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More schools targeted to close in Hub

SUPERINTENDENT DISCUSSES PLANS “We are trying to put in a quality set of programs that . . . can help us be competitive,” Carol Johnson said. SUPERINTENDENT DISCUSSES PLANS
“We are trying to put in a quality set of programs that . . . can help us be competitive,” Carol Johnson said.
By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / December 2, 2010

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Boston School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson is expected to recommend tonight the closing or merging of more than a dozen schools, a proposal that goes further than one she withdrew earlier this fall amid criticism from parents, students, and budget watchdogs.

The new proposal retains most of the elements of her previous plan, but calls for closing additional schools and creating new programs.

If approved by the School Committee, the redesign would reduce by about one-quarter the 5,600 empty seats now scattered in schools across the city.

The goal is to achieve greater cost savings as the district confronts a potential $63 million shortfall for the next school year, while it is also looking for money to improve academic quality, Johnson said in an interview yesterday afternoon.

The school closings and mergers, Johnson said, are just one aspect of a budgetary response plan that aims to save tens of millions of dollars by increasing class sizes and reducing bus services for some students, among other initiatives.

Johnson said it was with reluctance that she recommends many of the school closings and mergers.

“I hate school closings,’’ Johnson said, as she gave a broad overview of her proposal. “But I think in order to make the kinds of investments we need to make in our school communities for all students across the district, we have to make some tough decisions.

“As I said before, we can’t keep buildings open for the sake of keeping buildings open,’’ Johnson said. “We know [closing schools] is very upsetting for families, but we are trying to put in a quality set of programs that can last in the long term and can help us be competitive.’’

But scores of parents, students, and staff who protested Johnson’s initial recommendations to close their schools will probably be upset with the new plan. Johnson intends to stick with all but one of five previous school closing recommendations, although she did not say which school would be given a reprieve.

Johnson also declined to name the additional schools involved in the plan. Parents should receive notices today.

The five schools identified under the previous proposal were the Emerson Elementary School in Roxbury, the East Zone Learning Center and the Roger Clapp Elementary School in Dorchester, and the Social Justice Academy and the Engineering School in Hyde Park.

Johnson intends to keep in play her previous recommendation to partially consolidate the Joseph Lee Elementary School and the Lee Academy Pilot School, which share a building in Dorchester.

The School Committee is slated to vote Dec. 15 on Johnson’s proposal. The committee needs to act quickly because next month parents start submitting their choices of where they want to send their children to school next fall.

A public hearing will be held on the proposal Wednesday.

Richard Stutman, the teachers union president, called the decision to shut down more schools foolish.

The revisions, however, seem likely to appease, at least to a certain degree, some of Johnson’s critics, including Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded watchdog group that faulted the previous proposal for recommending too few schools for closing.

“It’s a step in the right direction,’’ said Tyler, who received some information on the revised proposal late yesterday afternoon. “Whether there is enough school closings will depend on [the superintendent’s] ability to effect class sizes and other savings.’’

In deciding which schools to close or merge, Johnson said she considered capacity, academic performance, popularity among parents, and geographic location, among other factors.

The actual number of buildings the district will vacate under the proposal will be notably fewer than the number of schools slated for closing.

That’s because Johnson’s plan also calls for creating some new programs, which need locations.

In all, the district could operate about five fewer buildings as schools next year. Johnson’s previous proposal called for four fewer school buildings.

But some of those buildings might not sit empty for long. In a separate announcement late yesterday afternoon, Johnson and Mayor Thomas M. Menino said some buildings may be leased to charter schools, which are planning an aggressive expansion in the city.

The possible lease arrangements are part of an effort to build greater collaboration between the city’s school system and charter schools to expand academic opportunities for students and to realize operational savings between the entities, which gathered for a meeting yesterday.

Kevin Andrews, president of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, emphasized yesterday that charter school operators and the city just talked about the idea of leases and that no decisions were made.

“Facilities were one of a long line of issues that were discussed,’’ Andrews said. “If we get to the point where the city and charter schools can agree [on leases], I’m sure charter schools would be happy.’’

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.