The Boston School Committee unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night opposing a ballot question that would accelerate the opening of charter schools in Boston and across the state, saying that it could have a devastating effect on the school system’s finances and the quality of education.
“Make no mistake, uncapped charter growth is devastating to local funding,” said Michael Loconto, a School Committee member before the vote.
The 7-0 vote came after more than an hour of emotional public testimony from parents, teachers and students from both sides of the issues. Many opponents wore yellow t-shirts encouraging voters to reject the ballot question in November, while proponents were blue t-shirts advocating a yes vote.
Some on both sides of the debate voiced frustration that the referendum is dividing the community.
“I’m appalled by the toxic environment Question 2 has created for all of us,” said Kristin Johnson, a Boston Public School parent. “To the billionaires and lobbyists behind Question 2 who have brought this polarizing rhetoric into our homes. You have succeeded in turning neighbor against neighbor, parent against parent, and teacher against teacher.”
Boston joins more than 150 school committees statewide that have passed resolutions against the ballot question.
While the votes are largely symbolic -- state law forbids public boards from spending money on ballot campaigns -- the positions could sway undecided voters who are looking for guidance from officials.
Opposing the ballot question represents a dramatic move for the School Committee, which in recent years has entered into compacts with the city’s charter schools in an effort to foster greater collaboration.
But some School Committee members said the ballot question would take too much of a financial toll because it includes no additional money.
Students who attend charter schools take with them thousands of dollars in per-student state aid from their local districts.
Charter school advocates argue that school systems no longer need that money because they have fewer students to educate, while school systems receive limited reimbursements.
In public testimony, Erik Lazo, 16, who attends Snowden International High School in Copley Square, said, “Public schools are already underfunded, now if 12 new charter schools come to Massachusetts every year continuously how can anyone expect the state to fund those schools let alone our public schools?”
Shellina Semexant spoke of her daughter and son excelling in charter schools, while another daughter is floundering at a low-performing city school.
“I truly believe there is no hope for my daughter,” said Semexant, urging the committee to support charter expansion. “There are thousands and thousands of kids out there like her who are struggling and failing while we are waiting for BPS to come up with something.”