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THE GREAT DIVIDE

With control of Boston Public Schools on the line, Wu’s counterproposal advocates for a stronger state partnership

City of Boston Mayor Michelle WuDavid L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In a high-stakes quest to retain control of the Boston Public Schools, Mayor Michelle Wu is calling on state officials to work with the city to improve education services in numerous key areas and end the chronic dysfunction in the district’s central offices, according to a copy of her proposal obtained by the Globe.

Wu’s plan is an effort to stave off a potential state takeover of the schools after Massachusetts education officials issued a blistering review that found the school system remains largely stuck in “entrenched dysfunction.”

“The parties agree that urgent action must be taken to address the long-standing challenges facing BPS,” according to Wu’sproposal. “The City of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, and [state education department] agree to work together in a targeted, strengthened partnership to immediately address systemic barriers to educational opportunity.”

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The seven-page counterproposal touches upon a range of issues, including special education, transportation, and low-performing schools.

If approved by the state, it would result in new plans, policies, and procedures to address problems, flexibility under state regulations to train and license teachers, and upgraded data collection and reporting.

The city would also use private consultants in its improvement efforts and turn to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for additional guidance and help. Wu is asking the state to kick in $10 million for the effort.

“Our proposal will empower Boston to drive a reform agenda while establishing a genuine partnership with the state,” the mayor said in a statement. “We’re proposing specific action steps and timelines for immediate improvement and a foundation for systemic change in areas like special education and transportation. We look forward to the collaboration.”

Wu, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, and School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson formally submitted the plan Wednesday, just days after state Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley had outlined a proposed action plan to the mayor during a meeting with Governor Charlie Baker. The state’s proposal hasn’t been made public yet.

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On Thursday, Baker addressed the possibility of a state takeover during an appearance on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”

“It’s not enough for people to say we don’t want receivership. People actually have to say what they will do,” Baker said in a response to a question from a listener.

A state education spokesperson said the state education department is still in discussions with BPS about next steps.

The fight over control of Boston Public Schools reached a fever pitch this week after the state’s highly critical review identified numerous problem areas. Those include chronically late buses, deteriorating school buildings, inadequate services for students with disabilities and English learners, concerns over student safety and well-being, and high administrator turnover that makes it difficult to carry through with reforms.

The city’s counterproposal aims to address those problems, laying out initial steps and timelines in what amounts to a gigantic, multiphase to-do list.

In the area of special education, for example, the counterproposal calls for reducing the high rate of segregation of students of color with disabilities into separate classrooms. The state ordered BPS two years ago to provide more opportunities for those students to join their peers in regular classrooms full time to reduce the disproportionate placement of Black and Latino students with disabilities in segregated settings.

One action item the city is making now is hiring an outside consultant to help create a policy by next February to reduce the segregation. The counterproposal, however, doesn’t address how to implement the resulting policy, which could require changing workplace rules under the Boston Teachers Union.

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BPS and the teaches union have disagreed for years over the best approach and staffing levels necessary to educate more students with disabilities in traditional classrooms. The issue has been a sticking point in current negotiations for a new contract to replace the one that expired last year.

To get buses to run punctually, the counterproposal cites a new driver contract that cracks down on absenteeism as one remedy. An aspect of that contract increases the likelihood drivers could face discipline when they don’t show up to work without notice. Previously, drivers could retroactively reclassify up to three no-show days as “personal time off.”

The counterproposal, however, doesn’t strive for 100 percent on-time bus performance, instead setting the bar at having at least 93 percent of buses arriving on time each month, and 98 percent within 15 minutes of school starting.

“The [state] report finds longstanding challenges in the areas of special education and transportation, and we are confident the plan we put in place, along with the benchmarks that will help us to monitor progress over time, will result in substantial improvement in these areas,” a Boston schools spokesperson said.

In the area of facilities, Boston’s proposal would set a deadline of crafting a long-term facilities plan by Dec. 31, 2023.

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By Oct. 1, the counterproposal promises to finalize and present a strategic plan on how to deliver instruction for English learners. The proposal also would have the state extend the time period that BPS teachers can instruct English learners under emergency licenses until June 30, 2023.

To overhaul more than 30 schools the state has identified as low-performing as measured by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, the city would consolidate various school improvement plans “into one clearly articulated, robust, evidence-based Quality School Plan for improvement at each school” by Oct. 1.

Absent from the proposal is a firm commitment for when the School Committee will have a new superintendent in place. The committee is racing to hire a replacement for Cassellius, who is leaving on June 30, and private interviews with the first group of candidates begin next week. Wu has previously stated a goal to have a new superintendent in place by the time Cassellius departs.

But the School Committee revealed Wednesday night that it might need an interim superintendent, depending on how the search goes and when a new permanent superintendent can officially start.

Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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



James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.