Counting ghost seats

The way Mayor Walsh speaks about Boston Public Schools, you would think that you could walk into any school in the district and find vast empty spaces.

“We have maintained building space for 93,000 students in a district whose enrollment has declined to 57,000,” Mayor Walsh at the Annual Address to the Boston Municipal Bureau in March.

Doesn’t that sound like you could just walk into any old school building and count empty chairs, one, two, three, four….

As if 40,000 kids just got up and walked away from their desks leaving sad, empty seats behind.

But if you walk into any BPS school, you will see that is not the case at all. You will see that classrooms are filled with kids. Teachers often have carts carrying their materials from classroom to classroom because there just isn’t enough space.

Mayor Walsh is getting his number from the McKinsey report that the city paid $660,000 for. It took a lot of effort, but a very persistent hero from QUEST doggedly pursued an FOIA request until the report was released in its entirety.

Now, if you look at the report, you will not see any information about how they calculated that number. That’s because their calculations are a trade secret. There are some hints, however.

If you look on page 115, you will see this statement:

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The current 130 schools could hold over 90,000 students if operating at full capacity without student-teacher ratio limits.

Think about this statement for a minute. If you could just shove kids into a classroom without regard to student/teacher ratio, you could argue that BPS has empty seats.

So there are not 40,000 empty seats in BPS. These seats are theoretical. They only exist if there are no legal, contractual or educational limits to the amount of children you can stuff into a classroom. A reality that does not exist anywhere in this country. You don’t just shove kids into a building and call it a school. Just like hospitals, schools have spatial needs for art, music, special education and playgrounds.

And it is this faulty logic that the mayor is using to make a case for closing schools.

But why? Why is he going to great lengths to argue that we should close schools?

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On slide 24 of the presentation, there is a little gift to developers.

Extremely valuable property in the Fenway and on Newbury Street that could be sold. That would be Snowden International on Newbury Street (a building that cannot be sold because it is held in a trust) and BLS and BAA in the Fenway.

This isn’t about our kids. This is about selling our buildings to land developers. Our children are merely in the way.

Becoming mayor does not give Marty Walsh the right to raid public assets. These schools belong to us, the parents, students and teachers of BPS. We’ve paid for them with the endless hours that we have invested running bake sales, silent auctions, and dance offs. We have paid for them with the time we have spent in parent conferences, sporting events, Parent Council meetings and clean up days. We have entrusted our children to this system. We have checked their homework and signed the blasted reading logs. We have accompanied classes on school trips. We have Opted In or Opted Out of PARCC/MCAS.

These schools are not just buildings. They are not just names. They are the anchors of our children’s lives. They are staples of the community.

You do not get to decide that the real estate is more valuable to you than our children’s education, Mayor Walsh. You have no right to this. No right at all.

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3 thoughts on “Counting ghost seats

  1. So do we have excess building capacity, that should be sold off? Walsh is lying about how much, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. Enrollment has declined, even though it never was 93,000. The relevant demographic data must exist somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find any of it.

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  2. There is in every bldg a space or spaces for am unknown number of children. But in those very buildings there is also a lack of space. Some bldgs lack a gymnasium or a cafeteria or a library. Other bldgs lack a anything resembling a suitable space for any of a number of required and needed services, such as counseling, OT, PT, or Speech and Language services. Still other schools are missing adequate spaces for classrooms so the art, music, or computer teacher pushes his or her supplies around on a cart.

    We have a gym in one building in a corridor — yes a corridor! — and we have dozens of classrooms that similarly meet in corridors.

    We have perhaps hundreds of classrooms that meet in basements, or on the stage, or in otherwise uninhabitable spaces. Yet in all of the above schools we probably have ‘excess capacity’ that contributes to the alleged surplus 38,000 or so seats cited in the report.

    So is there excess capacity? Perhaps here and there. But a far greater issue is the lack of suitable, appropriate space for the students we do have enrolled.

    I hope the above is responsive.

    BTW, we thank QUEST for being instrumental in getting the report released.

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  3. The population of Massachusetts, a factor for everything from business growth and property taxes to congressional representation, is expected to grow 4.4 percent between 2010 and 2030.

    More people moving in is a sign of a strong economy, said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

    “Population growth is the sign of the attractiveness of a region,” he said. “But on the other hand, if population growth is too rapid, then communities have challenges in maintaining the quality of services.”

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