Friction between parents and the Boston Public Schools (BPS) is not anything new. But for one parent—Luis Valerio of West Roxbury—that tension has propelled him to run for the District 6 City Council seat, in hope of changing the system.
Matt O’Malley, who lives in Jamaica Plain, currently holds the District 6 seat, which covers most of JP, and is seeking reelection. Valerio said he has nothing personally against O’Malley, but that they just have two different visions for “what we have to do as a city councilor.”
“I’m running for a better Boston Public Schools,” he said in a recent interview at the Gazette’s office.
Besides BPS, the interview touched on several other issues, including Valerio’s proposals for an indoor sports center in West Roxbury and renting out English High School, and his involvement with Dominican Republic politics, the country he is from.
Valerio said he moved to Boston 14 years ago because “a lot of Dominicans live here.” He lived in the Egleston Square area for about five years. Valerio said he has a lot of friends in JP and is here frequently, as he goes to church at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish on South Street.
Jamaica has a lot of diversity, said Valerio, but there is also a lot of concern with safety, such as youth violence. He said he supports more police in the community, but that there needs to be programs for teens who are in gangs and are on drugs, so they can productive members of society.
Valerio, who is retail account manager at the long-distance calling service company IDT Corporation and often works with bodegas, said small-business owners deserve more opportunities and that he would support any initiative that would do that.
Valerio is no stranger to politics, as he has served as the secretary general for the Dominican Revolutionary Party in New England. Dominicans are allowed to vote after moving to another country. Last year’s Dominican Republic presidential election was active in JP with both candidates visiting the area.
Valerio is also a member of the Massachusetts Democratic Latino Caucus and an organizer of the Dominican Festival.
Valerio spoke about his trouble finding a spot for his children in schools in West Roxbury. He said he was forced to commute 40 minutes to drive his daughter to the Haynes Early Education Center in Roxbury after failing to find a spot at a West Roxbury school. Valerio said the only alternative to him driving her was a bus ride that started at 6 a.m.
“For a 5-year-old child, that is not right,” he said.
Valerio’s daughter eventually got a spot at the Patrick Lydon School in West Roxbury, which her brother also attended.
Valerio said that failing to find a spot in a desirable school is a problem across the city. He said his brother-in-law sent his children to private school after not being able to find a spot in a West Roxbury school.
Valerio said he is not sure if the new home-based, zone-free school choice plan approved this year will solve the problem. He said he likes the concept of the plan. But, he said, the number of students in the system is increasing each year, making it more difficult to find spots in schools.
BPS spends a lot of money on busing and salary and benefits, but not enough on additional classrooms, said Valerio. He said more classrooms lead not only to more available spots, but also to fewer students per class and improved education.
“I’m running as a parent, not as a traditional politician,” said Valerio.
But to improve BPS, money will be needed. Valerio has a solution: rent out English High School during evenings to universities.
“We need to think outside the box,” said Valerio.
He said a college holding classes there would generate foot traffic for businesses and would be a place for local residents to continue their education rather than traveling downtown. English High School currently hosts an adult learning program during evenings.
Another of Valerio’s ideas is to build an indoor sports center at Millennium Park in West Roxbury. He said the fields can only be used a couple months out of the year because of New England’s weather, while children spend a lot of time during winter months playing video games and watching television because they have no where else to go.
Valerio said he knows the center would cost a lot of money, but believes corporate sponsors could help pay for it.
“As a community, if we come together, we can probably get it,” he said.