Boston’s ongoing school assignment reform plan is contentious, ill-conceived … and the staging ground for the 2013 mayoral election.
In order to get into an elementary school, Boston parents must submit to an annual school-placement lottery for a shot at getting their chosen school—typically not one of the lower performing schools the city usually reserves for the communities of color in Roxbury, Dorchester, or Mattapan.
Being a parent in West Roxbury, City Councilor John Connolly has no doubt heard story after story from constituents upset over not getting their kids into the school down the street while watching “outsider” kids from other neighborhoods coming into the community to take up the few remaining seats in that school.
Connolly was the one who originally started making noise a year ago about his intention to reform the assignment process.
Mayor Tom Menino quickly hijacked this effort when he announced his intention for reform in his January 2012 state of the city address.
Since then Connolly has shrewdly been letting the school department run with the ball on an issue that’s most definitely divisive. The school department introduced five rezoning models, with all but one diminishing the sizes of the zones, further guaranteeing that a child’s public school success has a lot to do with where his or her parents live.
Which means, that by attempting to attach his name onto school assignment reform, Menino may have guaranteed himself the political damage of being associated with a dysfunctional process
that’s choosing to address transportation costs and angry white parents over actually trying to make more of the schools worth a damn.
In classic political grandstanding fashion Connolly recently slapped his dick down on a table for the mayor and the voting public to see. Of course, in the news it was “more-accurately” reported that Connolly presented an alternative to the five re-zoning plans the school department has been shopping around as its school assignment reform.
Connolly’s own Quality Choice Plan was presented with fellow Councilor Matt O’Malley, and State Reps Ed Coppinger, Russell Holmes, Nick Collins, and Linda Dorcena Forry, in a display of political theater designed to show that Connolly would have support when running against the mayor.
The at-large councilor’s plan is the equivalent of the high-school student president’s promise to put Coke in the water fountains.
It’s not necessarily as risky for a state rep. to publically back an obvious challenger to Menino’s power, but one has to wonder what the impact will be on O’Malley, who spent the last couple of years shoring up his reputation as a team player for the administration.
Connolly’s move is absolutely a pragmatic one. He is the kind of guy who would throw his kids into a dysfunctional lottery system and then into a poor performing city school for the political capital when he’s well aware that with one phone call he could easily get his kids into Holy Name—the West Roxbury parochial school Connolly attended as a child.
On the other hand, if his Quality Choice Plan gambit pays off and is adopted into the reforms—which may be in the process of happening—Connolly could be making that call from the mayor’s office come 2014.