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What is a receivership? And why is concern growing over a potential state takeover of Boston Public Schools?

State Education Commissioner Jeffrey RileySam Doran/Pool

As the state prepares to conduct a review of Boston Public Schools next week, concerns are rising that it will place the district in a receivership.

Although the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has not officially placed the issue on its agenda, Mayor Michelle Wu and other city and school leaders this week urged the state board of education against a district takeover.

Massachusetts law allows the board of education to assume control of underperforming districts, and currently three have receivers in the Commonwealth.

Here’s what you need to know about state receiverships and why some are worried one is coming to Boston.


What is a receivership?

Receiverships give the state more control over schools that are not meeting certain standards in an attempt to improve their performance.

Before the state can officially take over a district, it must designate the district as “chronically underperforming.” This label is based on performance on state assessments, district review reports, and other measures like graduation and dropout rates, according to the DESE. Any district that is performing in the bottom 10 percent of the state could be eligible for the designation.

Once a school has been deemed “chronically underperforming,” the education commissioner, currently Jeffrey Riley, can appoint a receiver who is an individual or nonprofit to oversee a turnaround plan.

Under a 2010 law, the receiver can have all the authority of a district’s superintendent and school committee and can make decisions that work within the plan.

Which districts currently have receivers?

The state has deemed three school districts chronically underperforming and appointed them a receiver:

  • Lawrence Public Schools in November 2011
  • Holyoke Public Schools in April 2015
  • Southbridge Public Schools in January 2016

Why is concern over a state takeover in Boston growing?

An upcoming state review of BPS has some worried that the department of education could be taking steps to initiate the receivership process.

The second review comes two years after an initial audit found a number of problems within the district, and a partnership between the two, instead of a receivership, was created to implement improvements. But Riley has told the district that the partnership has delivered mixed results.


Riley has said in the past that the state was not ready to pursue a receivership to improve BPS, but at a department of education meeting this week, Education Secretary James Peyser explained the state generally has an obligation to intervene in chronically underperforming schools in different ways, “sometimes through receiverships.

A recent district review would be needed to designate a chronically underperforming school, and state law suggests completing a district review within 12 months before board approval of a state takeover.

Dever Elementary and Holland Elementary in Boston are already individually categorized as chronically underperforming schools, and Boston’s district as a whole performs in the bottom 10 percent of the Commonwealth, according to the state’s accountability system.

Who is against receivership?

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and the Boston Teachers Union have both come out preemptively against a receivership of the city’s schools.

“Receivership would be counterproductive in light of our ongoing transition and in light of the progress we’re making in collaboration with the state,” Wu said at a DESE board meeting this week. She was among a large group of community stakeholders urging the state not to take over the district.

Opponents of receivership in Boston have cited Lawrence as an example of how a state takeover could cause more harm than hurt. The receivership there has been unpopular recently, though it showed initial promise, and last fall, dozens of parents, teachers, and students protested the 10-year receivership.


Critics of receivership have also noted BPS currently performs better than all three of the receivership schools.

How does a receivership end?

Turnaround plans for districts under receiverships have expiration dates. When the plans expire, the state reviews the districts again.

“If the district has made significant improvement and demonstrated the capacity to continue making progress,” the chronically underperforming designation and receivership can be lifted, according to the state.

Colleen Cronin can be reached at