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Panel approves closure of 6 schools
 Panel approves closure of 6 schools
City to expand pilot programs
By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / November 20, 2008

The Boston School Committee last night approved vacating six elementary school buildings next year and expanding other academic programs as it tries to cut costs and improve school quality.
Half of the schools to be shuttered are in Dorchester, including Dickerman, P.A. Shaw, and Stone.

The others are Hamilton in Brighton, Higginson in Roxbury, and the former Fuller Elementary in Jamaica Plain, which houses Boston International High School. That program is to move into the Thompson building in Dorchester.

All the shuttered schools will be left empty.

School Committee chairwoman Elizabeth Reilinger said before the unanimous vote: "We are not disposing of these buildings."

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said the buildings could eventually provide space for neighborhood programs should the need arise. She was speaking in response to previously raised public concerns that the abandoned buildings could blight their neighborhoods.

Escalating costs and declining enrollment are prompting the closings, an emotionally charged issue unveiled last month that drew overflow crowds of unhappy parents, teachers, and students to several School Committee meetings. The public outcry persuaded Johnson to yank a few school closing proposals.

Public furor appears to have waned. Only one person raised concerns to the committee before last night's vote, while several seats in the meeting room were empty and no one sat in the rows of folding chairs set up in the hallway, which had been used at previous meetings.
The committee, after a month debating the proposal, voted after little discussion.

The closings are part of Johnson's five-year plan to overhaul the district's schools.

Some government watchdog groups are concerned the plan does not cut costs enough.

The School Department has estimated that the plan's overall savings will be about $3 million next year. However, the department - which has received two $10 million bailouts from City Hall in the last year - is projecting that salary and benefits will rise by $30 million next year, while it also is bracing for a reduction in state aid due to the weakening economy.

The board last night approved another major piece of that plan: an expansion of pilot schools, which have more autonomy than other schools over budget, staffing, governance, classroom teaching standards, and testing programs.

The approved pilot school expansions include the opening of a new kindergarten-through-Grade 8 school in Jamaica Plain, a new high school that will become part of the Mary Lyon K-8 School in Brighton, and the conversion of the Haley Elementary School in Roslindale into a pilot school. The changes take effect next year.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com

? Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.



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Created: November 27, 2008   Modified: November 27, 2008