Over the objections of hundreds of parents, students, and staff, the Boston School Committee voted tonight to shutter or merge about 18 schools, as part of an effort to plug a potential $63 million shortfall for the next school year.
The plan affects nearly every neighborhood in the city, from East Boston where many families hung in the windows of their triple-deckers placards advocating for the preservation of the tiny Alighieri School, to Jamaica Plain where students adorned the entryway and the walls of the Agassiz Elementary School with pictures and letters to Mayor Thomas M. Menino pleading with him to spare their school from closure.
But as much as the School Committee did not want to disappoint students, staff, and parents, members said they had no choice but to close and merge the schools -- a move that could reduce the budget gap for the next school year by approximately $10 million.
The proposal, pitched by Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, will leave eight school buildings, including the Agassiz and the Alighieri, empty after school lets out in June. The other vacated buildings include the East Zone Early Learning Center, Fifield Elementary, and Middle School Academy, all in Dorchester; Emerson Elementary in Roxbury; Farragut Elementary in Roxbury; and the Hyde Park Education Complex, prompting the demise of two small high schools there, the Engineering School and the Social Justice Academy.
The proposal also calls for merging eight other schools that share a building. Excel High School and Monument High School in South Boston will merge. Lee Academy Pilot School and Joseph Lee Elementary in Dorchester will partially unite. And the four high schools at the West Roxbury Education Complex will become two schools, by combining Urban Science Academy and Parkway Academy of Technology and Health and melding together Brook Farm Business & Service Career Academy and Media Communications Technology High School.
The restructuring should reduce by about one-quarter the 5,600 empty classroom seats scattered across the city.
Because thousands of empty seats will remain, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau said Johnson's proposal is not nearly aggressive enough in cutting the district's operating costs. The bureau's president, Samuel Tyler, predicted before the meeting that the district will have to close more schools in another year or two.
Hundreds of parents, students, staff, and community activists packed the auditorium at English High School to capacity. Scores of others were directed to watch the proceedings remotely in the school's gymnasium.
The committee's vote came roughly six weeks later than originally planned because Johnson had to withdraw her initial proposal, presented in early October. The superintendent pulled back her original plan so she could address a range of concerns raised by the affected school communities who questioned the accuracy of the data Johnson used to recommend school closures, and from fiscal watchdogs who said Johnson selected too few schools for closing.
On Tuesday, Mayor Thomas M. Menino waded into the debate during a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, where he delivered a speech in which he urged the School Committee to pass the superintendent's proposal.
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