Massachusetts' education commissioner is set to recommend that Boston Public Schools be declared an "underperforming district" based on multiple "serious deficiencies," the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said Friday.
A DESE spokesperson said officials from the agency, Boston Public Schools and the city were unable to come to an agreement, so DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley will recommend to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday that they vote to declare Boston Public Schools an underperforming district.
This is not the same as receivership, but will give Riley the authority to "appoint an accountability monitor along with some oversight ability," DESE said.
DESE had been talking with city and school officials for over a month about a possible agreement on an improvement plan for the district but were unable to reach an agreement.
"After considering the areas of alignment between the City/BPS and DESE that have emerged from these discussions – which were substantial yet ultimately insufficient – as well the feedback we have heard from the community, at this time, I am not recommending that the Board place the district in receivership by designating it a chronically underperforming district," Riley said in a letter to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
He said the decision to designate Boston Public Schools as an underperforming district is the result of "serious deficiencies" in the areas of addressing the needs of students with disabilities, English learnings and students in the lowest-performing schools. There have also been substantial issues with transportation, facilities, student safety and data reporting, he added.
If the board approves Riley's recommendation at its meeting Tuesday, he said he would appoint an assistance lead, an accountability monitor and an individual or team to conduct monitoring site visits. He would also notify the district that it is required to develop a district improvement plan and submit it to DESE for approval.
If the plan is approved by DESE, Riley said the state would make up to $10 million available over a 3-year period to support the district's work.
"I believe designating BPS an underperforming district is the correct next step because it will provide the Mayor and incoming Superintendent an opportunity to address the serious deficiencies in the district, while at the same time giving DESE the necessary tools to ensure the integrity of the district’s data,"Riley said. "Placing a monitor inside BPS to review the district’s progress, including assessing the accuracy of the district’s data, will give families and stakeholders confidence in information showing BPS’s ability to deliver on necessary improvements."
He added that taking this step now does not preclude other interventions, such as receivership, in the future, if Boston Public Schools do not correct the "serious deficiencies" identified by DESE.
All of this comes as Boston is in the process of interviewing for a new superintendent. Mary Skipper, who is currently the superintendent in Somerville, interviewed Thursday. Dr. Tommy Welch, the Region 1 superintendent for Boston, is scheduled to interview Friday.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced in February that she would be resigning at the close of the current school year after three years in charge of Boston schools.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is still hoping to prevent Tuesday's vote from happening. She said her office has been working with DESE to reach agreement on an improvement plan and told the agency Friday morning the city is willing to sign the latest draft with a couple of minor edits.
"Just days away from selecting our next Superintendent, it would be a disservice to our students and school communities to set back our timelines by months with a new process resulting from the proposed designation. I’m committed to finalizing an agreement so we can focus on the critical work ahead," Wu said in a statement.