School busing an unnecessary expense

March 6, 2009
By

The Boston Public Schools (BPS) are facing severe budget cuts, and everybody is running around as if their heads have been cut off, basically looking for ways to maintain the status quo. Aid to special pro-grams is going; libraries are being shut down; teachers laid off; administrators let go; and the advocates for maintaining the budget at the current level are crying foul.

I taught in the BPS as a substitute teacher for 11 years. As a substitute teacher, I was sent to schools all over the city, eventually having taught in many of the 147 schools in the district. Every day I noticed only minority kids getting out of the buses at each school. Buses would then pick up minority students and bus them to other parts of the city. Every day, 3,000 buses crisscross each other six times, playing, in essence, musical chairs with all the kids, costing the city $60 million.

Yes, in the 1970s, the courts ordered busing in what was then a largely segregated city. As a result, essentially all the whites left the city and began sending their kids to the schools in the suburbs. Yet the buses keep rolling. In the lunchrooms with other teachers I would ask, “Why do the students get bused?”

Invariably, the answer was, “Beats me. We’ve been asking ourselves that question for years.” Upon occa-sion, I would ask the students, “Why are you bused?” They would answer that they would rather be picked up at the corner from where they live and bused to another neighborhood than to have to walk to school, espe-cially in the winter.

I once asked a candidate running for office in the teachers’ union why they didn’t question the busing budget, and he answered that the drivers are in a union. “We have to support them.”

In the 1960s, Jonathan Kozol wrote what is the classic book on the BPS entitled “Death at an Early Age,” severely criticizing the way the schools were being run. He was a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes Scholar and was fired after his first year of teaching in Boston. In his latest book, “The Shame of the Nation,” subti-tled, “The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America,” he documents the racist, segregated, legal school system we have today. This is what maintaining the BPS budget would do. Reducing the budget does little more than keep it up with less money.

I’m afraid that the current arguments for maintaining the current budget are just showing what a poor education the advocates have received.

Jeff Herman
Jamaica Plain

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