It was a spectacle not to be missed: a mayoral campaign forum featuring candidates sharply divided about charter schools, held at the Boston Teachers Union Hall.
And at a crucial time. The BTU doesn’t plan on endorsing in the preliminary election, but with that vote less than two weeks away, the second-tier candidates know that if they can emerge as the consensus favorite of the union’s many members, they might just squeak through.
So here was the crucial question: Which of the ambitious middle-of-the-packers would prove most skilled at sucking up to the union?
That issue was decided almost as soon as City Councilor Rob Consalvo got his first question. Before Wednesday, I had never seen the Hyde Parker in full pander. It was truly a sight to behold — particularly when you consider the tide of truth he was swimming against.
After all, former Boston School Committee member John Barros had already spoken about the pressure charters put on the district to improve. State Representative Marty Walsh had said that charters have helped develop and share “best practices.” Councilor John Connolly had pointed out that it was because of the charters that the BPS had created pilot schools and the state had developed innovation and turnaround schools. Why, Connolly had even noted that he had voted against the last BTU contract because it didn’t add any new learning time in the regular schools.
That was the grim state of affairs when Robbie, mighty Robbie, stepped up to the plate.
“I’m not ashamed of the fact that I voted to fund a contract that supports our teachers,” he declared, to loud applause. Further, he was sick to death of all the tiresome talk about charters and their innovations. He himself wanted to be mayor for the 55,000 students in the Boston Public Schools — and he would work hand in glove with the BTU in that mission.
His pitch was such an obvious crowd pleaser that Charlotte Golar Richie tried to meander into his pander. “I just want to say ditto,” she interjected.
Did Charlotte really think a simple ditto would do it? Ha! Consalvo soon upped the ante in the game of panderama. Yes, a depressing number of BPS schools are either chronically underperforming or mediocre, but he was not about to be deterred.
“Part of the problem that I’m tired with is that Boston public schools are not as bad as everyone makes them seem to be,” he declared. That might strike an untrained ear as something short of a confidence-inspiring declaration, but let the record show that it played very well inside the BTU hall.
All of which made it hard for Consalvo’s second-tier rivals to compete.
Mind you, Felix Arroyo and Mike Ross tried.
Arroyo decried the supposed “demonization” of teachers and attempted a bold exercise in historical revisionism: He denied that the teachers union had been an impediment in the push for a longer school day. (Felix must find the fact that Boston doesn’t already have a longer day as mysterious as Stonehenge. After all, if Mayor Menino wanted it and then-Superintendent Carol Johnson wanted it and the BTU wasn’t an impediment, why on earth didn’t it get done?)
Weren’t charter schools simply supposed to be laboratories, Ross asked, testing different ideas and then leaving it up to the traditional schools to adopt the ones that worked? Alas, that argument for limiting charters runs hard up against the failure of the district and the union to agree to a longer school day, more learning time being one of the big reasons charters do so well. On a follow-up question, the Mission Hill councilor strained an Achilles trying to claim that extending learning time was somehow a BTU cause, then declared he would use “leadership” to get that done.
Second-tier candidates know that if they can emerge as the teachers union’s consensus favorite, they might just squeak through.
But gamely though they tried, by night’s end, the forum had underscored a dispiriting reality for Consalvo’s second-tier rivals: Pandering is not for the faint of heart. No indeed. To succeed at it, one has to dive deeply, shamelessly, nakedly into the tank.
And on Wednesday, it was Rob Consalvo who was all in for the BTU.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.