Connolly focuses on education

August 26, 2011
By

(Courtesy Photo) City Councilor John Connolly

If At-Large City Councilor John Connolly had his way, Boston Public Schools would be radically different.

A former middle school teacher and chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, “I would pilot the whole system,” Connolly said in an interview at the Gazette office in June, referring to pilot schools—BPS schools that are granted more autonomy than traditional public schools.

Connolly said he would like to see budget, curriculum and hiring decisions made at the school level, instead of by BPS administrators. “It would create a lot of individual schools. When [a pilot school] fails, it fails spectacularly, but when one succeeds, it succeeds spectacularly.”

Connolly also said he is in favor of doing away with the complicated BPS lottery school assignment system—which often sees elementary and middle school students bused across the city—in favor of neighborhood schools.

“I am opposed to it because I don’t think it works. The lottery system means, by definition, someone will win and someone will lose,” he said

BPS officials have plan to unveil a new student assignment plan in the coming year, and Connolly said the City Council Education Committee will be holding hearings on that topic in the fall.

Among his key accomplishments heading the education committee, Connolly counted tripling the number of hearings held on the BPS budget.

That extra attention to a budget that, including federal funds and private grants, tops $1 billion, has helped make it more transparent, he said.

As an example, Connolly said, “BPS spends $900,000 a year on waste removal, but they don’t have any real waste recycling in place.”

Recycling would certainly be a money-saver, Connolly said, and with the amount of paper and other office waste the school system generates, “If the market [for recyclables] turns around, we could actually net money on it.”

Connolly told the Gazette that his discovery and publicizing of BPS’s practice of storing and serving expired food was the result of a tip from an anonymous source. Despite reports that Mayor Thomas Menino was upset about the public airing of that issue, Connolly praised Menino.

“When he sees there is a problem, he steps in to fix it,” Connolly said. “He is the most popular politician in the history of the city. And he has done a good job, overall.”

But, Connolly said, he is “not worried” about his reputation in City Hall. “I take pride in that point,” he said. “I want people to look at me and see someone taking their best interests and acting on their best interests first. I want them to see me as their city councilor and no one else’s.”

The councilor, like all of his colleagues, is running for reelection this year. He was first elected in 2007.

Connolly is also vice-chair of the City Council Energy and Environment Committee, which his chaired by local City Councilor Matt O’Malley. He said he supports O’Malley’s current efforts to press the MBTA on the redevelopment of the Arborway Yard.

Connolly also said he is still pushing for the city to develop an environmental science and engineering vocational school, and idea he has been discussing since his first City Council campaign in 2007.

“We should bulldoze the Madison and O’Bryant schools in Dudley Square and build a carbon negative school with wind turbines and solar arrays that could double as a learning environment,” he said.

Connolly also said he wants to jumpstart the city’s on-street recycling program. “Everywhere there is a trash can, I would like to see a recycling option,” he said.