Vote on closing schools delayed; parents still on high alert

By 
Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Nov. 4, 2010

Superintendent Carol Johnson is delaying a vote on plans to close schools, giving parents opposed to the closures a month to regroup. Dorchester schools on the chopping block include Roger Clap Elementary and the East Zone Early Learning Center. School officials had also been pushing to merge the Lee Academy Pilot School and the Lee Elementary School.

“Overall, I’m optimistic that we have the extra month or so to get them to change their minds, and hopefully this opens up more of a debate,” said Kenny Jervis, one of the parents leading the charge to keep Clap Elementary open. “We’re happy we got the extra time but it’s nowhere near a victory yet.”

Ann Walsh, a parent at the Lee Academy, which shares a building with Lee Elementary, said parents are in “problem-solving” mode.

“We’re hopeful that will give us time to have a real dialogue,” she said.

Parents received a phone call Monday night telling them of the delay. The School Committee was scheduled to vote on Superintendent Johnson’s proposal on Wednesday night.

Parents said they still planned to show up in force to hear Johnson outline a broader picture of challenges facing Boston schools. The school department’s budget is facing a gap of around $60 million next year.

School committee members have also been pressing Johnson for more answers on the proposal.

School department officials, in announcing the plan to close and merge schools, largely touted low test scores as the reason the schools were being shuttered. But parents say the argument has now shifted to a fiscally focused one. “We’ve had that bad year, we’re not a failing school at all,” Jervis said. “It’s been proven to them, so they can’t use that.”

Johnson did not respond to a request for comment. A Johnson spokesman, Matthew Wilder, said, "This isn’t about closing six schools in isolation. We feel as though we need to do a better job of explaining that broader context."

After outcry from parents, she modified her plan last week, with Lee Academy, currently a school serving students from kindergarten through grade 5, handling early care and kindergarten and Lee Elementary taking grades 1 through 5. Parents called the new proposal a “non-starter.”

The school committee is instead expected to vote on other aspects of the plan, including the creation of a charter school from the closing of the Gavin Middle School in South Boston.