School assignment plan approved

March 29, 2013
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The Boston School Committee voted 6-1 to approve a new home-based, zone-free school choice plan March 13. 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] 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.

QUEST member Mary Battenfeld, a JP resident and Wheelock College education professor told the Gazette that her—and QUEST’s— primary concern is access to quality schools for every pupil, a goal this plan doesn’t quite meet. QUEST is a city-wide group of BPS parents that advocate for higher-quality schools.

“The [approved] plan provides more quality schools to some, but not all. [Access] is still not equal,” she said. “[The plan] doesn’t do anything to address the fact that some families get more quality schools in their baskets and the [School Committee] needs to address that.”

But she said she was pleased with the decision to do away with walk-zone priority.

“We have advocated against the walk-zone priority, as it impedes equitable access,” she said. “The plan that we have before us is a neighborhood school plan. You don’t need to add additional access.”

Battenfeld said she did not think the decision to do away with walk-zone-priority was too hasty, noting that it had been brought up and discussed throughout the public process.

“There’s been a lot of advocacy on it. There’s been a lot of discussion on this,” she 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.