Boston Public Schools release new details on proposed elementary school mergers
Boston Public School officials released new details Wednesday on their proposal to combine small elementary schools in the district as part of the mayor’s Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools initiative.
The proposed mergers of the Pauline A. Shaw Elementary School and the Charles H. Taylor Elementary School in Dorchester, and the John D. Philbrick Elementary School and Charles Sumner Elementary School in Roslindale, must be approved by the school committee.
A vote is expected to happen in May.
“These opportunities are sort of paving the way for other communities that will come behind them,” BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper said during a presentation to the school committee Wednesday. “Any merger or school configuration is disruptive. But disruptions can also be powerful forces for good.”
Both of the proposed school mergers have been public knowledge since May 2022, but plans for implementation were put on pause.
BPS officials said they are presenting more details of the proposed mergers in order to give the public and families time to understand their options.
“These changes are never easy,” Skipper said. “And as a committee and the body that governs this district, we need your feedback and collaboration on these decisions that we must make together.”
Officials assured this is more than just throwing two school communities together in one space, but "providing support and resources to bring two separate communities together intentionally ... to build a school that better serves its students, families, and educators," according to an overview report.
Mayor Michelle Wu's Green New Deal sets forth ambitious targets to fix deteriorating school facilities and accelerate new school construction and renovation.
District officials argue the mergers are necessary to account for decreased enrollment and to provide better facilities and resources for kids.
They also argue it will help schools offer more diverse programming and inclusion education for students with disabilities, or settings where they can learn alongside general education peers.
These smaller schools are "not capable of expanding inclusion," the report notes, and leads to an “over-concentration of students with disabilities in a small number of larger elementary schools.”
More details on proposed mergers
The proposed consolidations would first impact Shaw Elementary and Taylor Elementary, which saw their school populations decline by a respective 40% and 43% from 2018 to 2022. Officials want to combine the schools into a single, two-campus school community serving grades K-6 starting in the 2024-25 school year.
BPS also wants to consolidate Philbrick Elementary and the Sumner beginning in the 2025-26 school year. The report said Philbrick’s small size makes it challenging for specialists like a school psychologist and physical therapist to offer "pull-out services" while Sumner has dealt with space constraints. BPS proposes the merged schools occupy space at the now-closed Washington Irving Middle School.
BPS warned that by the 2023-24 school year, several dozen elementary schools will not have the physical space to “maintain a double-strand, inclusive educational program.”
Officials added such steps will help ensure more classrooms are staffed with teachers who have appropriate licenses and lessen the impact of the teacher shortage in the district — as of October 2022, there were 176 teaching positions and 152 paraprofessional positions that were unfilled, according to the report.
BPS also did not rule out future school consolidations down the road, saying more proposed mergers will be presented to the school committee “in years to come.”
Over the last 10 years, Boston public school enrollment has dropped by about 8,000 students, or 14%. That drop has significant budget implications since state funding is provided to districts on a per pupil basis.
Officials sought to calm fears over potential staffing cuts or other disruptions as the result of the proposed mergers. “Consolidating classrooms will not lead to educator layoffs,” the report states, adding that school officials would help any impacted personnel find a similar role elsewhere in the district.
Boston officials acknowledged that the district does not yet have a "codified process" for how to successfully merge the schools, but are committed to learning from past school closures and mergers, as well as partnering with the impacted school communities to develop a path forward.
Officials said if the school consolidations are approved, they will hold a combined school community meeting every two months to report on progress and solicit community feedback. They also said they would increase language-specific community meetings in Spanish and Haitian Creole to reach a broader audience.