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WBUR poll: Boston voters support elected school board

Boston Public school buses are lined up on July 23, 2020 in Boston. (Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Boston Public school buses are lined up on July 23, 2020 in Boston. (Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Boston voters overwhelmingly support the idea of switching from an appointed to an elected school board, according to a new WBUR poll.

The poll (topline/crosstab) also found most likely voters want schools to focus equally on catching students up academically this year and helping children deal with the personal impacts of the pandemic.

MassINC Polling Group conducted the survey of more than 500 likely voters for WBUR, the Dorchester Reporter and the Boston Foundation. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

The poll found 65% of likely voters said they want to restore an elected school committee in Boston, three decades after the city switched to a panel appointed by the mayor.  By comparison, only 14% said they oppose the idea, which will be on the city’s Nov. 2 Boston ballot as a non-binding resolution.

Rosanny Sanabria of East Boston noted that every other municipal school committee in Massachusetts is chosen at the ballot box. “Generally, when parents have a little bit more input, then that’s usually the best way to go,” said Sanabria, who is a BPS graduate with two nieces in the district.

The change to an elected school board would need approval from the City Council, the state legislature and Governor Charlie Baker.

Brandon Bowser, a former Boston public school teacher who favors the change, said the past year’s scandals and the resignations of four committee members “definitely didn’t make the body look good.” “If you’re having scandals on the board of a company, maybe there need to be changes,” he added.

Dan Barcan of Roslindale, who has one child at Boston Latin Academy and another outside the district, was one of the few to oppose the move to an elected committee.

He observed that they can become consumed by lightning-rod issues, like mask mandates and the perception of “critical race theory” in curricula.

“You can Google ‘school committees’, you can see chaos, every night, in 20 different states… and it’s around these single issues that have been hyped up nationally,” said Barcan, who advises educational organizations in his work. He worried that if the move is made, candidates with unrepresentative agendas might nevertheless win seats in low-turnout elections.

Meanwhile, most local voters said they want schools to focus equally on helping students academically and emotionally as they recover from the pandemic — in part because many have come to see two needs are so deeply intertwined.

“It’s hard to peel them apart,” Barcan said. “Even if you have minimal stressors outside of school, it’s a huge source of anxiety to realize, ‘I didn’t really get what happened last year in math.’”

Dilia Feliz of Dorchester says her 5-year-old daughter did well with the academic part of remote learning at the charter school she attends — but “ended up getting anxiety attacks because she couldn’t socialize with other people."

A large minority, 31% of respondents, said that the focus should be on academic catch-up, leaving room for social-emotional losses to be recovered elsewhere.

Sean Barrett of South Boston says one of his three children has suffered mentally over the past year, but that the family wants trained mental-health professionals to tackle that issue. “I think we need to get back to normal, pre-COVID, as fast as possible,” Barrett said.

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Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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Carrie Jung Twitter Senior Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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