Boston residents likely will have an opportunity to vote in November on whether the members of the School Committee should be elected by the public and no longer be appointed by the mayor — the current system.
The question of whether Boston’s school board leaders should be elected has long festered in the city and has been a topic of debate among mayoral hopefuls this election season. Boston, whose School Committee has been appointed since 1991, has the only school board in Massachusetts without elected members.
“I don’t know that that makes any sense to anybody,” Councilor Lydia Edwards said Wednesday, after the City Council voted to add the nonbinding public opinion advisory question to the Nov. 2 ballot.
The question had been submitted to the city through a citizen petition. Under state law, a group of 10 registered voters in a city or town can propose a nonbinding public opinion advisory question on their local ballot.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey will need to formally approve the question before it goes on the ballot.
Though it isn’t binding, Edwards said, the vote will give residents a voice in changing their city government.
“It’s a time of the zeitgeist that post-pandemic, we have a lot of questions about our institutions and systems,” said Edwards, the chair of the city’s Committee on Government Operations. Edwards said she would support either a fully elected School Committee or a hybrid model that includes both elected and appointed members.
Voters will be asked: “Should the current appointed school committee structure be changed to a school committee elected by the residents of Boston?”
During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Edwards said the majority of her colleagues have supported at least allowing Boston residents to have an opinion on the issue, despite November’s vote being nonbinding.
Annissa Essaibi George, who came in second place in Tuesday’s preliminary mayoral election and will face Councilor Michelle Wu in November, has opposed the possibility of an elected School Committee, but said Wednesday that the nonbinding vote is an important one, regardless of her position.
“It’s, of course, non-binding so it creates an added level of community discussion, of public discussion, around this very specific question,” she told her City Council colleagues.,
Earlier this summer, a Suffolk University and Boston Globe poll found overwhelming support for a School Committee that is at least partially elected.
Among the Bostonians who were likely to vote in Tuesday’s preliminary election, the poll found that just 6 percent want the current structure of a fully appointed School Committee. Forty-eight percent wanted a committee that is partially elected and partially appointed by the mayor, and 39 percent wanted a fully elected committee.
Two other city councilors, Julia Mejia and Ricardo Arroyo, also have co-sponsored a home rule petition proposing the city phase out its appointed school board, making incremental changes between 2022 and 2026 that ultimately would result in a 13-member elected School Committee. The voting student member would be elected through the Boston Student Advisory Council.
An elected committee, the councilors wrote in their petition, gives people from diverse backgrounds a voice in city government and allows residents to hold School Committee members accountable for their actions.
The petition, however, is just a “template,” Arroyo said Wednesday, and it will be informed in part by what voters indicate they prefer in November.
“We’re now nearing almost 20 years of this,” he said. “It is more than enough time for the city to have a real analysis or a frank opinion on where, how we should move forward.”
Read the full report from the Committee on Government Operations: