When city councilor Tito Jackson helped foment a walkout of Boston Public Schools students on Tuesday, he incurred an obligation to at least make the event an educational experience. But that’s hardly what the roughly 1,000 students who skipped class to attend Jackson’s hearing at City Hall got. Instead of a civics lesson, they became props in a one-sided political rally. Adults, and especially Jackson, let students down.
The Roxbury councilor invited students to his afternoon hearing, which was ostensibly about social-emotional learning and wellness. The walkout also seemingly had the support of unions. A woman who was wearing a SEIU-labeled vest was seen handing out cookies and brownies to kids who skipped classes to attend.
It should go without saying that adults shouldn’t be encouraging students to leave class. If Jackson was so intent on having BPS students at the hearing, which fell on the 62nd anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, he should have scheduled the meeting after school hours.
Still, a serious discussion of school finances would at least have made the field trip educational. If that’s what Jackson intended, he would have walked students through the difficulties faced by the district and the tradeoffs that it’s forced to make in balancing its books. Boston’s per-student spending on education exceeds the state average, and has been rising fast, driven by rising teacher salaries. Meanwhile, its ability to raise more tax revenue is constrained by state law and competing priorities within the city budget.
There are ways to save in the school system, but none of them are easy. The city could close some school buildings — a viable option, given falling enrollment. It could seek state legislation allowing it to lay off unneeded teachers who aren’t assigned to classrooms. It could seek further reductions in transportation costs. It could divert money from other municipal departments.
Making those choices is supposed to be tough work of government. It’s one reason we elect city councilors. Instead, Jackson beat up on the mid-level and poorly prepared administrators who appeared at the hearing, as if they’re to blame for the system’s budget imbalances.
Boston’s adults shouldn’t have encouraged the walkout. But what’s even worse is that once the students arrived at City Hall, they didn’t hear an honest discussion of a complex issue — they heard only simplistic sloganeering.