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Boston school relocation proposal is scrutinized

Watchdog group says long-term plan vital

Boston’s independent watchdog agency is investigating a school district proposal to expand access to a dozen high-quality schools, fearing that the plan was hurriedly hatched, resulting in unintended consequences.

“This seemed to be a very quick plan, and we want to make sure it works out in the long-term. instead of just making a quick five-year plan,’’ said Matthew Cahill, executive director of the Boston Finance Commission. “We’d like to know where the money is coming from and where the money is going.’’

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The Boston School Committee approved Superintendent Carol R. Johnson’s recommendation in November to relocate seven schools, including Mission Hill K-8, and renovate five others. Shuffling locations would allow these popular schools to boost enrollment by adding 700 new seats through $12.2 million in renovations.

The Fincom, appointed by the state, monitors city and Suffolk County financial and administrative practices and procedures, reporting its findings to the mayor, City Council, and governor.

Cahill said the commission is particularly interested in the financial aspects of the relocation plan, which Johnson initially proposed five months ago. She eventually scrapped the controversial relocation of Boston Latin Academy from Roxbury to Hyde Park High.

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As part of the plan, the Mission Hill school moves to the the recently closed Agassiz Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, where it will share the building with Margarita Muniz Academy. The Boston Arts Academy will take over the space it now shares with Fenway High, and that school moves to the Mission Hill building.

Mission Hill’s school community rallied, albeit unsuccessfully, to block its relocation and keep it at 67 Alleghany St. Parents of the school took to Twitter and Facebook and started an online petition.

About 250 parents signed the petition, saying that moving the school interrupts a child’s academic path from one school to the next. The petition also said relocating the school decreases, not increases, access for students from the neighborhood, because about 60 percent now live within a 1-mile radius.

Bob Goodman, a parent activist whose son is a first-grader at the Mission Hill school, said the way in which the district went about the relocation process discounted the concerns of parents and community members.

“I’m very relieved that there will be some accountability brought to this process,’’ he said of the Fincom inquiry. “We’re going to stick with [the school], but we feel it would have been much better for the school and Roxbury and Mission Hill and for equity issues in education for it not to be uprooted and moved.’’

One outspoken critic of the move is Councilor Michael Ross, who lives in and represents Mission Hill. The move leaves his district - including the Back Bay, Fenway, Beacon Hill, and the West End - with one K-8 school. He asked the commission to investigate what he called a “reckless and financially irresponsible’’ move that will strain a community “already struggling to survive.’’

In a letter to the commission, Ross said the district “chose to pit three very popular . . . schools against each other: The Boston Arts Academy, Fenway High, and Mission K-8.’’

Fenway High, in its future Mission Hill location, will receive $3.8 million in facility improvements, including four new science labs and technology upgrades. District officials said the city allocated an additional $3.6 million to build a room that functions as both a cafeteria and auditorium. Ross said those funds were “given to the school in exchange for their support of the plan.’’

District spokesman Matt Wilder said the school system has not been officially notified of any kind of investigation or inquiry by the Fincom.

“We certainly look forward to sharing the details of that plan with anybody, including the Finance Commission,’’ Wilder said, reiterating that the school relocations accomplish the overall goal of expanding access to high-quality schools for hundreds of city children. “We certainly hope they will come to us to have their questions answered directly from the source.’’

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.
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