Boston School Committee Signs “Compact” with Charter Schools

Hundreds called for resources to support their existing schools, not charter conversions, at Boston School Committee meetings last year. (Photo by Ann O'Halloran)

By Ann O’Halloran

Boston recently joined 12 other cities across the country in signing a Gates Foundation-backed “Compact” with a group of charter schools. The deal creates a new “Office of Compact Agreement,” with equal representation from district and charter school administration and influence over school closings and leasing of public school buildings to charter schools.

On September 20, in a rare exception to a tradition of unanimous votes by the mayorally appointed Boston School Committee, members voted 5 in favor and 2 against the Compact. Several members raised questions during the discussion.

As in other participating cities, the Gates Foundation has offered Boston access to a $100,000 competitive grant. Boston and other Compact cities could receive additional multimillion-dollar grants for further work.

Citizens for Public Schools submitted concerns about the Compact to the School Committee in advance of the meeting; five CPS members attended.

CPS questioned  the lack of public input, the financial arrangements, whether the Open Meeting law would apply to the new “office”, the extent of shared strategic planning, leasing of closed or “underutilized” district school buildings to charter schools, charter schools’ failure to educate English Language Learners and students with Special Needs, and the attrition rate from charter schools back to district schools.

The compact is being touted by the School Department and the charter school reps as heralding a new era of cooperation. We have to question whether it’s best for the children of Boston for so much power to be ceded to an organization that wants to grow and, in order for that to happen, essentially needs existing public school buildings to be closed and handed over to charters and existing public school budgets to be cut so that charters can be funded. The hundreds of students, parents, and teachers who flooded the Boston School Committee meetings last year didn’t think that school closings and budget cuts were the way to go. They were not clamoring for charter schools. They wanted the resources needed to protect and improve their existing schools!

The Boston Teachers Union, a key stakeholder, opposed the Compact. In an interview, BTU President Richard Stutman suggested much of the compact is a “symbolic show,” noting the city should have pressured charters to educate special needs students years ago. “They [the charters] need the compact because they’re desperate for buildings, and the city needs to save a little face,” Stutman said.

The other cities which signed on in September were Central Falls, R.I., and Sacramento, while Baltimore, Denver, Hartford, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City and Rochester, N.Y. signed agreements in December 2010.

[To return to Backpack, close browser.]