School move fight continues

Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) plan to move the Mission Hill K-8 School to Jamaica Plain was approved by the school committee Nov. 15. But opposition remains strong among parents, advocates and neighborhood residents.

Fenway High School, which is scheduled to move into Mission Hill K-8 and New Mission High School’s current building at 67 Alleghany St., will not be moving in until 2013, a year after the two schools move out, because the building will be undergoing extensive renovations, BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder told the Gazette.

Some Mission Hill residents say that the K-8 move would mean further limiting access to elementary school seats for students from four major housing developments in the area—Alice Taylor, Mission Main, Mission Park and Jamaica Plain’s Bromley-Heath.

Local City Councilor Mike Ross asked the City Financial Commission (FinComm) to investigate the school-move, which is part of BPS’s “2012 Facilities Plan”—a program that would create and expand about a dozen schools.

Ross told the Gazette he supports the plan in general—including a plan to move New Mission High School to Hyde Park, which has been uncontroversial.

But, Ross said, plans to move Fenway High School out of a building in that neighborhood that it shares with the Boston Arts Academy and into Mission Hill K-8’s 67 Allegheny St. building are too expensive.

“They are spending an obscene amount of money to move three schools—close to $10 million,” Ross said in a phone interview with the Gazette.

Over $7 million is being spent to fund extensive renovations to the Alleghany Street building that Fenway High requested, Ross said in a letter to the FinComm.

BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder declined to comment on Ross’s letter, which he said he had not seen. He did confirm that Fenway High is getting more renovation funding than most other schools, and that its move to Mission Hill has been delayed until 2013 so the renovations can be completed.

Mission Hill Parents have started a Facebook page, which is still being updated, called “Save Mission Hill School.”

Mission Hill K-8 Headmaster Ayla Gavins did not respond to Gazette requests for comment for this article. When the move was first announced in early November, Gavins said moving to the Agassiz had been her second choice—after staying on the Hill—when BPS officials asked her to rate a list of options as part of the planning process.

Thirty-two students currently enrolled at the school are from the Mission Hill neighborhood—by far the most of any neighborhood in Boston, according to data from BPS. That is because BPS’s student assignment system favors students who live within a one-mile walk zone of the school.

Those students will remain enrolled in the school. But, because of walk-zone preference, it is unlikely that MH K-8 will be available to Hill students in the future, Mission Hill resident and former Mission Hill K-8 parent Alison Pultinas told the Gazette. The 166-seat school is adding 30 pre-kindergarten seats when it moves to JP, but at least half of those seats will likely be taken up by students in the new walk zone.

Losing a local elementary school means fewer options for local families, particularly low-income families, said Sara Montoya, head of the Parker Hill/Fenway branch of Action for Boston Community Development, which runs a Head Start pre-kindergarten program.

“I think it is definitely going to affect our families. The area’s kindergarten classes are completely full,” she said.

“A lot of our families don’t drive, so you are looking at less parent engagement with the schools” if the schools their children are attending are further away, she said.

“I tried to get my daughter into the Mission Hill School or the Tobin,” Mission Hill’s other K-8 school, Mirna Mejia, a Parker Hill/Fenway ABCD staffer and Hill resident, told the Gazette, “But she is attending kindergarten in Hyde Park.”

“There are not enough options around here to begin with, and we are losing more options,” she said.

In an email, Wilder told the Gazette, “There are many options within the [Mission Hill] walk zone, beyond the Mission Hill K-8 and the Tobin. Their options far outnumber those of a student living near the Agassiz building”—the former home of the Agassiz school at 20 Child St in JP, where Mission Hill K-8 is slated to move.

Not including Mission Hill K-8, a theoretical walk-zone for a student living at that schools current 67 Alleghany St. building would include eight elementary schools, whereas a student living at the Agassiz building would only have four options, he said.

There are two other parts of the plan happening in conjunction with the Mission Hill K-8 move. Boston Arts Academy and Fenway High School currently share a building in the Fenway neighborhood. Under the approved plan, Fenway would move to Mission Hill K-8’s Alleghany Street building, allowing both those schools to expand, and Mission Hill K-8 would expand into the former Agassiz School building, which it would share with the new two-way bilingual high school, the Margarita Muñiz Academy.

Those are three of the dozen school changes the plan proposes. But, Ross notes in a Nov. 16 letter to the FinComm, they will generate 229 of the 500 seats proposed in the plan and cost $9.9 million, while the rest of the plan will cost $3.9 million.

FinComm Director Matt Cahill told the Gazette that the commission would decide this week whether to move forward with an investigation.

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