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.