The appointed committee invariably doesn’t listen or act on the community’s behalf because they’re not elected, and therefore not accountable, to the community.
Last spring, Khymani James, a Black Boston Latin Academy senior who was elected by his peers to represent their interests on the Boston School Committee, resigned from his post in disgust. Citing “racist and adultist” behavior on the part of school committee members and other school leaders, James felt his voice—along with the voices of the students he was there to represent—was being silenced.
One of the things James had pushed for was the right to vote as a member of the school committee. As the only elected member of the committee, the student rep isn’t allowed to vote. That lack of representation? It’s not just students. It’s the entire BPS community.
The school committee in the City of Boston has been appointed by the mayor since 1991. Out of 351 municipalities in Massachusetts, Boston is the only one to have an appointed school committee. Every other municipality in the state elects their school committee. Here in Boston, the biggest district in the state, the entity that sets the policies and approves the budget for the public schools serves at the pleasure of the mayor.
We need to return to an elected school committee, because this is fundamentally a voting rights—and a civil rights—issue. For the past 30 years, year after year, we have witnessed students, parents, community members, and educators—especially Black and brown people—ask the appointed school committee for basic resources, things like working windows and water fountains, that their schools lack. That appointed committee invariably doesn’t listen or act on the community’s behalf because they’re not elected, and therefore not accountable, to the community.
In this city, so much power is concentrated in the mayor’s office, it can be hard to make change unless you have the mayor’s ear. A school committee appointed by the mayor (who until the upcoming election has always been a white man, supported by other white power brokers in the city) means the committee members are more likely to represent the mayor’s interests or to be swayed by political interests.
In fact, in 2019, the school committee voted unanimously on 111 action items. That record makes it hard to believe that the voices of a diverse community of parents and students from a range of schools, neighborhoods, and backgrounds are actually being taken into account.
Eighty-six percent of the kids in the district are Black and brown kids, but the resources within BPS, such as exam schools, advanced work programs, robust sports programs, and so on, are not in the schools with the most Black and brown students. Mostly, BPS families get lip service, like the recent school committee meeting when Superintendent Brenda Casselius noted that this year has been the best year ever for on-time bus performance. Parents know better, including the mom of the boy who spent five hours on the bus and got home at 8:45pm on his first day of school.
BPS families need the power (the vote) to hold the school committee accountable. The committee is passing policies that affect Black and brown students and families the most. With an elected committee, all BPS families would have a voice when it comes to these issues.
Throughout this country’s history up to the very present day, we’ve seen what happens when people are denied the right to vote. People lose faith in the institutions that are supposedly there to support them. Boston has the oldest public school system in the country. We are a wealthy city that can afford to underwrite excellent public education for all. But without elected representation, without school committee reps chosen by voters to go to bat for the entire BPS community, people will lose faith. And then where does that leave our public school system? Where does it leave our students?
In November, we’re heading out to vote in an historic election for mayor of Boston. It’s a chance for voters throughout Boston’s neighborhoods to cast their vote for the kind of representation they want to see in the city. It’s a moment of change for the city, and the question of whether we want to vote for an elected school committee is also on the ballot. The only way the Boston School Committee can represent the people of Boston is by ensuring we have a fully elected school committee. Vote Yes on Question 3.