Reporter's Notebook: School officials teach media management lesson

If there’s one thing fans and critics of 26 Court Street can agree on, it’s that school department officials are at least qualified to teach a class on press management.

On Wednesday, just hours after the City Council passed a controversial $18.6 million loan order that the Menino administration was lobbying hard for, the department released the School Committee’s secret report card on Superintendent Carol Johnson from earlier this year to the Boston Globe. In contrast to the last several years, the marks were not high; they followed a rough patch filled with late buses and parents angry over school relocations.

The move also provided better context to the press release issued a day earlier that was headlined, “Superintendent Johnson outlines sweeping changes to BPS transportation.”

All done without having to deploy the tried-and-true play perfected by Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration in its first term, chucking bad news into reporters’ inboxes on a Friday afternoon.

But back to that loan order: Some of the 13 councillors raged but ultimately signed off on it in a 12-to-1 vote as Superintendent Johnson and the school committee’s chair, Rev. Gregory Groover, looked on. Mission Hill City Councillor Michael Ross was left on Last Stand Hill in his opposing of the loan order’s inclusion of a plan to move a K-8 school to Jamaica Plain.

Several of Ross’s colleagues joined him in his charge, but only halfway; an amendment to strip the move from the plan, which includes capital funds for renovation work elsewhere in the school system and finances other school moves, failed on an 8-to-5 vote. They were also hampered by the perception among some city councillors that the Open Meeting Law prevents them from rounding up colleagues’ votes outside of the Iannella Chamber, and does not apply to the administration and its call list.

That vote did offer up a rare moment of unity among all the Dorchester representatives on the council, including Tito Jackson, Frank Baker, and Charles Yancey. City Councillor At-Large Felix Arroyo also voted for the unsuccessful amendment. And in the run-up to the balloting, councillors teed off on the school department, demanding a five-year plan the next time it attempts to merge or consolidate schools.

Mayor Thomas Menino said that will happen in the future, when the school assignment task force report, which will recommend ways for the city to move closer to neighborhood schools, is finished.

“The bottom line is we want to take kids off wait lists, give them the opportunity for a good education, and that’s what we did yesterday,” Menino said after the final vote in a lunchtime sit-down with neighborhood reporters on Thursday.

“Sometimes in our business it’s difficult to make those tough decisions,” he said. “But this was the right decision.”

Some people wanted to play politics with the loan order, Menino said: “It’s not about politics at all… I won’t play politics with kids. I’ll play politics with other issues, but not with kids.”

Senate budget includes increases for education, anti-gang programs

After nearly three days and 700 amendments, the state Senate passed its version of a fiscal 2013 budget. It shows increases in education and anti-youth violence funds.

The House and Senate will hash out differences between their versions over the next month before sending it to Gov. Patrick’s desk for his signature (or his veto pen). The new fiscal year starts on July 1.

According to state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz’s office, the Senate version, which totals $32.4 billion, includes a $1.5 million increase (to $7 million) for the popular Shannon anti-gang violence grant program. The House budget bill includes $5.5 million for that program.

The Senate version, which also includes a $1 million increase for early education programs for a total of $28.7 million, attempts to revive the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which was established in 1993 to track the funding communities receive for educating students.

The education reform law in that year required the commission to file a report every two years. Since 1993, there have been only two reports.

Chang-Diaz also pushed for an amendment calling for regulations on executive compensation at mutual companies, following revelations of mind-bogglingly massive payments to company chiefs. The amendment requires mutual fund companies to disclose the compensation to executives and board directors.

Finneran is leaving WRKO talk radio gig

Thomas Finneran, former House speaker from Mattapan, is stepping down as a co-host of “Tom and Todd,” a morning talk show on WRKO 680 AM. Today (May 31) is scheduled to be his last day.

“Over the past several days, [WRKO honcho] Jason Wolfe and I have been talking about various plans and opportunities which lie ahead for me and for the station,” Finneran, a Mattapan Democrat, said in a statement. “Those opportunities are of interest to me but are not compatible with the hours I keep and the effort I make to prepare for and to execute a well-informed show every morning. When I brought such matters to Jason for his consideration we talked more broadly of the road ahead and it seemed to each of us that a certain freedom of movement and of opportunity would be presented by an amicable parting.”

Finneran started his hosting duties five years ago and had a side job as a Beacon Hill lobbyist. His clients have included the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Inc.; the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation; and Software Providers and Operators Association LLC.

Elected to the House in 1978, he left in 2004 under a cloud of controversy to take a job as the head of a biotechnology trade group. In 2005, he was indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges, relating to his testimony in a lawsuit over the redrawing of the state’s political boundaries. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice two years later and received probation and a fine.