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School Busing Overhaul?

Boston Mayor Tom Menino is proposing an overhaul for the city's school busing program. As well, he wants to invest a million dollars in children's community education services.

Those are a couple of the measures Menino mentioned in his annual "State of the City" address in Dorchester last night. WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness was there, and has this report.

TEXT OF STORY:

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: Education was the theme of the evening. And Mayor Menino pledged to revisit one of Boston's thorniest education problems — school busing.

TOM MENINO: I know this is a very sensitive issue but strong leadership is all about facing facts. I will not allow our city to pour dollar after dollar into gas tanks, when we can invest more of that money into classrooms.

TONESS: Boston spends about $40 million each year to bus students across the city to schools assigned based on choice and geography. Parents blocked a proposed overhaul in 2004, but Menino says the situation is different now.

MENINO: We now have more high performing schools in our city than in the past, we know that parents in every part of the city want and deserve choice. We cannot continue to spend more and more money on transportation at the expense of our children.

TONESS: Menino estimates saving $10 million by making the busing plan more efficient. And he'd put that money back into schools.

Before then, he plans to spend $1 million so public schools work in lockstep with neighborhood libraries and community centers.

MENINO: Imagine if your children had not just a teacher or two to push their progress but a whole network of caring adults at a series of sites throughout your neighborhood. This is community learning.

TONESS: And Menino wants to double the number of Advanced Placement classes in city high schools and start the elite International Baccaluareate program at two non-exam schools.

Menino said investing in education will help reduce violent crime in Boston, something he said the city was starting get under control. Last year's speech was devoted to the record-setting violence that plagued Boston. Last night, Menino said thanks to changes he and Police Commissioner Ed Davis made in 2007, the city has reduced violent crime by 9 percent.

MENINO: We will continue this comprehensive approach in the years ahead. Commissioner Davis promised me that this year we will reduce violent crime by another 10 percent.

TONESS: Mayor Menino gushed about the progress the city has made in the last year.... a waterfront summer camp for city kids, more cops on the street, national awards for city schools. He even handed out timelines charting all the improvements since he took office 14 years ago.

But he did turn negative when it came to the Boston Firefighters Union. The city and union leaders
have been sparring largely through the media about stalled contract negotiations.

The union backed off on a threat to picket the speech last night, but still Menino criticized union leadership in his address.

Afterwards, some observers wished Menino had spoken more about public safety.
But they were thrilled to hear so much about education.

Tchintchia Barros lives in Roxbury and works as a financial assets manager. She was impressed with the mayors plans but said he wasn't aiming high enough, especially when it came to adding Advanced Placement classes.

TCHINTCHIA BARROS: I think its going to be a lot of work, but I was a little disappointed that he thought the increase in AP classes was going to be a big stretch.

TONESS: Most agreed overhauling the busing plan is ambitious, including
Reverend Shawn Harrison.

SHAWN HARRIS: I think it's going to be a challenge. I think they can do it. I think it's needed.

TONESS: Once school officials redraw a busing plan, city residents will likely get the chance to comment. That's what happened the last time Mayor Menino proposed the idea.

For WBUR, I'm Bianca Vazquez Toness.

This program aired on January 16, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Bianca Vázquez Toness Twitter Reporter
Bianca Vázquez Toness was formerly a report for WBUR.

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