Maura In The News

New busing map dices Rozzie
By David L. Harris/ Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004

The task force assigned to create a new busing master plan recommended last week to split the city into six zones for elementary schools and splinter Roslindale into four, disappointing many Parkway parents and politicians.

The student assignment task force presented its recommendations, which were anything but unanimous, to the Boston School Committee at English High School in Jamaica Plain last Wednesday night.

The plan that the majority of the task force recommended would split the city into six primary elementary school zones and three middle school zones. The plan would also create a half-mile-wide buffer area, so schools could accept students from each side of the buffer.

The meeting last week also prominently featured two groups, one neighborhood schools faction supported by District 6 City Councilor John M. Tobin Jr., Walk2Schools; and the other headed by City Councilor Chuck Turner, Work 4 Quality Schools, pushing for no changes to the current plan until issues of quality can be addressed.

Walk2Schools has been advocating setting aside 100 percent of the seats in a school for kids within walking distance and a zoneless city for the roughly 60,300 students who attend city schools.

"It draws lines across neighborhoods, and those lines visually segregate the city," said Tobin in an interview. "It's a big city, but it's a small city. The Jamaica Plain/Allston-Brighton zone makes no sense whatsoever. Our recommendations go far beyond that... [the task force's] map only made us want to present more."

Still half

The task force also recommended setting aside 50 percent of the seats at a school for students in the walk zone, increasing the number of K-8 schools and establishing a trust fund that would hold any money saved from lower busing costs.

Current transportation costs hover around $59 million per year.

"There's a systemic distrust that the savings would then disappear," said task force chairman Ted Landsmark. "We felt strongly that if there were any savings, it would have to be allocated to underperforming schools."

Not all the task force members agreed.

"If you don't know how much it's going to cost to start a new system," said Sandra McIntosh, "then how much can you think about the savings of a new system?"

Lottery changes

In addition, the task force proposed a change to the lottery system that so many parents grumble about.

School Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Reilinger said that in addition to quality, the committee will look at both the lottery system and walk zone percentage.

The task force was appointed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the school board to "help the city assess where there should be any changes" to the process that assigns students to schools within their zone.

The city currently is divided into three different zones, a result of the 1974 federal court decision that attempted to desegregate the city's public schools. In 1999, race no longer was a factor in assigning students schools.

"The proof is in the pudding," said William Boyan, a school committee member. "This open dialogue has set the course for people to establish trust again [in the schools]."

Hennigan neutral

At-Large City Councilor Maura Hennigan didn't want to comment until she knew why the number of seats at public schools were downsized.

"You bet, dollars to doughnuts, children of that age and how expensive it is to go to parochial schools, they would be applying right and left," said Hennigan. "We have to be very clear of what we're going to do. What also should never have happened ... why did they close the old Lyndon School? You lost all those seats. We need to have a discussion looking at the whole picture."

District 5 City Councilor Rob Consalvo called for a minimum 75 percent walk zone and a greater number of neighborhood schools, though he said he has yet to say whether he supports the task force's plans.

Many parents were upset after listening to the talk.

"I'm disappointed with the task force and their recommendations," said Roslindale resident and parent Paul Carlon, 30. "I would like to see a return to more of a community-based model for our schools, similar to what Tobin is proposing. If you have more of a community-based type program for assigning kids to neighborhood schools, there's no question you're going to increase parental involvement and accountability."

Another parent from West Roxbury said he was somewhat happy with the outcome of the meeting.

"I went into the meeting somewhat pessimistic," said Dennis Sullivan, the father of a 2-year-old and a 6-month old. "I was disappointed like many parents. I left very optimistic, actually. I sensed that the school committee really was looking beyond what the task force recommended: quality, choice and community preference.

"They're looking at these issues as trying to accommodate all parents."

The School Committee, which must vote on any plan by early November in order for it to go into effect for the 2005 school year, will hold four public hearings over the next month to discuss the task force's recommendations, including one in Roslindale at the Washington Irving Middle School at 105 Cummins Highway on Oct. 20 at 6 p.m.

(Editor's Note: For more information on the student assignment process, contact 617-635-9014 or visit )

David Harris can be reached at [email protected]


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