Wednesday, October 3, 2012

0 Testimony to Boston School Committee Regarding Boston School Choice

Please excuse the messiness of this post, but I am just getting home at 10:00 p.m. and want to make it available to those who are interested! I will post my coverage of tonight HOPEFULLY tomorrow if there is time between work and my daughter's high school Open House & the Ohrenberger Community Meeting re: School Choice! 
This is the written testimony I gave to the Boston School Committee members, my verbal testimony was a bit more rushed.
Karen Kast       Boston School Choice Proposals Testimony     10/3/12
Stop rushing the process!!!!!!!  We have not been given everything needed to realistically evaluate the proposed models.  There is confusion, panic and misinformation despite BPS’ best attempts. Families , whether current or potential, partners and the entire Boston community need to be able to evaluate the proposals intelligently and right now that is NOT happening because key data and information is missing.
Regarding information still needed to comprehensively evaluate the proposed models:
On page 4 of BPS' Phase 3: Framework for School Choice Options, Update to the External Advisory Committee presentation on August 20, 2012 BPS stated that the following issues would already be addressed as part of the September 24, 2012 roll-out of proposed models:

"What will be presented on September 24?:
  • 3 – 5 school choice options
  • An explanation of each option 
    • Describing the pros and cons of each
    • Maps of the proposed models  (were provided)
    • Policy considerations (for example grandfathering of current students, priorities, how administrative assignments might occur)
    • Cost and transportation implications
    • All plans will be paired with academic improvement strategies to continue the transformation of lower performing schools
  • The community will then begin its evaluation of options and the underlying components of the models"
PLEASE provide all the promised materials as outlined in the Phase 3 presentation! Under policy considerations, you also need to include a clearly stated explanation of what walk zone policies will be as that is one of the most concerning issues for families.
Regarding Transportation cost savings, please provide the following to myself and the public:
A) What are the projected savings under each plan?
IF students are “grandfathered”, how will that affect the projected savings?
B) How soon does BPS project that these savings will be realized?
C) What will the funds saved by eliminating the majority of bussing be used for?
Some questions that need to be answered by BPS:
  • Why is the City of Boston paying for transportation of parochial students?
  • Many buses are not full, in fact some are practically empty, has BPS looked at expanding routes to include more students on each bus and therefore cut down the amount of buses used? 
  • Can BPS provide a detailed break-down of the exact costs for all categories of students transported by BPS? 
    1. District regular education students
    2. District special education students
    3. "In District Charter Schools" transportation costs
    4. Non-BPS Charter School students with sub-categories for special and regular education students
    5. Parochial school students
    6. Other students
  • Detailed breakdown of the number of students per route/trip, per bus should also be examined.
It is understood by many who have been around as long as I have that BPS has an SOP when attempting to pass anything that is sure to be controversial:
  • Present the proposal to public & announce comment period (usually starts within a week which gives people very little time to fully evaluate complex proposals);
  • Limited amount of time the public can comment on proposals (two week period in this case);
  • Review feedback briefly and generate a “compromise” proposal to send to Superintendent and BSC;
  • Schedule the presentation by Superintendent to BSC between Thanksgiving and the December school break when there is less likelihood of families et al attending meetings;
  • Vote on proposal by BSC at last meeting in December.
Let’s make a change to this SOP, especially now that there is yet another counter-proposal offered by elected officials on this matter – I urge the BSC, despite the Mayor wanting a new assignment policy in place prior to January, to enable more public comment time through additional community meetings AFTER we all have the other data we need to assess the proposals. 
After all, if we truly want every BPS school to become a “quality school”  shouldn’t WE make sure that we put quality time and consideration into what is being proposed?
Thought for the day: 
Prior to the desegregation of BPS schools, we had 87,000 students in our schools. When I first became Chair of the Boston Special Needs Parent Advisory Council (SNPAC) in 1997, we had 64,000 students in BPS. Now, according to the Department of Education district profile we currently have 55,027 students in our district. 
How many students will be left after this school choice process is done? I fear only those who do not have a choice whether due to income level or services needed that Boston Public Schools, unlike other districts, can and does provide fairly well for students with disabilities OR have parents who are die-hard Bostonians like myself. 


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