Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My remarks to the Council on the expansion of the School Committee

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for allowing myself and my colleagues to address you this evening on an item that is of such consequence. While I imagine nothing any of us say here this evening will sway the opinions of the councilors, as the matter lies before the voters, it is important that a realistic assessment of this proposal be heard.
While I will readily admit that I was not paying attention in 1985 to the rewriting of Worcester's charter, as I was twelve at the time, it does seem clear that the intent of the commission was to broaden representation. At the very least, the commission was concerned with broadening geographic representation across the city. It may interest you, therefore, to learn that every district in the city is currently represented on the Worcester School Committee, save Councilor Clancy's district, which Mr. O'Connell misses by the width of a street. Mr. Eddy's district has multiple members on both bodies. I submit to you, Mr. Chair, that this has more to do with other aspects of Council and Committee work--the designation of the position as part-time with corresponding pay, yet the need for flexible work hours--that cause public service in this city to be, to some degree, a luxury that can only be afforded by some.
I suspect, however, Mr. Chair, that this item stems less from geographic concerns and more from identity concerns. Both bodies are entirely white, are overwhelmingly male, are largely over the age of fifty. We can all agree that the City of Worcester does not look like that.
If, however, it is this that concerns the Council, and it is this that led to the charter being changed in 1985, we have only to look at the composition of this body now and over the 26 years since charter change to see if this proposed solution has a potential for success.
I submit to you, Mr. Chair, that it does not. Twenty-six years after charter change, the numbers on the Council are stark: the body remains overwhelmingly white (and historically so), overwhelmingly male, and largely over the age of fifty. Further, Mr. Chair, former Councilors who are people of color won at-large, not district, seats.
District representation has not changed this.
While I share the concerns of the Council on having elected bodies that reflect the composition of the city, I am appalled to once again have a proposed solution be one that has already demonstrably failed.
I also find it of grave concern that the Councilors proposing this give no consideration to the difference between our two bodies. There is a difference in our jobs. While both bodies hire and evaluate the chief executive, and both bodies have financial oversight, the Worcester School Committee has further authority in setting policy for the Worcester Public Schools. The Worcester Public Schools are a single, functioning system, which must have a single-minded policy direction.
This also, Mr. Chair, ignores the representative ground-level bodies that serve the Worcester Public Schools now. The Citywide Parent Planning and Advisory Council by its bylaws serves as a congress of schools. Every school has a seat at this Council and it provides a voice for each and every school--not just some schools, as would be inevitably the case with district representatives. As it is an ongoing challenge to ensure representation for each school, I have put an item on Thursday's School Committee agenda, requesting the administration assist CPPAC in ensuring representation for all schools.
Further, Mr. Chair, it ignores the site councils required by the Education Reform Act of 1993. Far from being window-dressing, the site councils of elected teachers, parents, and community members. It is empowered with reviewing the budget, often including capital spending, and with advising on policy for the school. As many members of site councils are not aware of the power vested in them by the laws of the Commonwealth, I have put an item on Thursday's agenda calling for training of site councils, so members are aware of the power they hold.
This is, one should note, remarkably similar to the neighborhood councils called for by the 1987 revision of the charter--a part of the charter never fulfilled.
I'm also horrified by the prospect of making capital decisions based on political clout rather than district need. When this Council voted additional, badly-needed capital funds for the Worcester Public Schools, the School Committee turned to the administration and asked for a list reflecting NEED, not political pull. It would poorly serve the schoolchildren of this city to have roof repair, window replacement, and classroom repainting apportioned by who owes whom what.
It is that prospect, more than anything, that has made me feel I needed to come and speak before you tonight. To have a proposal before the voters of this city that would create new inequities, set up new competitions for resources, within the schools of this city is something that I cannot be silent on.
I ask you, therefore, Mr. Chair: if you and your colleagues are indeed concerned about representation in this city, do not present a ballot question that will not solve the problem and will make inequities worse. Look at comprehensive resolution to why people do and do not run for office in Worcester, and set out in a direction that will create a government that looks like its city.
This proposal does not do that.


Kirsten said...

Not sure what this is about? Might you provide a two sentence big picture?

Tracy Novick said...

Certainly! The mayor and seven other city councilors have put a ballot item on November's local ballot, asking if voters wish to have five district members added to the Worcester School Committee.