If you were considering a new job, wouldn’t you want to understand the expectations before you accepted it?
And if you were an employer, wouldn’t you want to make those expectations crystal clear to make sure the hire was really the best fit for the job?
That seems like sound management. Alas, nothing is so simple at the Boston Public Schools, where the city is simultaneously searching for a new superintendent and trying to hammer out an agreement with state education regulators on a plan for to overhaul the struggling district of 46,000 students.
Although the district’s shortcomings have been evident for years, a state audit released last month laid bare the extent of its “entrenched dysfunction,” where 14,000 students attend schools designated as low-performing and relatively simple tasks like repairing bathrooms have stalled. The audit set in motion the talks between the city and the state on an improvement plan.
The deal — which will probably set requirements for the next superintendent on improving bus transportation, data reporting, special education, English language learner services, and other matters — should come first.
The new superintendent deserves to know exactly what he or she will be held accountable for — and how much autonomy the superintendent will retain over the implementation details.
Public interviews with finalists are expected to start this week, with the School Committee hoping to vote on its choice June 29. Meanwhile, negotiations with the state on an improvement plan have been ongoing for nearly a month, with few public updates.
The city could seek to slow-walk the negotiations until a new superintendent is in charge, and then let that person finalize the agreement.
But that would be a mistake, and not just because it means the new leader would be going into the job blind. It will also require the new superintendent to immediately spend down political capital signing onto an agreement that’s likely to be unpopular in some quarters of the city.
Instead, Mayor Michelle Wu should sign an agreement with the state before the School Committee makes its choice, take whatever heat might come from it, and give the new superintendent the best chance for success. Doing so would be a strong signal that she’s willing to invest her own political standing in the schools, unlike some of her predecessors who failed to give their superintendents strong backing.
Another reason to conclude the negotiations now: In a worst-case scenario, the state and city could fail to reach a deal and the state, at least in theory, could place the district under control of a state-appointed receiver. As long as that possibility exists, it will probably scare off qualified superintendent applicants who won’t want to risk becoming a figurehead.
An agreement should include specific targets the district can be held to, along with state oversight of its data collection, since the city has has proved itself to be incapable of compiling accurate graduation rates, bus on-time numbers, and other measures. It’s important for the state to hold the line on data collection, because without accurate and trustworthy numbers it will be much harder to gauge whether the district is delivering on its promises.
For the sake of the families who rely on the district, an agreement is overdue. The deal needs the mayor’s signature on it, the city’s full support — and a superintendent who knowingly signs up to make good on its promises.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.