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Unified school lottery raises fears among parents

Some worry plan limits chances

The city has planned seven public forums to discuss the proposal, beginning Thursday evening at the Kroc Corps Community Center in Dorchester. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

A proposal to combine the lotteries for seats in Boston’s district and charter schools could hurt students’ chances of getting into their preferred schools, some parents said as new details of the proposal emerged this week.

Currently, each charter school has its own lottery, and families can win spots in several and then choose. Under the system proposed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh last month, parents would apply for charter and district schools through a single application and be assigned to one school.

“If I’m interested in getting my child into a charter, I want to have as many bites of the apple as possible,” said Odette Williamson, whose daughter attended a charter school but is now at Boston Latin Academy. “I would want to submit applications for several charters and see what I get.”


The city has planned seven public forums to discuss the proposal, beginning Thursday evening at the Kroc Corps Community Center in Dorchester.

Some parents expressed support for the plan, which they say would save them the drudgery of filling out multiple applications. But others question the proposal’s timing, process, and potential outcomes.

Megan Wolf, a member of the grass-roots parents’ group Quality Education for Every Student, which is concerned about charter school expansion, said enrollment should remain unchanged until Boston Public Schools has analyzed the new assignment system implemented in 2014to determine if it is providing all students a fair shot at a quality education.

That system allows more students to attend schools closer to home.

“When the external advisory committee recommended theplan, one of their explicit recommendations was to do . . . the same kind of analysis they did going into the plan, around racial equity, socioeconomic equity,” Wolf said. “There’s been no public data about that.”

But little about school assignment would change under the proposal, according to Kim Rice, assistant superintendent of operations.


In a phone interview, Rice publicly outlined for the first time several details of the proposal, including the School Department’s intent to shift most district elementary and middle schools that enroll students from across the city to the neighborhood-based plan.

Most charters would shift to that system, Rice said, though some with specialized curriculums could join the unified lottery and remain citywide. Assigning most Boston students to schools close to home would drastically reduce the School Department’s need to bus students across the city, saving many thousands of dollars, according to officials.

Rice said a combined lottery would benefit all schools, because it would prevent students from potentially tying up seats at both a BPS school and several charter schools during the application period and into the first weeks of school.

She disputed additional claims by some parents that making the application process less cumbersome could have the unintended consequence of funneling more into charter schools. Charter schools currently have waiting lists, she said. Even if the state raises the cap on charter schools and more seats open up, they would likely fill quickly, with or without a combined system.

“If the cap lifts, that’s an even stronger argument for us to be in a unified enrollment system so that we can . . . work collectively around the demographics of the city and programmatic options for families,” Rice said.

A unified system would make parents’ lives easier, said Gayl Crump Swaby, a Dorchester mother of a Bridge Boston Charter School fourth-grader and a seventh-grader who attends a Bedford middle school through the METCO program.


“It can be very daunting, because as a parent, when you’re working, it’s taking time off to go fill out these applications and to get all the documents that you need,” Swaby said. “It can be very stressful and frustrating for parents.”

Several charter school leaders have tentatively embraced the shift. “I think most parents and most schools would prefer to have a neighborhood school, where most of the kids come to the school from within a mile or two,” said Owen Stearns, chief executive of Excel Academy Charter Schools.

Discussion of the proposal has revived some longstanding worries about charter schools.

Kim M. Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, said Massachusetts charter schools have higher rates of student suspensions than district schools. She said the suspensions can drive some students back to district schools, an assertion that charter schools say is unfounded.

“Will the Boston charters adopt the BPS code of conduct? Will they adopt their own policy?” she asked at a meeting of the Boston School Committee last week.

There was also pushback from the committee. Member Miren Uriarte said at the meeting that she is concerned that the proposal does little to address the needs of special education students and those who are learning English — a charge often leveled at charter schools.

Shannah Varón, executive director of Boston Collegiate Charter School and chairwoman of the Boston Charter Alliance, said charter schools work hard to serve the needs of every student.


Varón said unified enrollment could help speed the process of charter schools serving special education students and non-native English speakers in greater numbers.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.