School assignment plan approved

By Rebeca Oliveira and John Ruch/Gazette Staff

The Boston School Committee voted 6-1 to approve a new home-based, zone-free school choice plan last night. The approved plan does not include walk-zone priority and will take effect in the 2014-2015 school year.

The plan does away with zones and uses a child’s address as a starting point for a “basket” of six to nine school choices. Pupils are expected to attend schools 40 percent closer to home than in the current three-zone plan.

The removal of the walk-zone priority was a surprise change in the plan, recommended by BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson in a letter to the school committee the night of the vote.

“Tonight’s historic vote marks a new day for every child in the City of Boston,” Mayor Thomas Menino said in a statement. “A more predictable and equitable student assignment system that emphasizes quality and keeps our children close to home has been a long time coming for our city. There will always be more work to be done to push all of our schools to be better, and tonight’s vote sets a path forward to make all our schools quality schools of choice.”

City Councilor and mayoral candidate John Connolly criticized the plan’s approval.

“This was our opportunity to bring quality to every single school and offer every child a guaranteed seat at a school close to home. Instead, BPS replaced the current convoluted school lottery with a different convoluted school lottery, and, to make matters worse, they removed walk-zone priority. It is cruel to call this bold reform when too many children will be left on waitlists, without quality choices, and without a seat at a school close to their home,” Connolly said.

Walk-zone priority frequently was debated during months of planning, but was not part of the version of the assignment plan that BPS originally recommended and discussed in recent community meetings, including one in Jamaica Plain. Its last-minute addition to the plan was a surprise.

Asked whether Menino was aware ahead of time of Johnson’s intent to remove the walk-zone priority, mayoral spokesperson Dot Joyce told the Gazette, “I’m sure they discussed it, yes.”

Joyce said that, because of the months of previous discussion, there was no need to have further input about removing the walk-zone priority from the final plan. “It had a year’s worth of conversation,” she said.

The plan was developed through a 27-member External Advisory Committee made up of parents, students and community members and input from Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty and students.

Updated version: This version includes information about the removal of the walk-zone priority.

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