School choice was the topic for discussion in this early April session of the Community Task Force on Student Assignment. The fourteen member task force is charged with coming up with recommendations for improving the way students are assigned to Boston public schools.
Currently half of a school’s seats are set aside for students within a two mile radius of the school. At the Richard J. Murphy School in Dorchester, for example, more than half the kids are bused in. Parents are split over whether the Murphy should become simply a neighborhood school.
Kevin Monahan and his family live a mile from the Richard J. Murphy school. “My wife Elaine will pickup my son in Grade 1 and my daughter Nicole in Grade 3. And it is very convenient.”
Monahan thinks the task force should increase the number of seats for neighborhood kids. “I've been an advocate for neighborhood seats, neighborhood schools, so I'm looking for a change in that direction. I know it can't happen across the board, cause schools don't exist where they need to be. But there are a lot of schools with potential.”
Monahan says the $60 million dollars allocated for busing would be better spent making all neighborhood schools as good as the Murphy school. “Elevate all the schools and put those dollars into smaller class sizes, into more teachers, more upgraded books, other facilities we can better use that money for.”
But another Murphy Dad says busing is critical because not all neighborhood schools perform at the same level. “The reason that Victor goes to the Murphy school as opposed to a close community school is because the MCAS scores at the Murphy are higher than the other schools that are close to our neighborhood.”
Bill Walker doesn’t support a move toward neighborhood schools. He says parents make the difference and as a result – some schools get more resources. “I think the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If you don't go to the child's school and advocate for some of the issues that you need, then you won't get those resources.”
The community task force will consider a variety of assignment options before it makes its recommendations in June. Meanwhile these two Murphy parents have their own recommendations for the task force. Kevin Monahan says “I think we got to not look back and look forward.” Bill Walker counters with, “If its working why fix it? It's not broke, don't fix it.”