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May 6, 2004
Roxbury residents contemplate
taskforce’s school assign maps
Last week, Roxbury residents got their first look
at eight models of what the city’s school assignment zones
may look like come the fall of 2005.
The gathering at the Charles Street AME Church
was the second in a series of forums to be held across the city
over the next month to gather public input on the proposed maps.
Following the forums, the mayorally-appointed Student
Assignment Review Task Force, which came up with the maps, will
make recommendations to the School Committee. The committee will
then decide on a plan.
The maps would divide Boston into between one and
twelve zones. Models that would split the city into four or fewer
zones received mixed reviews from participants at the Roxbury
gathering, while a proposal to create twelve zones was panned
as moving the city toward segregation.
One model which garnered support from some in the
crowd was a three zone model which would spread out the district’s
underperforming elementary schools more evenly among the zones.
“A limitation of the current [three zone]
plan is 15 of the 19 schools under state review or corrective
action are in the East Zone,” noted Kim Janey of Massachusetts
Advocates for Children. The East Zone has the highest proportion
of black and Latino students.
A proposed four-zone model would further disperse
the underperforming schools.
But in that model, the zone with the highest proportion
of black and Latino students would contain 289 too few middle
school seats. Meanwhile, the other three zones would enjoy between
570 and 972 extra middle school seats.
Currently, the East and West zones, which have
the highest proportions of black and Latino students, contain
278 and 1,182 extra middle school seats respectively, while the
north zone has 15 too few.
In the proposed models, black and Latino students
nearly always make up the majority of the population in each zone.
However, zones with higher proportions of blacks and Latinos generally
have fewer extra seats, and in a handful of cases too few seats.
The disparities are likely due to the status of
Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan as the only neighborhoods in
the city with more students than seats available. Many school
buildings in those neighborhoods were sold or destroyed following
court-ordered desegregation in the 1970s.
To deal with the handful of proposed zones with
shortages of seats, the school department would simply create
more places in the schools in those zones, said a mayoral policy
“You’d add another class in a school,”
said the policy officer, Meredith Weenick, who has been working
with the task force on the school assignment process.
Task force members note that smaller zones would
give students a better chance of getting into one of their top
school choices, because they would have fewer schools to choose
“Simply redrawing lines to create balance
between available seats and student enrollments would not in and
of itself create greater access to the schools that are thought
to be the better schools,” said Task Force co-Chairman Ted
Landsmark. “The task force has tried in these models to
create better access for more parents to those schools which are
viewed as among the best in the city by trying to spread those
schools out among the zones.”
Indeed, most of the zones in the proposed models
would enjoy roughly the same number of advanced work classes,
high- and low-MCAS performing schools and underperforming schools.
Some of the models call for more K-8 schools and
would allow students from across the city to apply to these K-8
schools. Under each model, high schools would remain citywide.
During public input meetings on the current assignment
plan held across the city earlier this year, residents expressed
an overwhelming demand for higher quality schools, regardless
of how zones are drawn.
Given that quality is the main concern of city
residents, some participants at last week’s meeting in Roxbury
suggested there should first be a public process to examine that
issue before the city looks to remake school zones.
“Everyone’s main concern, and I heard
it in Roxbury and West Roxbury, is quality,” said Wendy
Kelly, who has two children in the Boston public schools. “Why
are we discussing this before discussing quality?”
In recent years, city officials have expressed
concern over the rising cost of busing and parents from predominantly
white neighborhoods such as West Roxbury have been clamoring for
a return to a system where students attend school closer to home.
Observers say these factors are what led Mayor
Menino, who has expressed support for smaller zones, and the school
department to initiate the current process.
However, it is unclear how much money, if any,
the city will save in the short run if it changes to smaller zones,
given the cost of changing more schools to K-8 and other expenses
related to re-zoning.
When asked whether a shift to smaller zones would
save the city money, school department Chief Operating Officer
Michael Contempasis could not say whether there would be immediate
“In the long term, probably,” he said.
“Under the status quo, there would be no short term and
no long term savings.”
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