The latest attempt to fix the many longstanding woes of the city’s beleaguered school system is a $2 billion “Green New Deal” from Mayor Michelle Wu, who said she wants to see every school building redone in the next decade.
“This plan will bring major new construction and renovation plans to our facilities,” Wu said at a press conference Thursday morning. “These improvements are long overdue.”
Wu’s administration rolled out the $2 billion announcement with a quick outline of some immediate priorities and a new online dashboard detailing the various physical needs of 132 school buildings.
The cash, which periodically would have to be approved by the City Council, would be spent over the course of years, though Wu wouldn’t specify a timeframe when asked. Wu said $605 million of it is included in her proposed rolling capital budget this year.
But Wu — after a laughing aside to her staff to check how whether she could say what she really wants — said, “I would like us to have fully redone every school building in Boston in the next decade.”
Boston Operations Chief Dion Irish said he’s optimistic that with the number of schools the city plans to overhaul, they can streamline what’s typically a laborious and state-involved process.
Some big priorities will including the Madison Park Vocational Technical School in Roxbury, the McKinley Schools in the South End, the West Roxbury Education Complex, the Blackstone Elementary School in the South End, the Otis School in East Boston, the King School in Roxbury, the PJ Kennedy School in Eastie, the Cleveland Building in Dorchester and White Stadium in Franklin Park.
Wu clad this new effort in the language of the left, talking about this helping in “climate action.” The “Green New Deal” phrasing has been popular over the past few years thanks to pols like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York and Bay State U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.
Issues with school buildings far predate the current administration. Under 10% of BPS buildings have been built since 1980, and most of those just in the past several years. Nearly two in three school buildings were built before 1950.
Under former Mayor Marty Walsh, the city embarked on a 10-year, $1 billion initiative called BuildBPS to do capital work on the long-neglected district. Though that did result in some tangible work being done and schools built and rehabbed, the city eventually scrapped the plan quietly a few years ago as it lurched from one schools superintendent to another.
The current — though soon-to-be-former — one, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, spoke at Wu’s press conference, saying she cried after first visiting the McKinley schools because kids were in such horrible buildings.
Cassellius, who’s departing in June in what she and Wu insist is a mutual decision, said “No longer will I have to be up at night” with the knowledge this work is being done.
The new dashboard, which will surprise few in showing that the schools overall are in bad shape, shows heating/cooling, doors and painting among the most frequent “high-need” areas in schools. It agrees with Cassellius that the two McKinley schools are in rough shape, as both are have the dubious distinction of being among the top five with the highest “building needs score,” which is 75% made up of a quantification of how rough of shape the building is in and 25% weighting how much the school serves “the highest concentrations of students in need.”
Getting the top score — higher numbers are worse — is the Horace Mann School for the Deaf Hard of Hearing / Jackson-Mann K-8 School in Allston followed by McKinley Prep, the Community Academy in Jamaica Plain, the Excel High School in South Boston and the McKinley Middle School.