?

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Nobody from Boston would ever ask that question. Even if, like our host, you have stuck it out in BPS for the long haul, you have seen steady attrition year after year, with larger cohorts of peers leaving in K2, 4th grade, and 7th grade. Ask a Bostonian why if you're unsure.

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more parents aren't opting out each year - the same amount of parents opt out each year. There's a difference.

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More parents pull their kids out each year, resulting in a smaller total number of kids in, say, 6th grade than there was in 1st grade. Cumulatively, more parents pull their kids out every school year. Oh, I suppose you want data?

2014-2015 attrition for BPS by grade, K through 5:
7.3% 6.5% 5.8% 6.9% 18.6% 15.4%

Consider how many of those parents continue to live in Boston yet opt out of BPS year after year. Each new opt-out swells the ranks.

The population of the city is growing, but the number of kids in BPS is still shrinking. How else would you describe that but more and more parents pulling their kids out of BPS every year?

People who are new to the area say gosh what a great demand there is for public free prekindergarten! There will be so many more in middle school in eight years than there were before.

But that's not what the way it works. By dribs and drabs a third of the kids in early public education will be gone by middle school.

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I would wonder if some of those number discrepancies are kids technically served by BPS but actually placed in alternative settings... when a kid's disability/behavior/social problems/whatever gets so completely severe they're incapable of being in a normal school, their public district has to pay for them to be somewhere, whether that's private or residential or what.

2k is a BIG difference, though.

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I believe the enrollment number referenced there comes from this fact sheet. I have no idea why there is a discrepancy between that number and the on reported on the DESE web site.

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Perhaps the discrepancy is explained by the footnote at the end of this posting on the BPS web site:

The 54,000 BPS student population figure excludes students enrolled in in-district charter schools.

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I believe Boston charter enrollment is about 6k maybe 8k. Could be METCO.

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BPS own data and the MA DoE data show enrollment is flat and the budget is up by $200m since 2010. Just five years!

Now, most of that went to SPED and health care, etc... but you don't get to pick and chose how money is being spend by one department and claim cuts. Maybe BPS cut spending at the school level but they are getting more money than ever before for fewer kids.

Charter schools might be a problem specifically in that if they bring currently unrolled kids into public, free education in Boston, then the city's costs will go up. I'd imagine the city is very happy to not pay to educate 20k out of the 70k kids in Boston and have the parents who opt out save the city a lot of money. If we entice those kids back to free school via charters, the rest of us will no longer get a free ride off of them.

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It was created in 1978 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit organization, which is not part of the Federal government. As a new city councilor, Menino persuaded the National Trust to bring the program to urban America in 1985, beginning with Roslindale. Locally, the program is funded through donations from businesses and residents and the City of Boston. Another first Menino brokered with the National Trust was the first Small Business Saturday event, sponsored by American Express and held in Roslindale Village, on November 30, 1997.

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However, they are funded, with a majority of their operating income, through HUD grants via the CDBG managed by the city. So in essence they could be considered federally funded. Each district must also sign a contract with the city that is a condition of receiving the grants, so even their programs are managed from afar by HUD and the DND.

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The description of what happened in Roslindale Sq is accurate.

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1) BPS is very inefficient, but it's too early in Chang's leadership to make any real judgement calls on if this is improving. I think the last years of Menino and Johnson were rudderless and that still has an impact on the system today. The budget is up $200m over the last 5 years with flat enrollment but I'm not going to tell a parent that their kid isn't feeling a budget squeeze at the school level. The system budget rises, seemingly endlessly, but the school level 'user experience' budget is not great. In terms of operational inefficiency, just look at the assignment reform - we all went to endless meetings about the various options and only after the meetings did BPS come out with the plan currently used.

2) I wish people got as mad about all the money that BPS fritters away on consultants and outside organizations as they do about charter schools. Charter school expansion has to be done very slowly and charter schools need to be vetted carefully. A bad charter school loses its charter but we keep sending kids to Madison and other failing schools without any real penalty to the people who failed those kids.

3) Walsh said he views the excess capacity as a chance to get more kids into the system but I can't imagine he means that. If they were to build another K-8 in West Roxbury or Roslindale, then sure, that would fill right up but the city has huge legacy costs looming- they really can't be looking to add to that. I'll be interested to see how the unsubscribed school map out across the neighborhoods. You can't close 5 schools in Roxbury just because they are underattended.

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Enrollment would be up if ppl in up-and-coming neighborhoods would be assured of neighborhood spot. Lottery scares off a significant number of parents. Doesn't solve inequality issues, but would be mistake to leave neighborhoods without access to school within walking distance. Chunk of charter enrollment due mostly to proximity.

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I have a kid at the Brooke in Roslindale. The vast majority of those kids are not from Roslindale.

What do you mean by up-and-coming? If you mean middle class parents in WR and Rosi would happily send their kids to BPS if they got a local spot, then yes. If you mean poorer parents in Roxbury or Mattapan would happily send their kids to their local, underperforming school with open seats, I'd say no.

As you say, we can't leave neighborhoods without quality schools but having lots of under-used schools is also inefficient. It's a tricky problem which is why it hasn't been solved.

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Enrollment would be up if ppl in up-and-coming neighborhoods would be assured of neighborhood spot.

Eh? Proximity has (almost) nothing to do with it. I have a 2-year-old, and we're starting to make decisions about where we're going to live in three years. "Location of elementary school" is behind at least a dozen other things on the priority list. Considering that the "neighborhood schools" movement has generally taken the position of class-based discrimination, I'd much rather see efforts go to improving schools network-wide, rather than fight the same inane fight we've been having since 1971.

Chunk of charter enrollment due mostly to proximity.

Again, disagree. Charter enrollment is based on public lottery, and most (all? I'd have to do some digging) charter schools don't give preference to geo-location. If a parent chooses Brooke Roslindale over a terrible BPS school in Brighton, the choice is probably not being made based on how long a bus ride the kid would be facing.

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I think it might even be a legal requirement that charter schools NOT be restricted by geography within the city. Plus, BPS gets to pick up the costs of busing their kids all over the place, so it's not like their educational programs will suffer if they have kids coming from the other side of the city.

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Otherwise theres the risk that charter school X sets up shop in West Roxbury and sucking in easier to educate kids from BPS/Catholic Mem while claiming they've solved some educational challenge.

Funnily I've seen people complain that the Brooke will take kids from Roslindale due to unified enrollment and stop taking so many kids from Mattapan, etc... and therefore hurt the Irving. The mind boggles.

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BROOKE MATTAPAN, a Boston charter school, is being held up as a school where students of color earn high MCAS scores without racial integration (“Can separate be equal?; Ideas, Oct. 11). But when those students of color have disabilities, they are denied access to Brooke’s novel curriculum.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2015/10/15/praised-charte...

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To expound a bit on your first point, last night's school committee meeting (which I did not attend, I followed along on twitter) included a presentation on the preliminary budget for next year. As I interpreted things, BPS is expecting a $14M appropriation increase, but is also expecting that maintaining its current services will incur a cost increase of about $36M. To make up that gap, the current plan is to (among other things) reduce funding to individual school budgets by $10M. This is a completely typical example of how those of us who see firsthand how our school's budget changes from year to year are continually feeling like we're getting squeezed, despite the school department's yearly budget increase.

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Chris - do you know what assumptions are made for enrollment in these budgets? Does the phrase "current services" mean for current enrollment levels or do they adjust based on expectations for higher or lower enrollment?

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I'm inferring a lot here, so please take this with that grain of salt, but my understanding is that part of the reduction to the individual school budgets (i.e. weighted student funding) is due to the fact that enrollment is declining. That is, if they keep the same WSF formulas but have fewer students in the system, that portion of the budget will go down based only on the decline in enrollment. Without BPS taking some specific cost reduction steps, though, I doubt that most expenses that are budgeted centrally vary all that much in cost based only on enrollment.

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It seems like the claim that there are 36,000 empty seats in BPS could lead to a little bit of confusion. This report claims that there are "just" 4,100 empty seats. I assume this means that BPS buildings have the physical capacity to support 90,000 seats, but is actually using that space for about 60,000 classroom seats, 4,100 of which are empty.

I hope that the entire report includes the methodology used to determine that there is enough capacity to support 90,000 seats, as well. I'm certainly no expert here, but I am under the impression that there is a specific formula used to determine how much room should be devoted to instructional space based on the number of students in a school, along with the amount of space devoted to spaces like gymnasiums, cafeterias, etc. Most BPS schools are quite old and weren't built using today's standards, so simply comparing the square footage of a modern school building and an older school building doesn't necessarily tell you a lot about the actual number of seats that each school could accommodate. Assuming the report is done well it could tell us a lot about both the true amount of excess capacity in our school buildings and some of the inefficiencies the school system is taking on by continuing to rely on aging infrastructure.

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The buildings are not too big but they cost too much to maintain. The city committed itself to paying way over market for repairs and upgrades.

This goes beyond regular crumbling: you can't bring in technology because the buildings have weak security so stuff gets stolen by students, staff or people just walking in off the street.

The root of the problem is teacher quality is so uneven. You have some good teachers who can effectively teach 1.5 years of material per class. They are making up for bad teachers who teach .25 years. Both get paid the same amount. The school department will not back up the administrators who try to clean out the bad ones.

There is no way to improve the quality of instruction besides closing schools. The union and administration colluded to make this so, because it maximizes employment for people who are overpaid for as long as possible. The result is the enrollment dropping until some acceptable level of quality is reached -- slower than if you had real choice and market in schools, but it will happen eventually.

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I don't know about the rest of the city, but the problem in places like Roslindale and West Roxbury is that a lot of the elementary school buildings are really small and are not very amenable to expansion. So even if the city did go back to true neighborhood schools (remember, 50% of the seats at any school are supposed to be reserved for kids within a school's walk zone now, give or take the vagaries of sibling preference, right?), there'd be no place to put all those kids around here, short of hauling in more trailers like the ones the Lyndon used to use.

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In Brighton they bussed kids from black neighborhoods in to certain schools. Those schools closed. If they had simply replicated the few Brighton schools that are overenrolled in the empty buildings they would have more students but it would be whiter.

I don't see that it is in the schools' interest to have more white students in the whiter neighborhoods.

Instead we have this weird desegregation not by neighborhood but by school.

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"You have some good teachers who can effectively teach 1.5 years of material per class. They are making up for bad teachers who teach .25 years. Both get paid the same amount."

Correction (to make a generality based on experience at one school), the "effective teacher" probably gets paid less, as the "bad teacher" has likely been there forever and just doesn't give a darn anymore, whether because of burn-out, general lack of caring, entitlement, etc.

Those "effective teachers" are probably also putting enough of their comparatively large BPS salaries back into their classrooms that they see little net gain, if any, over teachers in more affluent systems. You can't expect the ballooning BPS budget to include things like pencils and paper for the students!

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Principals are increasing able to sideline crap teachers and hire who they want. BTU didn't like it, but improvements have been made.

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... is used for "unnecessary" (in the bean counters' minds) purposes -- libraries, gyms, cafeterias, etc.

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To use an analogy from making cookies last night, I think the problem is more akin to how you always have extra dough left over after cutting out shapes. However, unlike dough, you can't simply clump all the extra seats together and reroll them into a fresh sheet. However, to strain the analogy a bit, I do hope BPS can use this study to find a way to at least reroll the clumps a little.

So to review, kids = sugar, spice, flour - teachers = the eggs which keep them together - the mixer is of course the remorseless BPS administration and the cookie cutters = the school assignment algorithms. Walsh is the inattentive person checking twitter feed for mentions while the cookies burn.

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I was under the impression that BPS was super tight for space in the lower grades, though? Couldn't they just take a lot of these empty classrooms and put K-8 in them?

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if the classroom space is in a good school. I don't want to my five year old to have to take a bus across town to a lousy school.

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You can't just move around classrooms like shipping containers. Pick any Rosi K-5 school and you can easily add a whole additional class in each grade from a demand perspective but it's physically impossible to expand any of those schools without giving up outdoor play area, etc... if even then. Not to mention the ADA stuff which would kick in once you start to significantly rework a building of that age.

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Mahty is backpedaling as fast as he can from the logical conclusion of the study. Mustn't make moms angry. Someone will accuse you of racism; someone will say you're trying to rahm it down our throats; someone will file suit.

Better to hide the white feather in the closet with the rest and limp your way through your only term.

Here in Boston the remnants of forced busing became a system of "school choice." The entire edifice of "school choice" rests on the premise that the market of parents will determine the success of individual schools. There can be no comparative success without comparative failure.

Refusal to shutter and sell off the failed schools and fire the excess teachers is a choice that not only holds back the successful schools but puts the lie to the whole paradigm of choice. Do we want steadily improving public education or do we want half-empty warehouses for kids who lost the lottery and perpetual employment for dead wood?

Make a choice, Marty.

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Until BPS goes back to true neighborhood schools, cuts busing grade schooler's all around the city and goes to added school hours not much will change. Why does the Student assignment system have to rely on an algorithm and multiple choices for schools? It ridiculous.

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cuts busing grade schooler's all around the city

How will this solve the too many buildings problem? Please show your work (as in the cost of implementing new buildings all over the area)?

Also, you are ignoring that neighborhood schools were great ONLY for those kids who won the birth lottery.

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Neighborhood schools are also great for anybody impacted by buses zigzagging across the city, which is everybody.

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Busing the majority of grade school kids around the city so that we can keep the myth of having school choice options isn't working. Why couldn't all that extra money spent busing kids be put into under performing schools? And yes BPS can make those under performing schools more attractive including having added school hours and more teachers per pupil. You should not need to hit the lottery if you want your kid to be able to walk to school.

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Parents like predictability. More parents would stay in the system if they could know where their kid was going to elementary school, therefore, many of the seats would fill as more parents stayed in the city rather than move to the suburbs or enroll their child in parochial/private school.

You could use all the money saved on busing to invest in the struggling schools in lower-income neighborhoods.

All cities who bus have the problem of parents fleeing at Kindergarten. All cities who don't bus have the problem of kids being sorted into schools by socioeconomic strata. The reality is, you can play as many shell games as you want shuffling poor and rich kids around, but you simply can't get rid of the fact that poor and rich kids exist.

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I live on WR and the elementary school is 2 blocks away. My neighbor’s id had no chance to go there after not getting in for Pre K or K1. Now what choice did they have? The closest option was only a 30 minute bus ride away. Great options to send your 5 year only a bus for an hour each day. Can we look and see the system is broken. School choice doesn’t work and the find a plan that does. Charter Schools, closing schools is all a smoke screen obscuring the bigger problem

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Seems like the obvious solution for all that extra space

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First the lottery system needs to end and go back to neighborhood schools.

Second the admin. Needs to identify larger empty or partially empty buildings near well performing schools to add capacity to the better schools. The other day I was driving by the large empty school in logan square in hyde park....relocate the nearby Roosevelt school which I hear is great and really hope our daughter gets into.

Third sell off vacant buildings or rent empty space to increase revenue.

There are alot of parents in our neighborhood that send their kids to private schools, paying to do so...perhaps there is a way to increase revenue by allowing donations to bring back the neighborhood system if cost is an issue?

Everyone we ask says elementary school and high school are good but middle school is the problem. So focus efforts on middle school and how to resolve behavioral issues.

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Doesn't that just make you queasy?

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You must know Jack, son.

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Some schmuck lawyer from Wellesley who wormed his way into becoming a judge decided to ignore the prerogative of people living where they want to live, and tell Bostonians that they simply couldn't walk to the closest school, and that they had to board a bus instead.

One of the biggest "do as I say, not as I do" pieces of garbage who ever walked the Earth. Really, the least he could have done was grandfather it in so that you didn't get ripped out of your neighborhood's high school after 9 years in that school system.

And I didn't even grow up here, but I did grow up in Vermont, and I know what (expletive) smells like.

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Apparently they don't read it in Vermont

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Why is the Town of Brookline looking to build a new school? We should look to lease an existing school from Boston.

Brookline eyes possible sites for new school
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2015/10/28/brookline-ey...

Brookline officials have identified possible locations for building a new school as efforts to find more classroom space in existing buildings have failed to keep up with unrelenting increases in enrollment.

Seems like a win-win outcome to me.

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Can you imagine the reaction among the good parents of Brookline at an idea like that? The public hearing would go on for a week and you'd have to wear ear protection for all the anguished cries about violence and cooties and stuff.

If this were even possible, that is. Aside from what ultimately became the failed MDC experiment, eastern Massachusetts has always been far more resistant to any governmental efforts that stretch across municipal lines, even something as relatively benign as your idea.

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I know exactly what that fracas would look like... I was a public school kid in a 99% white Connecticut suburb when Sheff v. O'Neill came down in 1996. From the public hearings, I learned how this was all a nefarious plot by "those people" in the lawless inner neighborhoods of Hartford to expand their drug dealing and human trafficking operations into new markets, while also adopting a ruthless (though economically questionable) strategy of tying down innocent middle schoolers and employing used needles to inject heroin directly into their unwilling veins.

Which is to say, I think we need to enact this policy yesterday, and Adam should have exclusive reporting rights to the ensuing Town Hall meetings.

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Is as close to another city as you will ever get for a school property. If Brookline said they were going to pay Boston rent for this building isn't that crazy of an idea.

The Baldwin School on Corey/Wash is also real close to Brookline.

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I think that's a great solution. All the people who leave Boston for the schools get to Brookline and end up having their kids bused back to Boston to school. Brilliant.

One problem is that it's not the schools near Brookline that have the empty space. I could see them hauling kids a few blocks across the border, to say Mission Hill or Brighton, but not all the way down to Hyde Park.

But if we're going to assume the other problems with the idea are resolved, we can assume that one is resolved too.

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Drop METCO, and Boston will get back 3,000 students and end the most absurd busing program in the state.

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That much is pretty clear.

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