The Boston School Committee voted Wednesday evening to approve two controversial elementary school mergers starting in 2024.
The committee voted 6-0, with one member absent, to approve separate plans to merge Dorchester’s Shaw and Mattapan’s Taylor schools in September 2024, and Roslindale’s Sumner and Philbrick schools in September 2025.
The Shaw and Taylor buildings will remain in use, combining the students and dividing them by grades into the two school buildings, until a new campus is built. The district is seeking state funds for a new building in south Dorchester or Mattapan that would house the combined student populations. The new Sumner-Philbrick will occupy a renovated Irving Middle School building.
Nearly 1,200 students will be affected by the closures and consolidations.
The two mergers, originally considered for this fall, have faced significant pushback, prompting Superintendent Mary Skipper to put them on hold. Another proposed merger was canceled altogether.
But district officials have made it clear these four schools are just the beginning of many other closures. A long term facilities plan is due by the end of the calendar year.
School committee members said the district needs to communicate better but agreed the mergers were needed.
“We have been kicking this can down the road for years,” School Committee chair Jeri Robinson said. “Right now, we’re spending a lot of money on keeping our buildings open, but it is not improving the outcomes of our kids ... It’s time that we improve the quality of what our kids get.”
Skipper said at Wednesday’s meeting that the mergers will help address falling enrollment and lead to better education.
“We have 8,000 fewer students then we did 10 years ago and they’re spread out right now across too many buildings,” Skipper said. “This leads to classrooms that are partially full, sometimes half full.”
With the Shaw-Taylor merger facing persistent opposition, Skipper said the district was committed to constructing a new building. She also said any savings from the merger would go back to the school’s budget. The small schools targeted for consolidation often lack basic amenities like gyms, cafeterias, and libraries.
“When these communities come together, I really believe that the students will be left better off,” she said.
Capital Planning chief Delavern Stanislaus said the mergers will also help the district roll out inclusive classrooms for students with disabilities.
Critics have called on the district to put all school closures and consolidations on hold until the long-term plan is complete, including an analysis of the impact of closures on Black and Latino students, students with disabilities, English learners, and low-income students. They say school closures are disruptive to students, and the small schools targeted for consolidation are often popular with families, who prize the close-knit communities.
At Wednesday’s meeting, community members spoke against the proposed Shaw-Taylor merger. Critics pointed to a district equity analysis of the merger published last month, which offered no detail on how the proposal would improve racial equity.
“How can we call ourselves an anti-racist school district and continue to perpetuate racist policies and practices that disproportionately impact and harm black and brown students and communities,” said Barbara Fields, the former head of the district’s Office of Equity. “This proposal does nothing to improve the education for students at the Shaw School.”
Some Sumner parents said that they had been won over by the district on the merger.
“We are not asking for a no vote,” parent Jessica Manna said. “But we want BPS to acknowledge that a merger of any schools causes a disruption to all students and that all merged schools should be given extra resources to ensure the students and families are supported during the transition.”
Allison Friedmann, another Sumner parent, said she hoped the district would learn from the process with their school and communicate better about future mergers.
“The two mergers on the table today are the guinea pigs for the Green New Deal,” Friedmann noted, referencing a $2 billion plan to overhaul Boston school facilities.
A pair of Taylor teachers called on the School Committee to look out for the needs of students at each school, which are majority Black and low-income and serve many English learners.
“The Taylor and the Shaw need the same resources that schools in all small, suburban, predominantly-white neighborhoods receive and I would definitely hope that that is being brought into consideration as you guys make this merger,” said Rhesa Cumberbatch, an inclusion teacher.
Until a new building is built for the merged Shaw-Taylor school, the district plans to divide the students between the two buildings by grade, rather than having classrooms of all ages in each school. Specifically, district will put lower grade students in the Shaw building and upper grade students in the Taylor, with two schools combining to serve pre-K to grade 6.
Christopher Huffaker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @huffakingit.