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Board OK’s controversial school moves

After a debate that pitted the Boston School Committee and the superintendent against a city councilor, the committee last night voted to pass a sweeping school realignment package.

“Tonight’s plan destroys, destroys the future of a community and severely weakens one of your greatest schools,’’ Councilor Michael P. Ross, said in remarks to the committee addressing plans to move the Mission Hill K-8 School.

Late last month, Boston public schools announced that 13 schools would be moved in an effort to expand high-achieving schools and add about 700 new seats in the district. The swift move was also meant to fill a vacant school complex in Hyde Park after plans to relocate Boston Latin Academy there imploded under a massive protest earlier this fall.

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The part of the plan that drew Ross’s attention called for moving the successful Mission Hill K-8 School to the recently closed Agassiz Elementary School in Jamaica Plain. The Boston Arts Academy will take over the space it now shares with Fenway High School, and that school will move to the Mission Hill K-8 building.

Hundreds of parents and students showed up to voice their concerns last night.

Valerie Madden, the mother of a second-grader at Mission K-8, called the move “the nail in the coffin of the Mission Hill neighborhood.’’

“Families chose to live in Boston and send their kids to Boston public schools and chose their neighborhoods for many reasons, and choice of elementary schools is one of them,’’ said Madden. “Mission Hill School is a pilot school. It was meant to be duplicated, not transplanted.’’

But students, parents, and administrators at Boston Arts Academy were pleased with the plan, which allows their school to grow and gain facilities without having to share its Ipswich Street building with Fenway High.

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“We worked on this for a long time,’’ said Tony James, vice chairman of the Arts Academy’s board. “The important thing is to expand the availability of the arts for more students within the Boston public schools.’’

James said that the Arts Academy only accepts about 12 percent of its applicants because of its small size.

Fenway High, in its future Mission Hill location, will also receive $3.8 million in facility improvements, including four new science labs, technology upgrades, and a $1.45 million elevator with chair lift.

Ross accused the School Department of bribing Fenway High to accept the move.

“Tonight, three schools were pitted against each other,’’ he said. “One was the favorite; one was bought off; and one was sacrificed. This is not only a loss for Mission Hill, this is a loss for democracy, justice, and equality. So long as decisions like these are being made in this manner, Boston will never be considered a world-class city.’’

Ross stormed out of the School Committee chambers after the moves were approved. Mission Hill’s standing is a personal as well as a political issue for him. Ross lives in Mission Hill, and the move will leave his district, including the Back Bay, Fenway, Beacon Hill, and the West End, with one K-8 school.

After the meeting, Ross said he would vote against the School Department budget.

“I am personally going to rally my colleagues on the City Council to not fund a penny of this,’’ he said. “I won’t be supporting the School Department’s budget in any way, shape, or form.’’

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The realignment plan included several moves that were without controversy, such as moving New Mission High School and Boston Community Leadership Academy to the old Hyde Park High building. Ross had lobbied the school board to vote on the school realignments separately.

Half of the committee members present agreed with Ross.

Member Michael D. O’Neill made a motion to exclude Mission Hill K-8 - and consequently Fenway High and Boston Arts Academy - from the plan and leave more time to discuss plans for those schools. He was joined by Claudio Martinez and Mary Tamer, but Alfreda J. Harris, vice chairwoman Marchelle Raynor, and the chairman, the Rev. Gregory Groover, voted against the amendment, resulting in a tie, which defeated it. Member John Barros was absent.

Only Tamer voted against the entire package, resulting in a 5-to-1 victory for Superintendent Carol R. Johnson.

“Councilor Ross raises some excellent points about what this will do to the Mission Hill neighborhood,’’ Tamer said.

Mission K-8 principal Ayla Gavins, in testimony before the committee, made it clear she was not thrilled about moving to Agassiz, which has poor natural light and a history of air quality problems that ultimately contributed to its closing two years ago.

Gavins said it would “make this feel like a gift’’ if the grounds, interior, and windows of the Agassiz were greatly improved.


John M. Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globe_guilfoil.

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