Chatting with the mayor about schools, youth jobs

Mayor Menino at Memorial Day 2012: The mayor walked into Cedar Grove Cemetery on Monday without the protective boot he had to wear in recent months after a toe injury. Photo by Bill ForryMayor Menino at Memorial Day 2012: The mayor walked into Cedar Grove Cemetery on Monday without the protective boot he had to wear in recent months after a toe injury. Photo by Bill ForryThe “Oh, My God” moment in the school assignment overhaul will come in October. Every school should be a K-8 school. And the tearing down of the Casey Overpass in Forest Hills, which is well-used by Mattapan and Dorchester residents, will likely be a “second Big Dig.”

Those were some of the pronouncements made by Mayor Thomas Menino last week in his annual sit-down with neighborhood reporters.

Menino appeared to be in good spirits as he jumped from issue to issue, munching on a sandwich from Sam LaGrassa’s and asking questions of his own about goings-on in reporters’ neighborhoods.

When one journalist noted the low attendance at public meetings focused on the revamping of the school assignment process, Menino said, “Some nights they have 100 people, some nights they have 30. They won’t get aroused about this until October,” he said of the public. “That’s when everybody is ‘Oh, My God.’ That’s when they wake up.”

But now is the time to offer input on a potential plan to rework how students get into schools, he said. When a proposal emerges from the mayorally appointed task force, there will more public meetings, a spokeswoman acknowledged.

In his state of the city address in January, Menino pledged to have in place next year a plan that will send students to schools closer to their homes while also cutting down on increasing transportation costs.

In last week’s meeting in the conference room adjacent to his City Hall office, Menino called the task force working on the issue the “most knowledgeable one we have ever put together.” The group isn’t made up of people who usually ask to be on committees, he said, and instead has parents who have children inside the school system and outside the system. The assignment plan the task force comes up with will be a “good blueprint” for the placement of future schools and for which ones will expand.

“I think every school should be a K to 8,” he said. “We should try to make all of our schools K to 8.” The mayor pointed to a merger of two schools – West Roxbury’s Beethoven and Ohrenberger – to create a K to 8 school as an example. But “some of our buildings aren’t big enough for K to 8,” he said, adding that “parents lose faith in the system when they get to the sixth, seventh, eighth grade. They don’t like that middle school thing.”

Asked if he plans to expand other schools in the city, such as the proposal to turn Mattapan’s Mildred Ave. K-8 School into a high school, Menino said, “That’s a possibility…If we need it. We’re not going to expand a school if we don’t need it.”

Menino also chatted about the Casey Overpass and youth jobs, a top priority of his.

State transportation officials plan to demolish the structurally deficient 60-year-old overpass and rework the roadways below to accommodate traffic. According to the state transportation department, 24,000 vehicles traverse the roadway each day.

Menino, while saying the demolition is a state project that he has little control over, warned that the project would become a “second Big Dig.” The first, and so far only Big Dig, led to the submersion of a highway and the creation of the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Menino said state officials should have thought about rebuilding the overpass, and creating a greenway that stretched from the Arnold Arboretum to Franklin Park.

Menino said he is aggressively targeting the 86 percent of companies with 100 employees or more to offer up some youth jobs. He is shooting for 10,000 summer youth jobs this year.

John Hancock, the financial services firm, is providing 600 jobs, while the Boston Bar Association is offering 55 placements at local law firms, he said.
Advocates of summer jobs programs say they provide teens with economic independence and networking opportunities while keeping them off the streets and out of trouble. The mayor’s office has sent a video and recorded a public service announcement to play on the radio in an effort to sign on more companies.

Menino was also asked about City Councillor Frank Baker’s recent evaluation of his administration. In a Boston Herald interview, the freshman councillor gave Menino a “B.”

“I don’t give grades,” Menino said, before adding, “He’s working hard. He is.”