BOSTON — Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is throwing his political weight behind a plan to close or merge more than a dozen schools.
Speaking at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning, Menino tried to drum up support for a divisive Boston Public Schools proposal that would close nine schools and merge another eight.
“You go to these meetings they tell, ‘Wow, we’re going to close the building. We’re going to close that building.’ It’s not about closing buildings, folks. It’s about the kids,” Menino said.
The Boston Teachers Union opposes the school closures, as do many parents.
But Menino said Boston taxpayers are paying for schools that are operating well below capacity.
“I believe it’s much better to invest in the arts, athletics and mentoring programs,” Menino said. “These are the things that help children learn. Spending money on empty seats does not.”
The school closure plan — outlined recently by Superintendent Carol Johnson — is designed to help close a $63 million budget gap that is projected to grow. Boston’s school board is due to vote on the plan Wednesday.
Menino appealed to the board to “understand the right decisions aren’t always the most popular decisions.”
The mayor also asked the hundreds of business and community leaders in the audience to back Johnson’s plan.
“Give her some support,” Menino said. “Because this is the right thing to do at the right time.”
Johnson attended the mayor’s speech.
“It’s a painful process,” she said following the talk. “None of us wants to close schools. But we have no choice.”
Menino also stepped up pressure on BPS teachers as they negotiate a new contract. The mayor wants to establish merit pay for teachers and to give more control over teacher placement to school principals.