Schools

Mass. education commissioner is ‘extremely concerned’ about the Boston School Committee, he says

After the recent board shake-up, Commissioner Jeffrey Riley is considering a temporary freeze on federal funds to the district, he said.

Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, speaks in June 2020. Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe
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Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley is “extremely concerned” about the recent shake up on the Boston School Committee — and he may temporarily freeze federal funding to the district as a result, he said Tuesday.

Former committee chair Alexandra Oliver-Dávila and member Lorna Rivera resigned earlier this month after a racially-charged text message exchange the two had during public testimony at an October meeting was made public.

Asked during a board meeting Tuesday about what his staff thinks regarding what happened, Riley said he is “extremely concerned about what’s transpired on that school committee,” according to The Boston Globe.

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“As a state, we have a responsibility to kind of oversee what’s happening there,” he added. “And the fact that there’s nearly a half a billion dollars, I think it’s $430 million, that are coming in ESSER [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund] funding makes me nervous about what’s happening in Boston.”

According to the newspaper, Riley’s staff will explore “the possibility of maybe temporarily freezing” the second and third rounds of relief funding slated for Boston to receive, he said.

Riley wants the board to be “stabilized,” he said, although he added the current instability is not a reflection on acting Mayor Kim Janey’s administration.

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“I think it’s fair to question how such a diminished board could make such a substantial decision [for] this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for children,” Riley said.

Janey responded on Wednesday, saying the district is “in a good position to move forward.” Applications for the two committee positions were made public last week, she noted.

Freezing funding would only create instability, she said.

“Freezing resources is not the way to move forward here,” Janey said while speaking at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce virtual event. “What we know — particularly coming out of COVID, particularly as we are preparing to reopen our school buildings this fall and bring all of our students back — we need to invest in our schools, we need to invest in our education system, and we need all hands on deck.

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“And so I would encourage Secretary Riley — I would encourage everyone — to open up their arms and wrap them around our young people and make sure that we are making good investments in our schools,” she added.

The latest committee resignations arrived months after former Chairman Michael Loconto resigned for being heard seemingly mocking names of people who signed up to speak at the same October meeting.

Staff writer Nik DeCosta-Klipa contributed reporting.

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