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Boston councilors, education advocates file petitions to let voters decide who should be on school committee

The Boston School Committee held a meeting at Boston English High School in 2010 regarding the proposed closing of some Boston Public Schools. The auditorium was full to capacity with parents and students upset with the plan.Jim Davis Globe Staff

An education equity group and two Boston councilors announced moves Monday aimed at restoring voters’ ability to elect Boston School Committee members, instead of the current mayor-appointed structure.

The change would bring Boston — which has had an appointed system since 1991 — in line with the rest of the state, where all other school committees are elected.

“People will have to run on their values and be held accountable to the promises they’ve made along the way — that changes everything,” said Councilor Julia Mejia, who co-sponsored the petition with Councilor Ricardo Arroyo.

A separate petition filed by the Boston Coalition for Education Equity seeks a ballot question on the topic for the November city election. The ballot question would carry no legal weight, but could direct the city council on how to take action.


The home rule petition, which Mejia and Arroyo will present to the council on Wednesday, cites a June poll by the Globe and Suffolk University that found only 6 percent of Boston voters supported an appointed committee. The proposal comes after a tumultuous year for the school committee, which saw four abrupt resignations, including three involving racially charged comments. The committee’s instability prompted the state education commissioner in June to consider delaying Boston’s federal pandemic aid.

If the council passes the home rule petition, it would still need State House approval to become a reality.

The petition proposes a phased transition from the current seven appointees to a 13-member elected body in 2026.

Under the proposal, the student representative, who is elected by the Boston Student Advisory Council, would gain an official vote. Students have long called for voting power.

Arroyo said the structure would be up for community debate.

The appointed system, he said, “infantilizes our residents, saying they’re not capable of choosing their own leadership when it comes to Boston Public Schools.”


The Rev. Willie Bodrick II, senior pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury who was among 18 signatories on the citizen ballot-question petition, said he believes an elected school committee would improve educational quality for Black and Latino children.

“This would really put the power back in the hands of the people,” said Bodrick, of the Boston Network for Black Student Achievement. The mayoral-appointee system for the past 30 years, he said, has hampered efforts to address “the disparities we’ve seen from school to school, and neighborhood to neighborhood, and assure that someone is speaking for families.”

Mayoral candidate Councilor Anissa Essaibi-George said an appointed school committee shields schools from politics, but proposed the city council gain some appointing authority. “An elected school committee will only politicize our schools more than necessary and distract from the work we need to do to truly deliver for our kids,” she said.

But critics argue the appointment system is still political, and creates puppets for the mayor.

Ruby Reyes, president of the Boston Education Justice Alliance, said an elected school committee would force school committee members to listen more to students and families. She said the body sometimes hears dozens of students and parents speak about an issue but then doesn’t seem to consider their testimony in voting, such as the recent sale of the McCormack Middle School’s green fields.

“That was a very clear politically influenced decision,” Reyes said. “The folks who have to deal with it and live with it are not our politicians.”


The Boston School Committee said in a statement that members are dedicated public servants.

“Regardless of the way we got here, our mission is the same — focus on improving the educational opportunities and well-being for the 52,000 children in our great city,” the statement said.

Mayoral candidates John Barros, the city’s former economic development chief, and Councilors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu all said they were open to a hybrid model, in which some members would be appointed and some elected.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey said Monday she was also interested in exploring a hybrid structure.

“It’s important that our school committee do more to hear from families,” Janey said. “But I also believe there needs to be a strong direct line of accountability to the mayor, as it is tied to our city budget.”

Naomi Martin can be reached at