Interim Superintendent McDonough tempers Boston schools facilities plan; more bus drivers are disciplined

Interim Superintendent John McDonough backed away Wednesday night from several recommendations to a facilities plan that would relocate some schools and expand others, amid growing opposition from students, teachers, and parents.

More than 100 parents, teachers, students, and school leaders turned out for a meeting of the Boston School Committee on Wednesday, testifying for nearly two hours mostly against the facilities proposal. The loudest opposition came from the schools that would be relocated under the plan, such as Community Academy, Boston Adult Technical Academy, and Another Course to College.

McDonough also announced that sweeping disciplinary action was taken earlier in the day against the school bus drivers who went on strike for one day last month.

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Veolia Corp., which runs the School Department’s bus operation, fired two additional drivers who organized the strike, bringing the number of terminations to four. The company also will be issuing letters of reprimand to 680 drivers who participated in the strike, which will remain in their personnel file for 13 months.

“Veolia investigated this event thoroughly and carefully within the guidelines of the collective bargaining agreement,” McDonough said.

He also added that he hoped the employment dispute between the union would be resolved soon. The union has raised a myriad of issues about pay, work conditions, and respect.

“While I’m not completely confident this is entirely behind us, I’m more confident today than on Oct. 8,” McDonough said, referring to the day of the surprise strike.

On the facilities plan, Brendan Donovan, a Community Academy teacher, spoke passionately about the need for stability in the lives of his school’s students. He said many of those youths bounce from one foster home to another, have immense academic problems, or in some cases have been abused.

“Please don’t crush their confidence again by taking away their building,” Donovan said.

A number of speakers touched upon a similar theme, accusing the School Department of treating their schools as second-class citizens by forcing them out of their buildings.

The proposal pitched last month attempts to address lopsided demographic shifts: while enrollment is booming in the lower grades, it is falling sharply in the upper grades. That conundrum is prompting McDonough to tighten up on space in the high schools to free up some additional use for primary grade programs.

A key part of the plan calls for moving Community Academy and Boston Adult Technical Academy out of their buildings, which formerly housed elementary schools, so the district can open two new early learning programs.

But McDonough told the School Committee Wednesday that he would hold off on the plan to relocate Community Academy until after registration begins for kindergarten in the winter. He said he wants to see if demand exists for two new early childhood centers for next fall.

Other alterations to the original plan include delaying the conversion of the Blackstone, Tynan, Perkins, and Mattahunt elementary schools into K-8 schools; and working with schools proposed for relocation to find a site that works for them.

The school board plans to vote on several elements of the plan at its Nov. 20 meeting.

“We want to ensure these expansions enable and enhance academic success rather than emerge as a challenge to it,” McDonough said. “We are not in the business of imposing solutions on schools. We are in the business of inviting them to solve problems with us in a way that results in acceptable and sustainable solutions.

“This is how we envision how our ‘Grow with Boston’ plan will evolve.”

The announcement, made prior to public comment at the meeting, did little to ease discontent.

Students and staff from the Muniz Academy, a bilingual high school, pleaded with the committee to let them stay at the Agassiz, a former elementary school that is also now home to a K-8 school that needs space to expand.

“More than space, our building is our home for our school community,” said Veronica Anguiano, a Mexican-American and a 10th-grader at Muniz. “It gives us a sense of belonging.”

The dean of students from Another Course to College spoke of the blow to morale that the school has suffered since being told they were going to be bumped out of their building so a charter school could move in and expand its program.

“Our families are getting the message that our school is disposable. Our students are getting the same message too: they are disposable,” she said. “Another Course to College is not a second class school.”