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‘External Advisory Committee,’ Less So on the ‘Advisory’ Part

The 27-member group appointed by Mayor Thomas Menino meets again inside City Hall tonight, feeling its way to a proposal that significantly revamps the city’s much-maligned student assignment plan.

Its official title is the “External Advisory Committee on School Choice,” a clunky and academic-sounding name, frequently affirmed by the wonky back-and-forth that occurs at the group’s meetings. Hardin Coleman, Boston University’s dean of the School of Education, and Helen Dajer, a former School Committee member, are the co-chairs.

But the title has also become less fitting as the group has deliberated into late fall and seen its deadline pushed back into January. The “Advisory” part, at least.

A February press release from the mayor’s office noted: “Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Carol R. Johnson today announced the team of community leaders who will assume the role of members of the city’s external advisory committee for improving school choice. The committee of 12 men and 11 women [Ed. Note: more would be added later] will work over the next year to help advise the school department as it engages the community on the topic of improving the city’s school assignment system.”

But at recent meetings, it appears school department officials are the ones doing the advising, as the EAC analyzes and discusses various proposals that the department and other groups have put forward. The EAC has grown into something more powerful, steering the discussion and eyeing complex plans like the one developed by a MIT student.

That was evident in last week’s press release announcing the delay: “Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s External Advisory Committee on School Choice will continue its work through January as it creates an improved student assignment system for the city’s children and families.” The difference in verbs from the February release –- from “help advise” to “create” -- was notable.

The committee will eventually present proposed changes to Superintendent Carol Johnson, who will then take them to the School Committee.

Tonight's meeting is set for 6 p.m. on the ninth floor of City Hall.