Reporter's Notebook: Connolly focus: Parent views on school policies

As school district officials weigh an overhaul of the city’s student assignment and transportation policy, City Councillor At-Large John Connolly will be holding three hearings next week on consecutive days where the focus will be on school assignments from the parental perspective.

Connolly, the chair of the council’s Education Committee who is widely viewed as a future mayoral contender, said he has been holding community meetings with small groups of parents. “They want to see real reform and real changes,” he said. “It’s not that everybody agrees on how you do it, but there’s definitely a broad consensus to change the system.”

Connolly said he wants the public schools, and the mayorally-appointed task force that is advising the overhaul, to succeed, but the process will be better served, he added, “if we have some independent mechanisms for parents to have their voices heard.”

“I’ve been everywhere from a couple of living rooms in Dorchester to rooms in the South End with Spanish-speaking parents being translated to me, trying to get opinions from parents everywhere,” Connolly said. “I think that will be reflected in the hearings.”

The first session, which will be held at City Hall next Tuesday (May 22) at 4 p.m., will concentrate on the student assignment lottery. A 4 p.m. hearing the next day (May 23) will focus on school quality. Student transportation will be the subject of the third meeting the following day (May 24) at 6 p.m.

District officials are hosting their own hearing today at 11 a.m. at the Mildred Avenue K-8 School in Mattapan.

The current assignment set-up splits the city into three zones – north, west and east – and families can apply for elementary or middle schools in their zones. The district uses an algorithm to assign the students to the schools.

But in his 2012 State of the City address, Mayor Thomas Menino called for the adoption of a “radically different” assignment plan that focuses on putting children in schools closer to home. He also appointed a task force, led by Boston University Dean Hardin Coleman, to advise the department as it seeks to revamp the process. Menino is looking for action from the task force and the school committee by the end of the year or by early next year – in time for his next State of the City address.

“I think they have a very talented task force and I think the members of the task force are asking all of the right questions, but I think that we all have to make sure BPS itself is listening to its task force and listening to the broader community opinion as they devise their plan,” Connolly said.

House leaders focus: economic development
Beacon Hill may be weeks away from closing up shop for the summer, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers calling press conferences and introducing new bills. It is, after all, an election year.

The roll-out of a health care cost control bill came first. Both the House and Senate have released their versions, which will likely be reconciled in a conference committee with top lawmakers on both sides.
Next up: an economic development bill that creates “one-stop shopping” for infrastructure funding, an innovation investment fund that includes matching grants for research and development projects, and a “talent pipeline program” that aims to match stipends for interns at technology start-ups.

“We take steps, important steps, to send the nation and the world a message that Massachusetts is still the home of invention and innovation,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, according to the State House News Service.

According to state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry’s office, the bill incorporates several proposals pushed by the Committee on Community Development and Small Business, including a web portal for small businesses and a tax credit for community development corporations.

“What we have here is a bill that really takes into account the knowledge we gained on our committee’s statewide listening tours and offers smart solutions to tackle the top concerns small businesses and community developers shared with us,” Rep. Forry said in a statement.

Ray Flynn calls for citywide casino vote
Former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, a South Boston Democrat who opposes gambling, says the city should hold a citywide vote on whether to have a casino within its borders.

Suffolk Downs in East Boston is hoping to grab a casino license, and under the state law approved last year, it must negotiate a package with the city and go to the polls to receive a sign-off from residents. But a twist in the law says that in Boston’s case, a vote will occur only in the ward where the casino would be located unless the mayor and the City Council agree to open up the referendum.

“I think the whole city ought to vote on it, actually,” Flynn told WCVB-TV’s “On the Record,” a weekly political chat show. “All of Boston ought to vote on it. And if all of Boston is voting on it, I’m going to vote no.”

Mayor Menino has said he favors an East Boston-only vote, while the Council is split over the issue.
The hosts of “On the Record,” Ed Harding and Janet Wu, also pressed Flynn on how he felt about Menino, who took over from Flynn in 1993 as acting mayor and went on to win subsequent elections, and the question of his running for yet another term. “I think the city has changed dramatically,” Flynn said, adding that he felt Menino has done a “good job” and running for reelection is “his decision.”

Flynn, who has taken occasional jabs at Menino over the years, was asked again whether it was time for the mayor to move on. “No, I wouldn’t say that, Janet, because of the fact that sometimes there is no substitute for experience, as well,” Flynn said. “He still has a lot to contribute.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop. Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Email us at newseditor@dotnews.com and follow us on Twitter: @LitDrop and @gintautasd.