Boston City Councilors are taking steps toward transitioning the mayoral-appointed policymaking body that oversees Boston Public Schools to an elected board.
City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Julia Mejia on Wednesday reintroduced a home-rule petition, which they had originally filed last year that would allow residents to elect School Committee members. The Boston School Committee currently is the only non-elected school board in the state.
The petition in its current form requires that by January 2024 the School Committee be composed of 13 elected voting members: nine elected by individual districts in Boston, three at-large elected by the whole city, and one voting student member elected by the student population at BPS through the Boston Student Advisory Council. The mayor currently appoints all eight members of the School Committee.
The process of converting the committee to a popularly elected body would take a phased approach, with hybrid committees composed of both mayoral appointees and city-elected seats starting in September 2022.
“This is not something that we’ll do lightly,” Arroyo said. “I fully hope and expect that this council will engage in what they want this to look like.”
The petition cited support for the change to the selection process in several polls and referendums over the years that have shown residents’ support for an elected body, including the directive handed down by voters last November; nearly 80 percent of Boston voters supported the nonbinding referendum proposing voters elect their School Committee members. The petition also noted that for most of the Boston School Committee’s history, it has been an elected body.
“Last November, Boston residents made it perfectly clear that we need to return to an elected School Committee, with over 99,000 Bostonians voting in favor of returning to an elected School Committee,” Mejia said at the meeting. “We have an obligation to make that happen and to make the process as engaging and as collaborative as possible.”
Some proponents of the change said they believe an elected body could be more equitable, give marginalized communities more say over who leads their children’s schools, and allow voters to hold the School Committee accountable. Mejia said they worked with organizations like the NAACP, the Boston Coalition for Education Equity, and other groups during the campaign to pass the November referendum vote and will continue to work with them as the council designs an elected committee that will work best for the whole community. The council also plans to host community conversations in multiple languages “to ensure that all voices are heard,” she said.
Arroyo also said he’d like to hold additional hearings on the School Committee selection changes and wants to ensure “everybody sort of gets to come in and put their stamp on this.”
The Boston Teachers Union supports a fully elected committee, while Mayor Michelle Wu and others are opting for a hybrid of appointed and elected members.
Arroyo acknowledged that within the council there were varying opinions on what an elected committee should look like. Some want a fully elected body, some want district-specific positions, others want at-large only positions, or a hybrid of appointed and elected members.
Some supporters of an elected committee have argued that at-large seats could undermine diversity. Others maintain electing members in general may lead the loudest and best-resourced candidates to win over the most qualified.
“There’ll be more edits to this and more work done on this with the body,” Arroyo said.
The council is expected to hold more work sessions and possibly another hearing before voting on the issue.
If passed by the City Council, the measure would need to be approved by Wu before heading to the Legislature, then onto the governor’s desk.
“Hopefully, we get to some compromise that is not necessarily perfect, but is good and does the work that the city has asked us to do,” Arroyo said.
Colleen Cronin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.