EAC Votes to Recommend Home-Based Plan A, Unchanged Walk Zone Priority, and All Overlays
This is old news by now, but here's my recap of last night's EAC meeting. You can also read coverage from the Globe, Dorchester Reporter, WBUR, and WBZ.
The meeting started with 20 members in attendance and approximately four submitting proxies. Apparently, some of these proxies were from members who had rarely or never attended meetings and had decided to abstain from all votes.
The meeting began with members who had attended Saturday's meeting briefing the committee on their discussions. Helen Dájer said that at least some of the members in attendance had come in favoring home-based plan B but had left leaning towards home-based A. The reason appears to be that while plan B offers more choices and particularly more quality choices to families who don't have many quality schools nearby, it also increases competition for quality seats at many schools. The result is that plan B is only somewhat more equitable overall and some groups appear to do better under plan A.
Laura Perille summarized some data on the impact of walk zone priority. She moved that the EAC recommend keeping the current 50% priority and the current processing order (see this post for more on the processing order). She also moves to ask BPS to review the impact of walk zone priority after the new plan has been in place for two years. All of these recommendations mirror the MAPC suggestions. Hardin Coleman suggested that since the impact of the current walk zone priority is minimal, it might be best to keep it as is until more information is available after a new plan has been implemented. Helen Dájer said that while she had favored eliminating the walk zone priority in the past, she felt that it might be better not to make all of the changes at once so that they could be evaluated separately. Josephine Tavares argued that it would be easier to drop the walk zone now when changes are being made than to go back and reopen the issue later.
John Nucci agreed with keeping the walk zone as it is. He worries a change would be a distraction from other issues, including improving quality. Craig Lankhorst was strongly opposed to the new processing order that BPS had proposed.
Miren Uriarte asked to split the vote on keeping the walk zone priority and keeping the current processing order. Laura Perille agreed. The EAC voted overwhelmingly in favor of both motions. Their recommendation is to keep both the 50% priority and the current processing order under the new plan. They are also calling on BPS to review the impact of this policy after the new plan has been in place for two years.
The committee went through their draft recommendation memo. They went through several recommendations that would apply to any plan. I won't go through them here, but you can read them in the document. There were several tweaks recommended. One recommendation is that BPS pilot some kind of formalized parent compacting as suggested in John Connolly's Quality Choice Plan. Rahn Dorsey said, "I'm agnostic about parent compacting. In fact, I'm so agnostic about it, I may not like it." He suggested something formal about BPS encouraging parent organizing in general. The committee agreed to add it.
The memo calls for BPS to continue to release data after this process. Miren Uriarte called for data analysis, not just raw data so that parents and others could understand the information released by BPS.
The committee moved on to voting on the proposed overlays. The overlays for English-language learners and students with disabilities passed unanimously with only abstentions from absent members.
There was more discussion of the middle school pathways proposal. Miren Uriarte said she wasn't comfortable with the idea because she didn't have enough information (in fact, as far as I know BPS released no data on the impact of this change). Some members pointed out that children wouldn't have to attend the middle school that their elementary school feeds into. Others pointed out that seats in the best middle schools might mostly fill with students who are guaranteed seats based on which elementary school they attend. Rahn Dorsey shared this concern and suggested an intervention that would give children in tier 4 schools whose MCAS scores were below proficient priority in tier 1 or 2 middle schools.
The committee agreed to vote on the middle school feeder patterns and then address Rahn's proposal. The committee voted overwhelmingly for the feeder pattern. There were no "no" votes, but two members voted "present."
Rahn proposed his intervention with the caveat that if BPS found it impractical to implement, they could substitute another method to achieve the same objective. There was a fair amount of discussion on the idea. Several members felt that they couldn't vote on such a plan without seeing some data on it (although they had done just that with the middle school feeder plan itself). Others were supportive. In the end Laura Perille offered a friendly amendment that the idea be moved to the general recommendation document to have BPS consider the idea. The committee voted unanimously to do this.
At last it was time to vote on the actual assignment plans. The idea was that they would vote in rounds with the plan receiving the lowest number of votes eliminated until a plan received a majority of the votes cast. The options were the 10 zone plan, 11 zone plan, home based A, and home-based B. Members could also vote "present" which would essentially mean "none of the above" or abstain which would mean their vote would effectively be ignored.
In the first round, 20 members voted for home-based A, 1 for home-based B (Bob Gittens who voted via proxy), two voted "present" (Kelly Bates and Josephine Tavares). With home-based A receiving a clear majority, there was no need to go to a second round.
After a break, the committee turned back to their recommendation memo. There were quite a few recommended additions including: a 3rd party audit of the system every five years, a focus on diversity in schools after the new plan takes effect, especially if quality improves and families are attending schools even closer to home than they would initially, and investigation of reducing busing by BPS to charters, private and parochial schools.
Hardin Coleman asked that the committee authorize the chairs and Kathleen Colby and Rahn Dorsey to finish the memo without further EAC meetings. There was general agreement.
Carol Johnson thanked the EAC for their work and promised that the School Committee would hold community meetings before voting on the plan. It will be presented to them tomorrow night (2/27), but they are expected to vote before the end of March.
Next steps + thanks
The BSC is now expected to vote on March 13th, and it seems likely these will be public hearings on the assignment plan, instead of budget meetings:
Thursday, February 28 – *New Date 6 P.M.– Budget Hearing Harbor Middle School 11 Charles Street, Dorchester
Thursday, March 7 6 P.M.– Budget Hearing Orchard Gardens K-8 School 906 Albany Street, Roxbury
I'm glad the EAC strongly emphasized the need for a quality task force. This could be the best thing that comes out of the EAC, as addressing school quality is the real issue. The assignment discussion would have been an easy one if the quality issues weren't such a challenge. Link to BPS release:
I hope there's also follow through on the implementation issues - especially the idea of making sure the information is presented to parents in a useful and relevant way, in a format that meets their needs.
Rahn Dorsey's suggestion of supporting parent organizing is a great one. There may be some very low cost, high impact things that could be done. Now it's difficult in many if not most schools - for example, the use of email is limited because not all parents have access, and it's often hard to even get email addresses when they do.
Thanks very much for your coverage of the EAC, it was useful to many, many people and to the process.
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