School politics

By EDITORIAL  |  February 4, 2009

The best hope for keeping Boston's schools functioning ultimately will come from ending school busing, or ending it as it is now conceived. Bostonians without children in the public schools may not realize the degree to which the system is shackled by busing costs, or that widespread busing is still in effect.

Busing was instituted 35 years ago by federal court order intended to combat a clear-cut pattern of racial discrimination that saw white schools receive more money and minority schools less. Busing certainly ended the racist system of two-tier funding. But it did nothing to improve the overall quality of Boston schools, which — taken as a whole — was questionable in the first place.

The city now spends slightly more than $75 million a year transporting students to various, sometimes far-away, schools; $40 million of that cost could be put to better use if we transitioned to neighborhood-based schools. That money, redirected more creatively, would go a long way to helping improve schools. Because Boston's poorer neighborhoods do not have sufficient facilities, some form of transportation would still be required.

In a city that is predominantly non-white, using busing as a tool to erase past racial disparities in school funding is not just bogu, it is foolish. Today's busing program, like so much in government, has become institutionalized. It exists to solve a problem that no longer exists. Other challenges, however, have arisen that need fresh thinking.

Ending busing has been a topic that has long been taboo, discussed in whispers — if considered at all. This past weekend, Ted Landsmark, the president of the Boston Architectural College, had the courage to slap the issue square on the table, in an opinion piece for the Boston Globe.

Landsmark is not only a leading educator and a spirited citizen. He achieved a moment of national renown when, more than 30 years ago, during the height of Boston's busing crisis, he (an African-American) was photographed being attacked outside City Hall by a white mob wielding an American flag.

If ever there was a poster child for the victims of the old-racist Boston, Landsmark is it. He has had the sense to see a way to keep Boston's schools working. Now it is up to City Hall to follow his lead.

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