Category Archives: Grade schools

Devotion, Lawrence, Pierce, Driscoll, Lincoln, Runkle, Heath and Baker

Too hot to handle: at Natick School Committee

In a classic 1938 film, Myrna Loy played Alma Harding, modeled after Amelia Earhart. Corey Spaulding–parent of a former student in Natick Public Schools–probably would not be mistaken for Loy. Last January 8, however, her message proved “Too Hot to Handle.” Natick School Comittee members walked out of their monthly meeting moments after she started to speak and then-Supt. Peter Sanchioni interrupted, calling her remarks “unfettered lies” along with other jibes.

According to public records, at the Natick School Committee on January 8 Spaulding began by saying, “I am the mother of a child who was mercilessly bullied into suicide here in Natick.” Outbursts at the meeting made other comments hard to follow. About two months later, Dr. Sanchioni resigned. The School Committee cited “personal, family and medical reasons.” Another two months on, he was hired as the school superintendent for Tiverton, RI, apparently at a lower rate of pay.

Freedom of speech: In the interim, Corey Spaulding and Karin Sutter–also a parent of a former student in Natick Public Schools–filed a civil rights lawsuit. Sutter had sparked another Natick School Committee walkout in February, telling members that “my boys and family…needed to move out [of Natick] due to the retaliation and retribution we received at the hands of the Natick Public Schools.”

Supported by the Massachusetts ACLU and represented by Benjamin Wish of Todd & Weld in Boston, Spaulding and Sutter won an order from a state court enjoining the Natick School Committee from enforcing rules against “improper conduct and remarks” and against “personal complaints” applied to comments at meetings. The court ruling stated that Natick policies and actions were likely to be found invalid under both Massachusetts and federal laws.

Over recent years, public comment became a regular feature at meetings of many local boards and committees. The Brookline School Committee adopted the practice in 1993. The Brookline Select Board later adopted it. Governing boards and committees in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and many other suburbs of Boston follow similar practices. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees publishes guidelines for public comment. Guidance is also available in other states and from national organizations.

What can one say to members of a local governing board or committee in a public comment? When and how does freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, apply? Boundaries of civil rights in particular situations are explored in court decisions, but so far few decisions directly concern public comments made to local boards and committees.

The Natick case: Members of the Natick School Committee rise to attention at the start of a meeting–like a McCarthy-era vestige–and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In situations described in the recent court ruling, a committee chair led in squelching criticism. Interrupting Karin Sutter’s remark last February 5 about “retaliation and retribution…[by] Natick Public Schools,” the committee chair said, “…you cannot speak defamatory about the Natick…this is Open Meeting Laws…you are out of order.”

In such situations, the court ruling found “restrictions…aimed to prohibit…speech…critical of the Natick Public Schools…quintessentially viewpoint-based…[and exercised] on an ad hoc basis.” Citing the Open Meeting Law was merely a distraction, according to the ruling, because “First Amendment or Article 16 principles [of the Massachusetts constitution]…would take priority, and the statute would have to be read in a way that is compatible with the rights that they provide.”

To support and explain its findings, the recent court ruling cited several prior judicial decisions and opinions, particularly –

*** Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-502, 2015
In that case, a local ordinance regulating signs was overturned, reversing an Appeals Court, because it was found to be “content-based” and not “narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests.”

*** Roman v. Trustees of Tufts College, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case no. SJC-10822, 2012
In that case, an institutional policy was found to be content-neutral and viewpoint-neutral, and it was upheld against a free-speech challenge.

*** Draego v. Charlottesville, U.S. District Court for western Virginia, Case no. 3:16-cv-00057, 2016, memorandum of opinion and order
In that case, an injunction issued against a so-called “group defamation ban” by a city council, because under “strict scrutiny” it appeared likely to violate First Amendment rights to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process.

Thomas P. Billings, the judge hearing the Natick case, was appointed in 2001 by former Republican Gov. Swift. He has heard several cases with interactions between state and federal laws, including DirecTV v. Massachusetts in 2012–involving issues of taxes, telecommunications and interstate commerce. The state ruling in the case was upheld when the Supreme Court declined a challenge. [U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 14-1524, 2014]

Were Brookline’s current School Committee policies subject to similar scrutiny, bans on “individual personnel issues” and on “inappropriate conduct or statement[s]” in public comments could prompt objections similar to those from Justice Billings about Natick School Committee policies, in his recent ruling for the Natick case. [Public comment and participation at School Committee meetings, Policy Manual, Public Schools of Brookline, pp. B.11-13]

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2018


Benjamin Wish obtains preliminary injunction ordering school district to stop suppressing free speech rights, Todd & Weld (Boston, MA), June, 2018

Decision and order (preliminary injunction), Spaulding v. Natick, Middlesex Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Civil action no. 18-1115, June 5, 2018 (made quotable and searchable)

Marcia Pobzeznik, Superintendent appointed in Tiverton, Fall River (MA) Herald News, May 9, 2018

Susan Petroni, Mothers of former Natick students file lawsuit to defend free speech rights, Framingham (MA) Source, April 23, 2018

Caitlyn Kelleher, Natick superintendent of schools resigns, MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), March 1, 2018

“Public Speak” at Natick School Committee, Pegasus (Natick, MA), February 5, 2018 (video with sound)

“Public Speak” at Natick School Committee, Pegasus (Natick, MA), January 8, 2018 (video with sound)

Natick Public Records (unattributed pages on a commercial Web site), 2018

Select Board’s policy on public comment, Town of Brookline, MA, 2016

Memorandum of opinion and order, Draego v. Charlottesville, U.S. District Court for western Virginia, Case no. 3:16-cv-00057, 2016

Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-502, 2015

DirecTV v. Massachusetts, Suffolk Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Civil action no. 10-0324-BLS1, 2015

Glenn Koocher, et al., Public participation at school committee meetings and guidelines for public comment, Section BEDH, Guide for Present and Future School Committee Chairs, Massachusetts Association of School Committees, 2014

Roman v. Trustees of Tufts College, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case no. SJC-10822, 2012

What does free speech mean?, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, 2007

Public comment and participation at School Committee meetings, Town of Brookline, MA, 2005 (in Policy Manual, section B, pp. 11-13)

United States v. Carolene Products, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 640, 1938 (Footnote 4, outlining what is commonly known as “strict scrutiny”)

Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Walter Pidgeon (Jack Conway, dir.), Too Hot to Handle, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1938

Teacher salaries: gains and losses

Public-school teachers in several states have been challenging unfairly low pay and inadequate resources. Reflecting its suburban liberal views, a recent New York Times report charted changes in public-school spending across the United States since the Vietnam War era. A longer span would have shown how unusual the recent funding lapses have been–breaking a rising tide of investment in public schools extending since at least the 1920s.

Public elementary and secondary school spending

UsPublicSchoolSpending1929-2014

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

Major changes in U.S. public education are often faintly remembered. For European-American, English-speaking students, the norm of basic literacy and arithmetic skills was a revolution during the early nineteenth century. The extensions to high-school education and participation of African-American students, native-American students and foreign-language speakers took over a century more. A high-school education became a national norm only in the 1950s.

Percent elementary and secondary school enrollments

UsSchoolEnrollments1900-1990

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 1993

Costs of living: Few reports on recent strikes and protests over teacher pay and school spending consider how costs of living warp the comparisons. Because of steep costs for housing, utilities and food, when an apparently middle-class $58 thousand average yearly pay for Hawaii teachers is adjusted for the state’s high cost of living against the U.S. average cost of living, it shrinks to about $33 thousand–near the edge of poverty.

The following table shows average salaries of K-12 public-school teachers by states. They are adjusted by statewide costs of living: equal for a state matching the U.S. average cost and proportionately scaled for states with higher or lower costs. The table also shows percentage changes in teacher pay–using constant, U.S. inflation-adjusted dollars–over 47 years that the U.S. Department of Education has analyzed data.

Average teacher pay, adjusted for costs of living

State Adj. Pay Change
Michigan $74,100 -1.5%
Pennsylvania $69,002 +15.7%
Illinois $67,725 +0.2%
Ohio $65,992 +6.9%
Wyoming $65,558 +10.9%
Iowa $64,892 +3.3%
Georgia $64,260 +16.8%
New York $64,227 +19.9%
Massachusetts $62,560 +38.2%
Delaware $62,532 +4.0%
Connecticut $61,686 +22.0%
Texas $61,603 +12.8%
Minnesota $61,465 +3.1%
Wisconsin $61,093 -4.5%
New Jersey $61,033 +18.7%
Nebraska $60,203 +10.5%
Kentucky $59,690 +17.2%
California $59,653 +18.8%
Indiana $59,300 -10.9%
Arkansas $59,170 +20.0%
Nevada $58,560 -3.1%
Alabama $57,830 +11.6%
Tennessee $57,662 +7.0%
Rhode Island $57,474 +17.9%
Missouri $57,404 -3.6%
Kansas $56,847 -1.9%
Louisiana $56,600 +10.8%
North Carolina $56,296 +3.5%
Maryland $55,598 +11.1%
Alaska $55,455 +0.4%
North Dakota $55,325 +20.0%
Idaho $55,058 +7.3%
Montana $54,731 +5.2%
Oklahoma $54,203 +2.3%
Washington $54,026 -8.6%
Mississippi $53,901 +15.3%
New Mexico $53,487 -5.2%
Virginia $53,377 -1.5%
Vermont $53,286 +17.6%
New Hampshire $53,201 +14.7%
Florida $53,169 -8.6%
Arizona $52,987 -15.3%
Utah $52,754 -3.8%
District of Columbia $52,250 +15.2%
South Carolina $52,193 +9.2%
Oregon $50,935 +8.8%
West Virginia $50,924 -7.0%
Colorado $48,579 -6.7%
Maine $48,047 +5.0%
South Dakota $45,824 +3.7%
Hawaii $32,730 -5.0%

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

Contrary to impressions colored by recent teacher strikes, Kentucky, Arkansas and Arizona do not come out as drastically unfair states. Instead they rank 17, 20 and 42 nationally on teacher pay–adjusted for state costs of living. Hawaii, South Dakota and Maine are at the bottom of that list–on average paying public-school teachers the equivalents of about $33, $46 and $48 thousand per year, as adjusted to states nearest the average U.S. costs of living: notably Maine, Washington, Nevada and Delaware.

Similarly, California, New York and Massachusetts are not top-paying states–as popularly reported–when considered against costs of living. Instead Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois are at the top of that list–on average paying public-school teachers the equivalents of about $74, $69 and $68 thousand per year, as adjusted to states nearest the average U.S. costs of living.

Gains and losses: In the Change column, the table reflects gainers and losers among the states. The public-school teachers of Massachusetts have been by far the greatest gainers. Their average pay, adjusted for inflation, rose about 38 percent between 1969 and 2016. Over that period, the public-school teachers of Arizona have been the greatest losers. Their average pay, adjusted for inflation, fell about 15 percent–most of those losses since 2009. In 1969, Arizona ranked 20th nationally in unadjusted teacher pay, but in 2016 it ranked 45th.

State public-school spending per student

Not adjusted for state costs of living

UsStateSchoolSpending2014

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

On average, annual pay of U.S. public school teachers reached about $59,500 for school year 2016, adjusted for statewide costs of living, an increase of about 8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the previous 50 years. However, there are many more stories to be told about gains and losses. Although they involve economics, they more often reflect politics.

While Massachusetts has seen an economic success-run, thanks to high tech, it has been strong teacher unions that tapped the wealth. The state now ranks ninth from the top in teacher pay, but if the state had made only an average increase in teacher pay it would rank fifth from the bottom. No force in government is compensating for enormous gaps in average public-school teacher pay between the states: as adjusted for costs of living, about $33 thousand a year in Hawaii versus $74 thousand a year in Michigan.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 5, 2018


Robert Gebeloff, Numbers that explain why teachers are in revolt, New York Times, June 4, 2018

Ricardo Cano, Pay raises for teachers and staff vary across Arizona school districts, Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), June 3, 2018

David M. Perry, Why the Arizona teachers strike should terrify anti-union governors, Pacific Standard (Social Justice Foundation, Santa Barbara, CA), May 3, 2018

Michael Hansen, Hidden factors contributing to teacher strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky and beyond, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), April 6, 2018

Digest of Education Statistics for 2016, U.S National Center for Education Statistics, February, 2018

Current expenditures per pupil for public elementary and secondary education by state during 2015, Figure 1 in Cornman, et al., January, 2018 (category bounds $9,000 $11,000 $13,000 $15,000 per year)

Stephen Q. Cornman, Lei Zhou and Malia R. Howell, Revenues and expenditures for public elementary and secondary education during school year 2014, U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, January, 2018

Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools by state, U.S. Digest of Education Statistics (preliminary), Table 211 for 2017, January, 2018

Costs of living data by states for 2017, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, January, 2018

Thomas D. Snyder, ed., American education: statistical portrait of 120 years, U.S. Department of Education, 1993

Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana

This month–likely on Thursday, May 24–Brookline’s Town Meeting will vote on a risk-laden approach to marijuana zoning and licensing. A complex surface hides disorganized, hypocritical, neighborhood-hostile efforts. Two meetings on Thursday, May 10 showed confusions and lapses of community spirit: a review for some Town Meeting Members and a regular Advisory Committee meeting, both held at Town Hall.

Recreational marijuana regulation: At the 2018 Annual Town Meeting starting May 22, under Articles 17 through 22 Brookline could allow up to four retail shops selling recreational marijuana and up to four marijuana cafes. The Planning Board and the Planning staff, supported so far by three of the five Select Board members, propose to allow the recreational marijuana shops in Local Business zones as well as in General Business zones.

Brookline has five main General Business zones. They are mostly well separated from residential areas and schools: Commonwealth Avenue, Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, Washington Square and the west end of Route 9 near the Chestnut Hill Mall. There are smaller ones near the north end of Harvard Street, bordered by Allston, and near the east end of Route 9, bordered by the Riverway.

There are seven main Local Business zones. Many thread through residential areas and near schools: the shopping center near Putterham Circle in South Brookline, the northern part of Harvard Street between Devotion School and Verndale Street, the middle part of Harvard Street between Pierce School and Marion Street, the northern part of Cypress Street near Washington Street, the middle part of Cypress Street near the High School and Route 9, the southern part of Cypress Street near Kendall Street, the east end of Beacon Street between St. Mary’s and Carlton Streets, and land near the west end of Beacon Street around Sutherland Road.

Threatened neighborhoods: Proposed zoning for marijuana includes so-called “buffer zones” extending 500 feet out from schoolyard boundaries. Marijuana shops are not allowed inside “buffer zones.” The maps that follow identify some of Brookline’s threatened neighborhoods–showing parts of Local Business zones outside “buffer zones.” Colored in bright blue are Local Business areas where marijuana shops would be allowed. “Buffer zones” around schools are cross-hatched.

Threatened neighborhoods near Harvard Street

HarvardStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Cypress Street

CypressStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Putterham Circle

PutterhamtNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

Information from Town Hall: Planning staff held a late-afternoon information session at Town Hall on May 10, sought by Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members. The two staff were Francisco Torres and Ashley Clark–hired in part to develop and promote plans for marijuana. They have fairly short spans of experience in Brookline, and they smile a lot.

At the Town Hall session were Betsy DeWitt–formerly a Select Board member–plus Phyllis O’Leary, Wendy Machmuller, Rob Daves, Andy Olins, Hugh Mattison and newly elected Cindy Drake from Precinct 5, John Bassett from Precinct 6, Craig Bolon from Precinct 8 and Regina Frawley from Precinct 16.

Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members generally opposed medical marijuana at the former Brookline Bank on the corner of Route 9, High Street and Washington Street. They spoke about keeping marijuana shops out of the Local Business zones on Cypress Street. Betsy DeWitt saw high profits from marijuana shops pushing out ordinary local business.

Planning has proposed no standards that support ordinary local businesses. Their proposals for zoning and licensing amount to a “first in the door” approach to zoning permits and business licenses. However, they propose no system to regulate how the timing of applications would be recognized. That could leave Brookline exposed to long and potentially costly “due process” lawsuits, claiming that results from its informal approach had been arbitrary and capricious.

Advisory Committee hostile to neighborhoods: Many of the 24 out of 30 Advisory Committee members at the evening meeting on May 10 seemed hostile toward Brookline neighborhoods. Because around 60 percent of Brookline voters opted to legalize marijuana, they claimed recreational marijuana shops could be sited without considering impacts on neighborhoods. Fisher Hill resident Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 led a charge for more marijuana revenue, while several others on the committee chimed in.

Critically examined, some claims about huge local revenues turn out to be fragrant BS when not flagrant lies. The budding marijuana industry had its friends at (the General) Court when Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017 was being written: the ironically titled “act to ensure safe access to marijuana.” The access is particularly “safe” for marijuana dealers. Much of the potential local revenues come from so-called “community impact fees” that can be included in city and town contracts with marijuana dealers. However, when the revenue party is over after five (5) years, it’s done and gone–while all the problems the community may find continue indefinitely. According to Chapter 94G, Section 3(d) of the General Laws, as amended by the 2017 act:

“…a host community may include a community impact fee for the host community; provided, however, that the community impact fee shall be reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center and shall not amount to more than 3 per cent of the gross sales of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center or be effective for longer than 5 years….” [emphasis added]

Voters blindsided: Many of the Brookline voters who opted to legalize marijuana had been informed by the cautious, two-year process to zone and license medical marijuana. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed in Local Business zones. The only current one is on Route 9. Hardly anybody would have expected “full speed ahead” and “open floodgates” for recreational marijuana–the approach from Brookline Planning, welcoming both marijuana shops and cafes to the Local Business zones threading through residential neighborhoods and near schools.

At Advisory Committee on May 10, vocal majorities rejected a motion to exclude marijuana shops from Local Business zones. They supported another motion to allow marijuana cafes. Hypocrites would continue to ban medical marijuana sales from Local Business zones, and they support a new ban on marijuana treatment centers. The outlook of hypocrites seems to be that medical marijuana would not yield as much in licensing fees and local taxes as recreational marijuana–so medical marijuana should be banned.

Those supporting neighborhoods by voting to exclude recreational marijuana shops from Local Business zones were committee members Harry Friedman, David-Marc Goldstein, Angela Hyatt, Alisa Jonas, Steve Kanes, Fred Levitan and Lee Selwyn. Thumbing noses at neighborhoods by voting the other way were Ben Birnbaum, Clifford Brown, Carol Caro, Lea Cohen, John Doggett, Janet Gelbart, Neil Gordon, Janice Kahn, Bobbie Knable, David Lescohier, Pamela Lodish, Shaari Mittel, Michael Sandman, Kim Smith, Charles Swartz and Christine Westphal. Committee chair Sean Lynn-Jones did not vote. Vice-chair Carla Benka and members Dennis Doughty, Kelly Hardebeck, Amy Hummel, Mariah Nobrega and Susan Roberts were absent.

Preventing needless burdens: The NETA medical marijuana dispensary on Route 9 is already in negotiations for one of the potential licenses as a recreational marijuana shop. Its success would leave only three licenses available. There are six more General Business zones to provide sites, leaving no need to burden neighborhoods near Local Business zones. A simple amendment to Article 17 at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting can keep recreational marijuana shops out of Local Business zones.

VOTED: To amend the motion under Article 17 so as to change “Use 29A, Storefront Marijuana Retailers” from “SP *1,2″ to “No” for L (local business) districts.

As of May 17, an equivalent motion is being proposed by Neil Wishinsky (chair of the Select Board) together with Betsy DeWitt, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member (TMM-5), Cynthia Drake (TMM-5), Scott Gladstone (TMM-16), Angela Hyatt (TMM-5) and Kate Silbaugh (TMM-1). After several years of experience with recreational marijuana shops in General Business zones, Brookline could review the results and see whether it might make sense to allow them in other places.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2018, updated May 17, 2018


Recreational marijuana information, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Locations for marijuana shops, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018

Adult use of marijuana, 935 CMR 500, Massachusetts Code of Regulations, 2018

Public documents, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, 2017-2018

Emma R. Murphy, Brookline’s NETA marijuana dispensary seeking recreational license, Brookline (MA) Tab, April 18, 2018

Business and functional requirements for the licensing, tracking and sale of adult-use marijuana (57 pp) Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, November, 2017

An act to ensure safe access to marijuana, Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 2017, Chapter 55

Gintautas Dumcius, Brookline medical marijuana dispensary, operated by NETA, set to open in mid-January, Springfield (MA) Republican, December 24, 2015

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

Protecting park lands: issues and conflicts

Proposals to use town-owned land in south Brookline for a new elementary school, near the intersection of Heath and Hammond Streets, have led to protests from neighbors and from Precinct 15 town meeting members. Between 1941 and 1960, the land hosted a private school: the Rivers School. Brookline bought parcels of land there for recreation and school uses in stages between 1871 and 1960–the last acquired when the Rivers School moved to Weston in 1960.

Brookline renamed the former Rivers School the Baldwin School and named adjacent land the Soule Playground. Baldwin and Soule have a total of 12.3 acres, larger than the site of any current Brookline elementary school. Baldwin space has been used for Brookline classrooms, most recently during Heath School renovation from 2011 to 2013. Buildings on the Soule portion have become the Soule Recreation Center, currently hosting early childhood education operated by the Recreation Department.

Park land controversy: Some Precinct 15 town meeting members have been trying to claim that Baldwin land, Soule land or both cannot be used for a new elementary school because they are restricted as park land under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution. Such claims are false; they run counter to standards well established in Massachusetts law.

In the current Assessor’s Atlas and Property Database, Baldwin land is shown as Block 432, Lots 20-24, property classification code 934. Soule land is shown as Block 432, Lot 08-00, property classification code 931. The classification codes mean town-owned land improved with buildings that is used for municipal or for school purposes.

The classification codes shown in the assessor’s data correctly reflect the purposes for which Brookline acquired the land and for which the land is actually used. Open space that might be eligible for Article 97 protections as park or conservation land would instead have classification code 930, 932 or 936.

Article 97: For many years, Brookline’s government officials seemed to assume that any town-owned land considered to be a park or a conservation reserve was protected against diversion to other uses under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution–adopted by voters in 1972. The “Article 97″ markers in Brookline’s online Web pages currently reflect such assumptions and are often unreliable. For example, according to its terms of acquisition, Dane Park is currently eligible for school uses.

Although Article 97 describes rigorous steps needed to remove protections, it does not specify how land enters into those protections. Brookline officials got a surprise when they encountered the issues while preparing for the November 17, 2015, town meeting. Article 6 for that town meeting proposed to extend Article 97 protections to most of Larz Anderson Park.

Once Advisory Committee members understood that much of Larz Anderson Park might not be protected and could be used for a school site, they became skeptical. By more than two to one, they opposed the town meeting article. It had been filed to support an application for state park-improvement funds. Just before the town meeting was to begin, the state turned down Brookline’s application, and the matter never came to a vote.

As other Massachusetts jurisdictions wrestled with Article 97 issues, lawsuits arose, with some going all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court. The decisions set standards for situations in which Article 97 is vague. There are two particularly notable cases: Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, decided in 2005, and Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, decided in 2013.

The two cases cited indicate basic steps needed for town-owned open space, in order to guarantee Article 97 protections. It must be designated as park or conservation land by an act of the town. Usually that means a town meeting vote, although a town meeting might delegate authority–for example, in a land taking. The land status must be recorded in a deed, typically as some form of deed restriction. Under Massachusetts standards, playgrounds are recreation uses, not open space. School uses and recreation uses do not qualify for Article 97 protections.

Social justice: In contrast to the current status of Baldwin and Soule land, Brookline has several town-owned parcels whose status is unclear and may need to be investigated and asserted. As those parcels are reviewed, the run-up to the November 17, 2015, town meeting has shown that local policies will need attention. Conflicts can arise. What may seem to some like environmental or neighborhood concerns can look antisocial and greedy to others who have different priorities, such as recreation or public schools.

Consider, for example, possible new protections for some of the Baldwin and Soule land in Precinct 15. The distribution of Brookline’s public open space is grossly unequal. Precinct 15 has 257 acres of usable, public open space–over half the total for the whole town. In the urban areas near Coolidge Corner and Washington Square, Precincts 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 have less than 10 acres each. Surely Precinct 15–with its giant legacy of usable, public open space–can easily spare enough for a handsome school site.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 25, 2017


Property Database, Town of Brookline, MA, 2017

Soule Early Childhood Center, Recreation Department, Town of Brookline, MA, 2017

Property type classification codes, Massachusetts Department of Revenue, 2016

Joslin Murphy, Brookline Town Counsel, Potential ninth school sites, 2016

John M. Collins (Collins & Associates, Shrewsbury, MA), Applicability of Article 97′s legislative approval requirement to proposed solar array, Oak Bluffs Water District, Oak Bluffs (Martha’s Vineyard), MA, 2016

Baldwin and Soule land, Assessor’s Atlas, page 125, Town of Brookline, MA, 2015

Mission and history, Rivers School (Weston, MA), 2015

Curley v. Town of Billerica, Massachusetts Land Court, case no. 2012 Misc. 459001, 2013, see Tab F

Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 464 Mass. 604, 2013

Precinct map, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Dane Park, Public facilities descriptions, Town of Brookline, MA, 2010

Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 444 Mass. 502, 2005

Massachusetts Constitution, as amended through 1990, see Article XCVII (97, approved 1972) and Article XLIX (49, superseded)

Transfer of land procedure, Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40, Section 15A (enacted 1951)

Craig Bolon, Town meeting: parks and schools, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

Elections in 2016: trends from Massachusetts cities and towns

In 2016 general elections, Massachusetts voters extended a record of support for progressive causes and candidates. Voters strongly supported Clinton and Kaine for President and Vice President, and they returned a delegation of mostly progressive Democrats to Congress. On four statewide ballot questions, voters opposed another slot-machine casino, opposed lifting limits on charter schools, favored protective measures for farm animals and annulled former state laws against marijuana use and sale.

Votes for President and Vice President: Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine won majorities in 257 Massachusetts cities and towns, losing in 94 of them. Populations in the cities and towns that Clinton won ranged up to 618 thousand (Boston), averaging 22 thousand. Populations in the cities and towns that she lost ranged up to 41 thousand (Westfield), averaging 10 thousand. Opposition came mostly from small towns. The ten communities with the strongest opposition were Blandford, Chester, Douglas, East Brookfield, Granville, Holland, North Brookfield, Russell, Southwick and Tolland–all with populations of less than 10 thousand.

Clinton support for President in Massachusetts

clintonsupportquintiles2016
Source: Secretary of the Commonwealth, preliminary

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

Contrary to speculation that higher-income communities were more likely to support Clinton and Kaine, the votes of Massachusetts communities did not show a clear trend of that type. Instead, communities with larger populations voted more strongly for Clinton and Kaine. When Massachusetts communities were divided into quintiles according to support for Clinton, with quintile 1 the strongest support, there was a clear, uniform trend of increasing support with increasing community population.

Votes on charter schools: Sponsors of Question 2, trying to abolish limits on charter schools, spent $24 million. At around $20 for every vote they attracted, it was by far the most costly campaign ever on a ballot question. They won majorities in only 15 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Under current laws and regulations, up to 120 charter schools are allowed statewide. Six cities have reached their local limits: Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield and Worchester. As of November, 2016, 88 charter schools had been designated in Massachusetts, located in 36 communities–one school in each of the following communities except as noted:

Adams, Boston (27), Cambridge (3), Chelsea (2), Chicopee, Devens, Easthampton, Everett, Fall River (3), Fitchburg, Foxborough, Framingham, Franklin, Greenfield, Hadley, Harwich, Haverhill, Holyoke (2), Hyannis (2), Lawrence (8), Lowell (3), Lynn, Marblehead, Marlborough, New Bedford (3), Newburyport, Norwell, Plymouth (2), Salem, Saugus, Somerville (2), South Hadley, Springfield (6), Tyngsboro, West Tisbury and Worcester (2).

No Massachusetts community that has a charter school supported Question 2. No city in the state and no town with a population over 28 thousand supported Question 2. Instead, high household incomes correlated with support for Question 2. When Massachusetts communities were divided into quintiles according to support for Question 2, with quintile 1 the strongest support, there was a clear, uniform trend of increasing support with increasing household income.

Support for Question 2 in Massachusetts

question2supportquintiles2016
Source: Secretary of the Commonwealth, preliminary

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

The ten communities voting the strongest support for Question 2 were Aquinnah (on Martha’s Vineyard), Chilmark, Dover, Gosnold, Lincoln, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Nantucket, Sherborn, Wellesley and Weston. They include four of the six highest-income Massachusetts towns: Sherborn, Wellesley, Carlisle, Sudbury, Dover and Weston. None of the Massachusetts communities that supported Question 2 has a charter school.

Meanings of trends: Measured trends of support for Clinton and for Question 2 run cross-current to some popular political lore. In a graphical analysis, New York Times writers speculated that lower-income voters turned against Clinton, while higher-income voters did the reverse. Results from Massachusetts communities show no clear trend connected with incomes but instead show a trend involving sizes of the communities where voters live. The more urbanized voters tended to support Clinton.

In contrast, results for Question 2 from Massachusetts communities do show a clear trend connected with household incomes. Sponsors of Question 2 and their apologists claimed that the charter schools are hugely popular with low-income households. If that were true, then there might have been a trend linking stronger support for Question 2 with lower household incomes. However, the actual trend from Massachusetts communities went in the opposite direction.

Promotions for Question 2 appeared to have sophisticated authors, but perhaps the sponsors of Question 2 fooled themselves about the appeal of their products. Bystanders in communities hosting charter schools are much more numerous than participants–a factor that sponsors of Question 2 might not have weighed accurately.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 22, 2016


Massachusetts 2016 election results by cities and towns, plus demographics, Brookline Beacon, December, 2016

Massachusetts elections statistics, Secretary of the Commonwealth, December, 2016

American Community Survey, U.S Census Bureau, 2009-2013 ACS 5-year data release

Names and locations of charter schools, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, December, 2016

Robert Weintraub, Massachusetts should vote No on more charter schools, BU Today (Boston, MA), October 17, 2016

Michael Altman, Charter schools: an issue of civil rights, WGBH (Boston, MA), October 25, 2016

Paul Crookston, Massachusetts charter school measure backed by Republicans, National Review, October 27, 2016

Editorial, Vote Yes on Question 2, Boston Globe, October 29, 2016

Jim Hand, White House says Obama neutral on charter schools ballot question, Attleboro (MA) Sun Chronicle, October 31, 2016

Editorial, Vote Yes on Question 2, Harvard Crimson (Cambridge, MA), November 3, 2016

Katharine Q. Seelye and Jess Bidgood, Charter schools are the big issue on Massachusetts ballot, New York Times, November 6, 2016

Felicia Gans, Donors spent big on Massachusetts ballot questions, Lowell (MA) Sun, November 7, 2016

K.K. Rebecca Lai, Alicia Parlapiano, Julia Preston and Karen Yourish, How Trump won the election according to exit polls, New York Times, November 8, 2016

Phil Demers, Fiercest Question 2 opponents often from communities with existing charter schools, Springfield (MA) Republican, November 13, 2016

Joan Vennochi, With Question 2 defeat, voters ignored the elites, Boston Globe, November 14, 2016

Samantha Winslow, Massachusetts teachers defeat charter school expansion, In These Times, November 14, 2016

Frank Phillips, Moody’s calls charter school rejection credit positive, Boston Globe, November 16, 2016

Lisa Guisbond, People power trounces big, dark money, as charter expansion suffers decisive defeat, Network for Public Eduction (Kew Gardens, NY), November 21, 2016

Dan French and Diana Lebeaux, Question 2 was defeated: now what?, Center for Collaborative Education (Boston, MA), November 21, 2016

Education: looking back, the “coding” wave

Illustrating the proverb that schooling means teaching the children to meet the challenges of the grandparents’ generation, President Obama has advertised a new initiative: teach “coding.” The President, who has many admirable qualities, is leaving a shabby heritage as an educational fool. His Department of Education proved, quite remarkably, coarser and meaner than the one butchered by his predecessor.

Teaching “coding” today has even less promise than teaching “auto mechanics” and “new math” in the 1960s or teaching “leather working” and “machine shop” in the 1940s. It is an invitation to become a victim of outsourcing. For most, it would be more helpful to teach the durable skills of plumbing and carpentry. The President invites comparison with Mao’s Great Leap Backward.

Arts of “coding” became highly valued in the 1960s and 1970s, during the second-generation of mainframe computers–with transistor logic and magnetic core memory–and the first generation of minicomputers. Over the next decade, ordinary “coding”–writing lines of programs–soon took a back seat to the higher arts of project management, software organization and reliability testing. That was an age when complex products of mere “coding” began to crash and burn on an epic scale. Now “coding”–within the industry–has become a low-level skill.

During the late 1970s, Brookline was romanced by “coding” visionaries–including disciples of the late Marvin Minsky at MIT–to buy into long-forgotten “Logo” technology. They promised to teach youngsters computational thinking by having them move around “turtles” on a display screen. The Advisory Commmittee discovered that more than a million dollars, in today’s money, would at best instruct a few dozen students. A potential for public embarrassment erased “Logo” from the budget.

Today, even the higher and practical arts of software development provide good jobs for only small numbers of industrial workers. The vast majority who work with computer technology engage with intermediates: software and Internet sites that are dedicated to specific tasks. A tiny population writes the software for Excel or other spreadsheets, but millions use spreadsheet technology to solve or manage business problems. Applied skills, rather than “coding,” remain broadly useful job qualifications.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 31, 2016


Valerie Strauss, All students should learn to code. Right? Not so fast, Washington Post, January 30, 2016

Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News, Obama: Every child must learn to code, Bangkok Post, January 30, 2016

Tania Branigan, China’s great famine: the true story, Manchester Guardian (UK), January 1, 2013

Robert L. Glass, Software Runaways: Monumental Software Disasters, Prentice Hall, 1997

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 5, started at 7:05 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. While North Korea was testing its first thermonuclear bomb, the board conducted a public hearing about what it called “diversity issues involving the town”–also an explosive catastrophe, at least on a local scale.

A standing-room-only audience of around 200 gathered in a hearing room with only about 100 seats. For many Brookline residents it was an evening of despair–airing incident after incident of racial discrimination, targeting and harassment–lasting more than two hours.

Commission statement: At its meeting the previous evening, the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission had reviewed testimony and reports it received about racial issues affecting the Brookline work force. Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, read a statement to the Board of Selectmen that the commission had authorized.

Dr. Coleman said the commission, which began in January, 2015, “spent the last year trying to move forward.” Hopes for progress had been dashed at a December 16 meeting, when two Brookline police officers testified in open session that their department was afflicted with racial tensions, from which they personally suffered. Town government, according to the commission statement, has “a culture of institutional racism” that “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

The statement read by Dr. Coleman called on the Board of Selectmen, “as the elected leaders of the town, to exercise your responsibilities and duties, as commissioners of the Police and Fire Departments…to stamp out this culture. This is a matter of extreme urgency, which the Board of Selectmen needs to address with actions, not words, now.” Members of the board listened but did not comment.

Police testimony: Prentice Pilot, one of the two African-American police officers who spoke out on December 16, told the Board of Selectmen he had worked on the force for 17 years. He recalled another minority police officer who “went to the chief about racial incidents” a year ago, apparently joining Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun then, but got no action. In response to his recent complaint about a racial insult, he said, “the chief had a preliminary investigation” but called it “inconclusive.”

After his recent testimony to the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, Officer Pilot said, the commission “asked Selectman Greene to get more of the story…I haven’t heard anything from him.” Mr. Greene, the first African-American ever elected to the Board of Selectmen, became the board’s delegate to the commission and was present when Mr. Pilot testified on December 16.

Officer Pilot said a recent report on the racial climate in the Police and Fire Departments, sent to commission members, offers “insights from the Police Department leadership: no major incidents” in the department. “The chief,” he said, “had a free diversity report when the three of us went to him in December of 2014.” Applause from the audience lasted most of a minute.

Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, the other African-American police officer who spoke out on December 16, described “the chief’s assurance” of respect in the department. “He gave me his assurance a year ago,” said Officer Zerai-Misgun. “Nothing has changed…All you say is that you’re waiting…Nobody has contacted me.” He told the Board of Selectmen, “It is not a safe environment there. The chief failed me last year…Now you’re failing me today.”

Lee Smith, an African-American former police officer in Brookline, told the board about experiences starting in April, 1998. He also left a much longer version of his remarks in writing. As a beginning Brookline officer, he said, after he wrote a parking ticket a superior officer “chewed me up,” telling Mr. Smith, “That ticket belongs to a friend of mine.” Mr. Smith explained that there was a covert system of marking tickets to indicate they were supposed to be discarded and ignored, which he had not followed.

At a “diversity meeting” held more than 15 years ago, Mr. Smith said, fellow officers ridiculed the training, “complaining, ‘why do we have to be here for this?’” Written materials were distributed at the training, according to Mr. Smith. “I saw guys ripping it up, tossing it in the trash.”

Harassment complaints: Leslie Epps, who operates Finesse Florist on Washington St., told about experiences as an African-American living in Brookline and running a retail business. “I’ve experienced such racism,” said Ms. Epps. “I have filed complaints. These complaints have disappeared. There has been intimidation: ticketing my vehicle falsely, targeting my shop.”

Ms. Epps described herself as “keynote speaker” at the most recent Martin Luther King Day event in Brookline. Now, she said, “I have stress disorder…at the hands of Brookline police.” Not one to give up. Ms. Epps told the Board of Selectmen, “This is my country. I will not be moved…I am looking for restorative justice.”

Cruz Sanabria of Rice Street, a Marine veteran and a public school teacher in Boston, who was a member of the former Human Relations Commission, described harassment from neighbors and antagonism from Brookline police officers. In one incident, he said, he was falsely cited for a crime.

According to Mr. Sanabria, he was charged with “assault with a dangerous weapon…It was dismissed.” Mr. Sanabria told the Board of Selectmen, “The horror I went through is worse than anything else I have had in my life…You put me in a position that I shouldn’t have been in. Why? Because I’m Puerto Rican.”

Reactions: Brookline residents who are not members of a minority had strong reactions. Bob Miller of Copley St., a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a teacher at Heath School, told the Board of Selectmen, “I’ve heard talk about racism in Brookline,” calling it “an issue that can destroy the town that I love.” He urged “the strongest possible actions to let it be known that this will not be tolerated.”

Pat Bartels of Wolcott Rd. said her family “moved to Brookline because we believed it was going to be a caring and liberal community.” Her two children, she said, are graduates of Brookline High School. “Their friends were from Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Korea…from all over the world…Those are the values they shared.”

Shifra-Lilith Freewoman of Longwood Ave. was less forgiving. In Leslie Epps’s shop, she said, “She treated me like gold…It breaks my heart. Everybody black that I know has encounters with police in this town.” The problem, according to Ms. Freewoman, has been that “words don’t translate into clear action.” She told the Board of Selectmen, “If this board can’t do it, then let’s elect another board.”

Years ago: Andrew Leong of Marion Terrace described his experiences inside the Brookline Police Department many years ago. He is a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “We are sick and tired of more studies, more training,” said Prof. Leong. “I did that training 27 years ago.”

At the time, he said, “a black officer told me, ‘I’m so glad you came and spoke…All those racist things [are] happening to me on this police force.’” Referring to Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun, Prof. Leong said, “They are risking their jobs. What do we want? We want them to be on paid administrative leave.” Applause from the audience again lasted for most of a minute.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 6, 2016


James Pearson and Tony Munroe, North Korea says successfully conducts first H-bomb test, Reuters (UK), January 6, 2016

Statement to the Board of Selectmen on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Town of Brookline, MA, January 4, 2016

Lee Smith, Statement at Brookline Board of Selectmen hearing, January 5, 2016

Diversity Commission: police and fire department report, Brookline Beacon, December 20, 2015

Town meeting: parks and schools

Warm controversies at this year’s fall town meeting cooled quickly in a flurry of surprises and compromises. In the afternoon before the first session on Tuesday, November 17, town staff learned that Brookline was no longer in line for a major state grant to assist with Larz Anderson Park. We are too rich a town to qualify.

Article 6: Rejection of the state grant application quashed a dispute over Article 6 on the town meeting warrant, seeking matching funds to improve Larz Anderson Park. To qualify for up to $400,000 in additional state aid, the town meeting would have to restrict Larz Anderson to recreation and conservation uses only, invoking Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution.

A few weeks earlier, consultants hired by the Board of Selectmen had named Larz Anderson as a potential site for a new elementary school. The 1949 will of Isabella Weld Anderson, leaving the land to the town, required that it be used for educational, recreational or charitable purposes. Agreeing to the state’s conditions would abandon potential uses involving two of those three categories. The town meeting took no action.

Political chatter also started to call out Larz Anderson as a potential site for high-school expansion. Never mind that the park is remote from centers of population and not well served by streets and transit. Park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts sounded flustered, to say the least.

Open space: Over the past 150 years, since the Civil War, the town acquired about 475 acres of usable open space–not counting the traffic islands and cemeteries. The 53 major sites, totaling about three-quarters of a square mile, represent about 11 percent of the town. Only about a tenth of that space is part of school sites. The rest provides recreation facilities, pedestrian parks and conservation areas.

The distribution of usable, public open space became grossly unequal. Each precinct in the town has nearly the same population. However, Precinct 15 has 257 acres of usable, public open space–over half the total. The average amount of usable, public open space is only about 30 acres per precinct. Precincts 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 have less than 10 acres each. Precinct 13, snaking along the Brighton line, has none.

 

Brookline’s usable, public open space

Year Acres Precinct Source Site name
2011 10.0 14 purchase Fisher Hill Reservoir Park
1977 1.6 1 taking Amory Woods Conservation Area
1975 3.5 1 taking Halls Pond Conservation Area
1972 0.5 4 purchase Billy Ward Playground
1970 4.2 5 purchase Lincoln School Playground
1967 0.4 5 taking Juniper Street Playground
1961 25.0 16 bequest Blakely Hoar Conservation Area
1961 1.1 9 purchase Lawton Playground
1960 9.5 15 purchase Soule Center
1953 17.2 15 purchase Dane Park
1951 2.4 7 purchase Pierce School Playground
1948 61.1 15 bequest Larz Anderson Park
1946 1.1 12 purchase Schick Park
1945 30.2 15 purchase Lost Pond Conservation Area
1945 15.2 15 purchase Skyline Park
1944 11.1 14 purchase Warren Field
1941 1.3 15 purchase Baldwin School Playground
1939 2.4 5 donation Robinson Playground
1935 11.3 16 donation Baker School Playground
1915 0.5 4 purchase Murphy Playground
1914 8.7 5 purchase Downes Field
1913 0.8 14 purchase Eliot Little Field Park
1913 1.7 5 purchase Clark Playground
1910 4.0 11 purchase Driscoll School Playground
1907 2.1 6 purchase Emerson Garden
1907 119.9 15 purchase Putterham Meadows Golf Course
1905 1.7 9 purchase Coolidge Playground
1903 8.3 1 purchase Amory Playground
1903 3.1 12 purchase Runkle School Playground
1902 32.2 14 donation Brookline Reservoir Park
1902 2.6 1 donation Longwood Mall
1902 2.8 1 donation Knyvet Square
1902 1.1 1 donation Mason Square
1902 1.9 2 purchase Winthrop Square
1902 6.5 14 purchase Heath School Playground
1901 5.6 14 purchase Waldstein Playground
1901 0.3 5 purchase Philbrick Square
1901 3.3 10 donation Griggs Park
1900 13.8 1,3 purchase Riverway Park
1900 4.2 11 purchase Corey Hill Park
1899 0.3 4 donation Linden Park
1897 0.4 10 donation Saint Mark’s Square
1895 0.2 4 donation Linden Square
1894 12.9 4,5 purchase Olmsted Park
1891 6.7 8 purchase Devotion School Playground
1891 5.0 3 purchase Longwood Playground
1890 2.8 15 purchase Singletree Hill Reservoir
1871 4.1 4 purchase Brookline Avenue Playground
1871 5.2 6 purchase Cypress Street Playground
1871 2.0 4 purchase Town Hall Square
1868 1.2 6 purchase Boylston Street Playground
1864 0.2 1 purchase Monmouth Street Park
1827 0.2 5 donation Town Green

Source: Open space plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011

 

Social justice: Surely Precinct 15–with its giant legacy of usable, public open space–can spare a little for a school site. There are at least three obvious, well qualified candidates:

• Putterham Meadows Golf Course, at 120 acres–a conspicuous luxury. Five acres carved from a corner of this cradle of riches would capably house a three-section elementary school.

• Soule Recreation Center, at 10 acres, a site perennially looking for a gainful occupation. Its rapid churn of personnel has become a community scandal.

• Dane Park, at 17 acres, by far the least used of Brookline’s major parks.

The town has not commissioned a new school site since Baker in 1935. The new Lincoln School, opened in 1994, took over the old, private Park School site–after that school moved away to Goddard Ave. It would take a coldly rigid, greedy set of park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts to find that there is no adequate space they could possibly spare from Precinct 15.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 4, 2015


Open Space Plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011 (8 MB, uses obsolete precinct numbers)

Precinct Map, Town of Brookline, MA, February, 2012 (1 MB)

Craig Bolon, School building wonder: mishegoss from moxie, Brookline Beacon, October 25, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

School building wonder: mishegoss from moxie

Contractors on sites for a ninth elementary school reported at a joint meeting of the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen, starting at 7:30 pm October 22 in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Fees for an outfit called Civic Moxie, addressed in Brookline, are approaching $100,000. So far, the town got little for such lavish spending. The new concepts aren’t that useful, and the useful concepts aren’t that new.

Shlock tactics: Contractors say they found 3-acre school sites. Brookline has not accepted postage-stamp sites for elementary schools since early years of the Great Depression. Old Lincoln School–less than two acres on Route 9, built in 1932–was the last of the postage-stamp sites. Social injustice in cramming old Lincoln School onto a squat of land on a busy highway sparked the 20 years of protests, between the 1970s and 1990s, that brought new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd.

Brookline school sites, counting adjacent parks

BrooklineSchoolSites
Source: School outdoors comparison, 2013

Site models illustrated by the contractors reuse old factories and warehouses found in depressed parts of Newark, NJ, and Baltimore, MD. Few of today’s Brookline parents probably look forward to housing their children in old factories and warehouses. Brookline never had much of either, anyway. Most of the ones remaining can be found in Brookline Village, between Station St. and Andem Pl. Contractors did not propose to reuse them.

Elementary school sites, from Newark and Baltimore

ShlockSchoolSites
Source: School site presentation, 2015

Search and research: In 2013, a committee organized by the Board of Selectmen produced a school site plan of sorts. Caught up in strong controversy, after proposing to use parks and playgrounds as sites, that committee backed away, recommending an approach it called “expand in place”–meaning enlarging current schools. As some members knew, such an approach could prove extremely costly. The Devotion School project now underway will cost around $120 million, yet it adds only about nine classrooms.

Neither the 2013 nor the recent 2015 study provides a geographical analysis, showing densities of increased school populations. Lack of this basic tool indicates that neither group sought professional guidance, and neither made constructive use of data and expertise already available in Brookline agencies. Instead, both engaged in speculation about specifics, without creating a knowledge base to guide the choices. The Moxie report describes six potential new school sites with some detail, five of them in urban Brookline.

New school sites in urban Brookline

NewBrooklineSchoolSites
Source: Ninth elementary school study, 2015

The sixth location, in suburban Brookline at the southeast corner of Larz Anderson Park, can probably be neglected as an elementary school site, since very few students would be within reasonable walking distance. Of the five urban sites, the one shown as no. 5 is old Lincoln School–firmly rejected as a suitable for a permanent elementary school. Instead, that site has become a land bank, Brookline’s relocation center during major town projects.

The three shown as nos. 2-4 are postage-stamp sites strung along Harvard St. All three are too close to either Pierce School or Devotion School to create a credible locus for a new school district. Only the site on Amory St., shown as no. 1, has some potential. However, this site would need to draw students from the low-density Cottage Farm and Longwood neighborhoods to make sense. Lack of geographical analysis for growth trends in Brookline’s student population makes it impossible to know whether the Amory St. site would solve more problems than it might create.

Moxie study files in their original form are probably outside most people’s price range: all but unreadable on much less than giant UHD 2160p displays costing around $2,000 and up. The study’s failure to explore the northeast side of Addington Hill–off Washington St. at Gardner Rd. and about equally spaced from Driscoll, Pierce, Lincoln and Runkle Schools–leaves a major gap in knowledge. The appendix files from the study show no attention at all to a critical part of Brookline.

–Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 25, 2015


School site presentation, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October 22, 2015 (9 MB)

Ninth elementary school study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October, 2015 (in 12 files, 92 MB)

Final report, School Population and Capacity Exploration Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, September, 2013 (3 MB)

Perry Stoll, Ninth school site presentation, Driscoll Action, October 22, 2015

Ulrich Mok, Brookline school outdoors comparison, Driscoll Action, November 15, 2013 (4 MB)

Recommendation, Edward Devotion School, Massachusetts School Building Authority, November 12, 2014

Trevor Jones, Brookline dedicates two newly renovated K-8 schools, Brookline Tab, December 13, 2012

Property listing, 194 Boylston St, Brookline, MA, RealtyTrac, 2008

Community Facilities, Comprehensive Plan for 2005-2015, Town of Brookline, MA, November, 2005 (7 MB)

Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, W W Norton, 1985

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

School news: new superintendent, Devotion plans, Brookline Beacon, October 1, 2015

School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Education news: Advisory thinks, Chester blinks

The large, first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall, home to the Advisory Committee during town meeting seasons, witnessed another episode in the long-running struggles over regimented testing in public schools, starting at 7:30 pm Tuesday, October 20.

Earlier that day, Mitchell Chester, the state’s current education commissioner, had set off a policy bomb. It blew up a campaign to replace the testing used in Massachusetts public schools for the past 18 years–a campaign that had been led by Dr. Chester himself.

Tarnished icons: The mystique of regimented testing has been burnished and tarnished so often that it was surprising to hear a usually sophisticated Advisory Committee weave around the topics. However, it has been about fifteen years since a town meeting campaign that most recently introduced them into Brookline politics. Only a few current Advisory members have been involved long enough to remember.

Although precursors can be found in ancient China, medieval Europe and mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts, regimented testing is largely a twentieth-century phenomenon. A quantitative approach helped give standard tests a claim to objectivity, shrouding heavy cultural bias. The tests reward informally acquired language skills and penalize lack of those skills, tending to make them tests of home and community backgrounds.

When anyone thought to look, a secret emerged: test scores strongly tracking home and community incomes. Trends were discovered with IQ tests in the 1920s, Iowa tests in the 1930s and SAT tests in the 1940s. The more recent tests do likewise, including state-sponsored regimes. Scores from the early years of the Massachusetts MCAS tests showed strong associations with community incomes.

MCAS test scores versus community incomes

BostonMetroMcasPlotAbs01
Source: Significance of test-based ratings, EPAA, 2001

Dumping PARCC: Dr. Chester, of the state education department, has been serving as national board chair of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Despite a glorified title, PARCC is a commercial test series produced by a division of Pearson PLC, a London-based publishing company. Its cachet has been fully computerized test administration and scoring.

Many observers have described the superficially clever construction of PARCC tests, seemingly designed to confuse and mislead. To people familiar with The Times of London or The Nation magazine, they suggest the prompts for British-style crossword puzzles.

In the United States, supposed merits of PARCC were quickly unmasked. As one experienced teacher put it, “Test manufacturers…tell us…their tests require critical thinking. They are lying. They prove [it with] relentless emphasis on test security.” Pearson will not allow teachers to see the questions that students were asked. If their tricks were to become known, they might easily be foiled.

In his day job as education commissioner, Dr. Chester had been in deep and obvious conflict of interest with his night job as chair of the PARCC board. When finally dumping PARCC on October 20, he arrived late to the party at a national trend. Over two-thirds of the state-level jurisdictions that tried PARCC have dumped it. Even by the obtuse standards of educational testing, PARCC was flagged as a loser.

Dr. Chester’s loyalists sententiously claim “there was no ultimatum given [by] Peyser and Baker”–meaning the new governor and his education secretary. Such pre-emptive denials tend to say the opposite. Politicians may not be great at higher math, but they can count.

Thinking about testing: At the fall town meeting scheduled for November 17, Article 16 seeks support for H. 340, pending in the General Court. Filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, it would forbid, for three years, the use of “MCAS or another standardized test” as a “condition for high school graduation.” That is what many call “high-stakes uses” of test scores. Rep. Frank Smizik, who represents Brookline Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, is a cosponsor of H. 340 and also a co-petitioner for Article 16.

At Advisory Committee on October 20, Brookline resident Lisa Guisbond spoke for Article 16. She is executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a Boston-based nonprofit founded to support progressive, public education. “With high-stakes uses of test scores,” she said, “the teaching focus is narrowed to the subjects tested…you lose access to a broad curriculum.”

In Brookline schools, that probably tends to happen with students who are identified as at risk of not graduating because they have trouble with one or more of the tests. Many of those students benefit from programs that try to strengthen their abilities in the areas tested. Inevitably, however, teaching to the test crowds out other areas of knowledge, as well as aspects of a topic that are not going to be tested.

Committee member Amy Hummel sounded eager to “put a moratorium on it.” Since 1993, she said, when a law authorizing MCAS was passed, “there are so many things that are different…MCAS is one vegetable in the pot…In my family, it’s converse to learning.” Few other committee members seemed to have such clear perspectives on regimented testing.

Some committee members tried to extrapolate from personal experience but found it difficult. Committee member Janet Gelbart remembered “studying for (New York state) Regents Exams…taking courses to learn how to take exams” but said her daughter was graduated from Brookline High School “long before MCAS.”

Many committee members seemed to discount educational experiences with testing regimes and instead resort to their hunches about policy. Committee member Fred Levitan said he failed “to see how stopping testing allows people to study it.” Clifford Brown saw “no reason to stop the use of testing.” Lee Selwyn said he couldn’t understand “shutting it down for three years.”

Advisory Committee members seemed confused when voting on the topics. When Sean Lynn-Jones first counted votes on a motion to approve Article 16, he found 9 in favor and 9 opposed, but some committee members said they did not understand what was proposed. After more explanation, a recount found 9 in favor, 10 opposed and 2 abstaining–putting the committee on record as narrowly opposing Article 16.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 21, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Michael Jonas, Chester abandons PARCC, Commonwealth Magazine, October 20, 2015

Andy Hargreaves, Mary Bridget Burns and Shanee Wangia, The success of schools in Massachusetts cannot be explained by testing, Diane Ravitch on Education, June 18, 2015

An act relative to a moratorium on high stakes testing and PARCC, H. 340, Massachusetts General Court, 2015

David A. Goslin: The Search for Ability, Russell Sage Foundation, 1963

Craig Bolon: School-based standard testing, Educational Policy Analysis Archives 8(23), 2000

Craig Bolon: Significance of test-based ratings for metropolitan Boston schools, Educational Policy Analysis Archives 9(42), 2001

Lisa Guisbond, Testing reform victories, the first wave, National Center for Fair and Open Testing, 2014

Forum: regimented testing in Brookline public schools, Brookline Beacon, October 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Dr. Lupini moves to Brookline, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2014