An advocacy group says Boston mayor wants to close 36 schools

Mayor Marty Walsh has denied the accusation.

Mayor Marty Walsh.
Mayor Marty Walsh. –Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

An advocacy group claimed Monday that Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told them privately he wants to close 36 public schools as part of his 10-year master plan for the city’s schools.

The mayor’s office denied the accusation from Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), a grassroots organization comprised of parents. The group says the city is withholding information about its plans to close nearly three dozen schools and is allowing the Boston Compact, an entity that receives funding from the Gates Foundation, to develop policy about city schools without input from students’ families.

“The Mayor has never said, nor does he have a plan to close 36 schools,’’ mayoral spokeswoman Laura Oggeri said in a statement. “Mayor Walsh has proven his dedication to Boston Public Schools by, in the past year alone, providing unprecedented budgetary support, extending learning time for students, adding 200 pre-kindergarten seats to the district, and hiring a first-class Superintendent.’’

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David Guarino, a spokesman for the Boston Compact, said the Compact neither has nor seeks policy-making authority, and that all final decisions will be made by the Mayor, school committee and charter boards.

“The Mayor’s unified enrollment proposal is designed to improve access to quality schools for all Boston school children and their families by creating one application, one deadline and one process for enrollment in district and charter schools,’’ he said. “The Compact is vetting this proposal now and held seven citywide meetings to gather input.’’

In September, when he unveiled “Build BPS,’’ a 10-year educational and facilities master plan for the city’s public school system, Walsh acknowledged that some of the city’s 126 schools would close. He didn’t publicly say how many. The parents’ group claims Walsh told them 36 schools would close in a private meeting held the same day the plan was unveiled to the public.

The Boston Compact was created in 2011 to encourage collaboration among district, charter and Catholic schools. It’s made up of teachers and administrators who aim to create educational opportunities for children who are historically underserved, including English language learners and students with disabilities.

The Compact has also advocated for a new unified enrollment in the school system that would bring charter schools into the fold. This means that, when parents will fill out a single application for their children to attend Boston Public schools, their kids will be considered for both charter and district schools.

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Charter schools are publicly funded schools that usually operate independently of their local districts. They’re often seen as controversial because they do not have to be unionized and are given more freedom in determining their own curriculums, budgets and staffing.

“We’ve seen what happened in other cities when unified enrollments were imposed,’’ Karen Oil, a Boston Public Schools parent, said in a statement. “In New Orleans, it led to greater segregation and less equity, particularly for special needs students. In Denver, Philadelphia, and elsewhere, public schools have been closed and the buildings handed over to private operators.’’

This isn’t the first time the issue of school closings has come up. In early November, Esquire’s political blogger, Charles P. Pierce, wrote a post accusing Walsh of pulling a “full Scott Walker’’—or changing his position on an issue once he got elected.

Pierce’s post was sourced based on a blog post from Mary Lewis-Pierce, who goes by the name “Public School Mama.’’ The Boston public school parent filed a “freedom of information act’’ request to obtain documents from Boston Compact. In her post, Lewis-Pierce wrote that the Boston Compact is currently working to determine which public school buildings should be turned into charter schools. She didn’t disclose how she knew the Compact was working on such a plan.

At the time, Oggeri said, “the Esquire article is untrue and unsourced, and references meetings that the Mayor has never had. We are extremely disappointed at the spread of misinformation.’’ Oggeri said this statement was in reference to meetings with the Gates and Walton Foundations.

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On Monday, Oggeri said she could confirm that the Mayor and Rahn Dorsey, Boston’s chief of education, met with QUEST on Sept. 29, but said they did not discuss school closures. The meeting focused on the unified enrollment proposal and charter schools, she said.

Currently, 34 of the state’s 80 charter schools are in Boston. Gov. Baker is in favor of increasing the number of charter schools in the state. He proposed legislation in October that would permit 12 new or expanded charter schools to open each year, but only in districts performing in the bottom 25 percent on standardized tests. Boston is one of these districts.

Walsh has expressed concern about Baker’s plan, and said that increasing the number of charter schools too quickly could drain district budgets. But he is not opposed to expanding charter schools in general.

“This isn’t just an issue of charter schools,’’ said Matthew Bennet, chair of the democratic committee for the city’s eighth ward. “As a concerned citizen, I’m shocked at the lack of transparency around this project. There’s a lack of transparency about public buildings being used for private purposes. And last year the city of Boston lost $121 million to charter schools.’’

Under the current law, the state can direct up to 9 percent of the money the district spends on students to finance the cost of students attending charter schools. In a low-performing district, the state can allocate up to 18 percent of spending on students to fund seats at charter schools before it is capped.

The state has a fund to reimburse school districts for some of the money sent to charter schools, but those reimbursements don’t completely offset the cost of sending students to charter schools.

This school year, Boston will lose $15,000 for each of the 8,475 students who attend charter schools, about $104 million in all, after deducting state reimbursements, according to data reported by WBUR.

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