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THE GREAT DIVIDE

City Council pushes ahead with plan for change to elected School Committee

Flags fly above Boston City Hall.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

A voter-backed push for an elected School Committee moved Thursday into its next phase, as City Council members discussed a detailed plan for what the transition might look like and how long it should take, the final stage before they vote on the measure and seek approval from the mayor, state Legislature, and governor.

Five months after 99,000 city residents endorsed the proposal in a nonbinding referendum, it appears likely that the City Council will approve it and advance it to Mayor Michelle Wu and state legislators for consideration. Under the draft plan discussed this week, the switch to an elected committee would occur in stages and would not be complete until 2026.

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City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, who drafted the home rule petition along with Councilor Julia Mejia, said he plans to hold no more than two additional working sessions on the measure and stressed the need for input to come now, not later.

“I hope people will be open with their opinions, their thoughts, because we will be voting on this,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to get to a place where everyone is happy with what we are doing, but I hope we can get to a consensus that [reflects] what the voters are looking for.”

Under the current draft petition, the changeover to elected membership would begin with city elections in 2023, when three new at-large committee members would be elected and added to a mostly appointed committee, bringing the total number to 11. Then, in city elections in 2025, a fully elected committee would be voted in, with nine district representatives, three at-large members, and one student member elected by peers. The student member, who currently cannot vote, would be granted a vote starting this fall under the proposal.

Boston’s School Committee members have been appointed by the city’s mayors for 30 years, and it is the only community in the state that does not elect its members. The November ballot measure in favor of an elected committee passed with 78.7 percent of the vote. Opponents of the change have raised concern about the risk of special interest donors influencing the outcome of elections.

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Some advocates have voiced concern in recent days about the mayor’s lack of engagement on the issue. Wu has said she would support a hybrid committee, with a mix of appointed and elected members, but has not provided more specific feedback, despite requests for meetings on the issue, driving concern about potential disagreement that could hamper the proposal’s progress.

“Many voted for the mayor precisely because she had so many detailed and comprehensive policies and proposals — why not on this issue?” said Krista Magnuson, a leader of Bostonians for an Elected School Committee, at a hearing this week on the petition.

A staff member for Wu attended the session Thursday but did not weigh in on the details of the plan.

“We are here to listen, to take note of what people are talking about,” said Clare Kelly, Wu’s director of intergovernmental relations. “We look forward to future working sessions.”

Councilors indicated they will continue to discuss the size of the committee and the timing of the transition, and at least one, Ruthzee Louijeune, said she would support adding a second student member.


The Great Divide is an investigative team that explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to thegreatdivide@globe.com.

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Jenna Russell can be reached at jenna.russell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jrussglobe.