Letter to the Editor: Baker right on hybrid school panel

To the Editor:

As a Boston resident, parent, and voter, I strongly support City Councilor Frank Baker’s home rule petition to replace the current Boston School Committee format with a hybrid system that would balance mayoral appointees with elected officials (“Baker Seeks Three Elected Slots on School Committee” 1/16/13). I agree that by returning democracy to the School Committee, it would increase the independence of the members while also holding the Committee accountable to Boston voters.

The argument that a modification in the composition of the Committee would transform it into a stepping stone to other offices, and by extension, produce inadequate Committee members holds little weight. First, there is no evidence that elected school committee members make worse decisions than appointed ones. The most comprehensive literature review of school boards found that there are no clear differences between elected and mayoral-appointed school boards related to student achievement. But more importantly, appointed board members are more likely to report that they are accountable to those who appoint them, rather than the public.

Councilor Baker’s proposal will lead to a School Committee that will be more likely to ask critical questions. Members should offer an important check and balance in the city’s education system. However, the appointed Committee has become a place for community members, with no voter accountability, to rubber stamp the mayor’s and superintendent’s decisions, and possibly worse, deconstruct the Boston Public Schools. This was exemplified in recent school closings, expansion of turnaround and in-district charter schools, and the renewal of Superintendent Carol Johnson’s contract, despite several serious misjudgments.

Beyond that, mayoral appointment of the School Committee can lead to the appointment of members with interests that are inherently against the Boston Public Schools. For example, one current member is the executive director at a Dorchester charter school, which is designed to directly compete with the Boston Schools. Although these Committee members may be good-natured and believe they are making sound decisions, these conflicts of interest raise questions about the wisdom of completely mayoral-appointed School Committee.

The election of some members could help avoid similar conflicts of interest because an election presumably would provide a full public airing to any prospective candidate.

Christopher Martell