What's Missing from the Boston Public School Zone Plans

The BPS released a range of school assignment reform options last night. The proposals range from a no-zone, neighborhood schools model to a six-zone model, with nine-, 11-, and 23-zone options also on the table.

There are a couple of goals for this reform, including a reduction in the $80 million (and headed to $100 million) that the BPS spends annually on busing, as well as a reduction in the uncertainty associated with the current three-zone lottery process.

Getting more kids into schools closer to their homes will reduce transportation costs. But the big—and currently unanswered—question in the reform process is the role of “grandfathering.” Per the Globe story:

“… no decisions have been made on whether students currently enrolled at schools could stay there and for how long after the student-assignment changes are made.”

That’s enough to give pause to anyone with kids enrolled in BPS. On a theoretical level, there is some sense to it—moving as many kids as possible into closer schools is likely to result in bigger savings. But the practical implications are immense for those already in the system.

Would all kids who fall outside the new zone get booted out of their current school? And even if they still had walk-zone preference for that school? How would sibling preference operate under grandfathering scenarios?

For those potentially affected by any decision on grandfathering (and that number increases with the more zones in each proposal), this is a huge deal. Having lived through the blood, sweat, and tears of multiple BPS lotteries, I had hoped that process was mostly over. (Full disclosure: I have children in a high-demand West Zone school and more headed into the system in a few years.) Anything short of complete grandfathering raises the potential for another round of lotteries for children who are currently enrolled, enrolling kids in different schools, and multiple transitions (up to four in six years with Advanced Work and Exam Schools thrown in).

School assignment reform is an important, worthwhile effort. But BPS needs to clearly explain how many of its current students would be affected by these proposals.