Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino this morning forcefully backed a plan to shutter nine schools and called for a dramatic overhaul of the city teachers’ contract to lengthen the school day and tie pay to student performance.
Speaking in a Back Bay hotel ballroom to more than 500 business leaders, Menino made a direct link between public education and a successful economy. The address before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce sought to increase pressure on the Boston Teachers Union as it negotiates a new contract. The mayor also made it clear to the school board he appointed that he expects the approval Wednesday night of Superintendent Carol R. Johnson’s restructuring plan.
“The question before us is this: Will we – as a city – have the courage to stop doing things that limit student achievement so we can grow the strategies that accelerate it?” Menino asked in his speech.
To expand the programs that “drive student achievement,” Menino said, the city must shut nine school buildings and merge eight schools into four.
“There is no joy in closing schools,” Menino said as he reminded the audience of his fight almost two decades ago to keep school committee members appointed, not elected. “We knew they would understand that the right decisions aren’t always the most popular decisions. We knew they would face important moments like tomorrow night when they will vote on Superintendent Johnson’s reform plan.”
The speech at the Westin Copley Place marked the strongest public support the mayor has offered his superintendent since she proposed a strategy to eliminate about one-quarter of the 5,600 empty seats scattered in schools across the city. When Johnson first outlined her plan earlier this month, Menino had just been readmitted to the hospital because he had a reaction to pain medication he took after contracting a bacterial infection on a trip to Italy.
Closing and merging schools could save at least $10 million and help plug what officials have described as a $63 million budget gap. But the plan has faced opposition from parents, teachers, students, and community activists.
Menino called for four specific changes in the next teachers' contract, most of which are sure to irk the union. The mayor said he wants increased flexibility for principals and headmasters so they can “put the best teachers where they are needed most.” He demanded that the new contract “reward our best teachers for outstanding results in the classroom.”
“We value years of teaching experience and master's degrees,” Menino said, “but some compensation has to be linked to student performance.”
He pushed for a longer school day because Boston has “one of the shortest school days in the Commonwealth.” And fourth, Menino called for an overhaul of the system used to evaluate teachers.
Stutman, president of the roughly 6,500-member Boston Teachers Union, said he believed the speech "was designed to put the school committee on notice that he wants them to close schools He was unequivocal. He told them what to do."
The consolidation plan is "ill conceived," Stutman said, and may do more harm than good because it is not based on education and learning.
"The schools that are closing are pretty good or they have changed dramatically and improved recently," Stutman said. "There is no educational reason, there's no logic to closing them and moving the students to schools that may not be as well."
To help cut costs, the mayor also took aim at the more than $300,000 city schools spend each day on transportation. To underscore that expense, he said that for every dollar spent on transportation the city spends just one nickel on school supplies. The superintendent will work with the community, Menino said, to develop a new student assignment zone plan that “preserves choices for parents and cuts costs for
“I am under no illusion that implementing our education reform plan is going to be easy,” Menino said in conclusion. “But nobody should be under any illusion that it’s not necessary.”
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