‘The wrong move’: Boston City Council stands against state takeover of BPS

"This is an affront to the voters of this city."

John Tlumacki
Boston Latin School. John Tlumacki/Boston Globe staff
Boston Public Schools

The Boston City Council is officially on the record as against state receivership for the city’s public schools.

In a 10-1-1 vote on Wednesday, councilors signed off on a resolution expressing strong opposition to the prospect of turning over Boston Public Schools to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education “or other forms of state control.”

“State receivership is the wrong move for Boston for many reasons, not least of which is that DESE has a miserable track record of improving schools it has taken into receivership,” Councilor Julia Mejia, a co-sponsor of the resolution and chair of the council’s Committee on Education, said.


Talk of receivership has flared again after DESE began an audit of the district in March — the department’s second review of the school district since 2020.

The initial report from two years ago put a critical lens to the status of the city’s schools, finding that, among other takeaways, 34 of the district’s schools had students who scored in the lowest 10 percent on the state’s MCAS exams.

In the wake of that review, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius developed a memorandum of understanding with DESE. The document outlined goals and plans for the district to improve, including through expanding supports for special needs students and equitable access to student support. It also put a renewed focus on underperforming schools.

By law, DESE is required to complete a second review before it can place BPS in receivership — a move opposed by many city officials, school leaders, and teachers. It’s currently unclear what action DESE may take for Boston schools moving forward.

Many councilors on Wednesday pointed to the state’s own problematic track record with receivership as all the more reason to oppose it.

A Boston Globe analysis this month of graduation rates, test scores, and college enrollment, along with other metrics, found the state has failed to meet many of its own goals for districts under receivership, which include Lawrence, Holyoke, and Southbridge.


“(DESE has) not done really any commendable work in their turnarounds to date in smaller school districts,” said Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for Suffolk County district attorney.

All three districts “remain among the 10 lowest-ranked” school systems in the state, councilors wrote in the resolution, which is a non-binding, symbolic gesture.

“According to DESE-published data, BPS has outperformed all the DESE-controlled receivership districts in both ELA and Math, at both the elementary and secondary levels, both before and during the pandemic,” the resolution states.

Mejia said the council’s education committee held a hearing on the matter last month. DESE officials were invited to speak, but did not attend the meeting.

“BPS is not without its problems and we all know that because we sit in these budget hearings every day,” Mejia said on Wednesday. “But these are problems that can be solved by turning to the community, not by initiating yet another executive leadership retooling. That kind of thinking lacks innovation and intentionally avoids the core problems BPS is facing.”

But not all councilors are convinced outright opposition to receivership is the right move.

Councilor Michael Flaherty said he understands the “legitimate concerns about total state receivership,” an action he opposes.


However, Flaherty outlined a confluence of issues facing BPS, from transportation woes to student safety, and said maybe the time has come to discuss some form of “targeted interventions” through partnerships with state and federal agencies.

“There are dedicated professionals (in BPS who are) passionate, committed to our children, to making a difference in their lives, to closing those gaps,” Flaherty said. “This has nothing to do with them. For me, this is about the central office. The buck stops with the superintendent and the central office. They are thwarting progress.

“I just think that the time has come that we call them out,” he added.

Councilor Frank Baker agreed. The resolution “defends the status quo,” he said.

“Do I want the state to come in and take over? No, but I think there’s definitely areas where (that) can be improved,” Baker said.

Baker voted against the measure. Flaherty abstained from the vote.

The latest discussion over receivership comes as the city searches for its next superintendent; Cassellius is slated to step down next month.

Councilor Kendra Lara noted voters also backed an elected School Committee model last year, and the city just elected a new mayor.

“We’re moving towards more democratic governance,” Lara said. “We’re moving towards a different vision for BPS and now the state wants to come in and try to take over. This is an affront to the voters of this city.”

Read the resolution:

Resolution Opposing State Receivership of Boston Public Schools by Christopher Gavin on Scribd


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