School Choice Vote Postponed

In a surprising turn of events last night punctuated by a shouting match, the Cambridge School Committee postponed a long-anticipated vote on using socioeconomic factors in school choice.

Although Cambridge community members debated the issue during the Public Comments section of the meeting, the School Committee did not discuss the plan.

Committee member Alice Turkel said she postponed the vote because fellow Committee member Susana Segat was absent from the meeting.

The Cambridge Public Schools Controlled Choice Plan, introduced to the School Committee on Nov. 30 by Superintendent of Schools Bobbie D’Alessandro, calls for the incorporation of socioeconomic status in assigning students to elementary schools. Socioeconomic status would be determined by a student’s eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.

Currently, the city assigns children to Cambridge elementary schools with the goal of creating racially balanced student bodies.

At 6 p.m. last night, several dozen Cambridge community members assembled at Cambridge Ringe and Latin School (CRLS) eagerly awaited the vote on the superintendent’s plan, which is widely supported in the community.

“I’ve had kids in the system for a long time. The inequities are really outrageous,” said parent Cheryl Kennedy.

After the Pledge of Allegiance, the forum opened to Public Comments.

Harvard Professor of Education and Social Policy Gary A. Orfield presented his research on socioeconomic factors in school choice, citing “clear and large benefits from diversity in schools.” He said poverty affects the level of preparation of students, health problems and competition in schools.

Teacher Jose Salgado, who said he grew up in poverty, spoke in support of the Controlled Choice plan.

“What does poverty look like? It’s when kids go home to no food, to no one to help them with homework, kids who are trying to succeed in school,” he said.

Others, including Representative and Councillor Timothy Toomey and parents Kennedy and Craig Kelly, also spoke in favor of Controlled Choice.

Cambridge resident Ellen Aaronson offered an opposing viewpoint, proposing that the committee “not invent a new system” and instead make schools more attractive by renovating them.

Student members of the Committee were also invited to speak.

Emma Lang, a junior at CRLS, said there is “desperately needed improvement in the school system.”

Just as the debate was to move to the School Committee, Turkel proposed postponing the vote until the Dec. 18 meeting.