After nearly two years of pandemic uncertainty, vague communication and a revolving door of resignations from Boston School Board members, Governor Baker and his commissioner named Jeff Riley have added a stressful layer of intimidation by continuing to promote the idea of receivership for Boston public schools. As if threatening state receivership was an informal conversation over dinner, Board member Matt Hills brought up the topic at an elementary and secondary school board meeting on September 21. . I would also say that this is a process that we want to follow and continue.
Baker and Riley’s relationship with BPS has been one of the continued threats and intimidation. Last year, as schools scrambled to close for the looming pandemic, rather than finding ways to support school districts as they braced for the unknown, Baker and Riley decided to take a bite out with a vague memorandum of understanding for BPS just three days before the announcement of the school closures.
Domingo Morel’s 2018 book, “Takeover: Race, Education and Democracy,” explores the history of state receivership laws and their impact on U.S. public school districts. Morel found that in communities with larger Black and Latino populations, the state was more likely to try to take over when communities of color began to take on leadership roles on school committees and city councils. . Educational publication Chalkbeat interviewed Morel on the themes of his book, noting: “Predominantly black school districts are more likely to be taken over, Morel’s documents, and these takeovers are more likely to suppress the school board altogether. elected. He also finds that cities with a higher proportion of black city council members are more likely to face takeovers, with heads of state arguing they need to take control of chaotic local politics. “
During the last election cycle, Boston City Council saw an increase in Black and Latino leadership. Recently, councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Julia Mejia filed a bylaw petition that would allow a return to school committee elections by 2026. This direct decision to have Boston public school families vote on their leadership s’ accompanied by a non-binding ballot question to support an elected school committee that will be voted on in the November 2 elections. Boston is the only municipality in the state to have a school committee appointed by the mayor.
Given Morel’s research into receivership models, it’s no surprise that Baker and Riley continue their quest to intimidate Boston into state receivership. The three school districts in Massachusetts currently in receivership are Southbridge, Holyoke and Lawrence. All of these districts have a predominantly Latin American immigrant student population with large numbers of English learners, low-income students, and students with disabilities. Lawrence is 94% Latino. All of these school districts have been in receivership since at least 2016, and Lawrence began its receivership in 2012. None have made much headway under state control.
In Boston, two schools are in receivership from Riley, the Dever and the Holland. Dever Elementary School in Dorchester has been in government since 2014. Dever’s students are mostly Latin American. Before the receivership, 37% of the teachers were Latino and the school had one of the few bilingual programs in the city in BPS. DESE created some turning leadership changes, with Riley himself in charge at one point. The Dever no longer has a bilingual program and the proportion of Latino teachers has fallen to 15%. As part of the receivership, Holland Elementary School was transferred to charter management company UP Academy, which made headlines for its high number of suspensions and extreme discipline policies.
While BPS has its fair share of problems, a Baker and Riley receivership would be far worse. What seems unimaginable, families would have even less influence in decision-making than with an appointed school committee.
Ruby Reyes is Director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance