For Immediate Release
December 08, 2009
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Mayor, Cabinet officials speak with urgency about advancing public education, fostering growth, and strengthening government
In his first major public appearance since winning re-election, Mayor Thomas M. Menino this morning outlined a series of reforms to allow for "transformative change" in Boston during a Governmental Affairs Forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. Joined by local business leaders and more than 400 guests, Mayor Menino called on the group to partner with city government to achieve an ambitious agenda over the next four years, highlighted by a new era of innovation in the Boston Public Schools, increased opportunity for development and growth citywide, and a reinvention of city government to better meet current challenges.
To emphasize this collaborative spirit, Mayor Menino invited three of his Cabinet officials, Dr. Carol R. Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools (BPS), John Palmieri, Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), and, Lisa Signori, Director of Administration and Finance, to further detail the administration's agenda for the future in these priority areas.
"We have great momentum," Mayor Menino told guests. "And we're gearing up for the next term, when we will take on big challenges – not just when it's easy, but when it's hard, too. This type of transformative change will not be easy, especially in today's economic climate. But I am energized and excited, and I know we will reinvent our great city once again. Boston is about much more than me or any one of us – it's about all of us, including the folks in this room, working as a team to move our city forward."
In framing the discussion, the Mayor pledged to begin a new era of innovation and excellence in the Boston Public Schools; foster stalled development projects in Allston, the South Boston Waterfront, and Downtown Crossing; make the Harbor Islands and the Greenway as central to Boston's identity as the Boston Common and the Public Garden; and strengthen city government by implementing new technology, rebalancing public safety services, and pursuing consolidations where it makes sense.
Noting that partnership is especially critical in education, Mayor Menino introduced Superintendent Johnson, who shared a strategy to overcome the challenges facing public education and prepare Boston's future leaders for success. Referring to the "Circle of Promise," Superintendent Johnson focused on the partnerships and reforms needed to turn around 14 of the district's lowest performing schools and elevate the city's strongest schools to new heights. She highlighted the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, where Fidelity Investments stepped in to provide enriching experiences for students, as an example of successful partnership.
The Superintendent identified several steps to be taken over the course of the year ahead to ensure that the turnaround at the Edwards School can be achieved at other schools. Two critical steps include: 1) renegotiating the current Boston Teachers Union contract to prioritize students and eliminate the old rules that govern teacher placement and 2) advocating for the Legislature to pass education reform, which includes the Mayor's in-district charter legislation, so that the Commonwealth can compete for its share of the $5 billion in federal Race to the Top funding.
Following Superintendent Johnson, John Palmieri, Director of the BRA, reiterated that achieving real results can only be accomplished by working together with urgency and purpose. He underscored that while Boston's economy is strong relative to many cities nationally, the future holds both significant challenges and "incredible opportunities." To ensure that Boston competes as the world's hub for innovation, Mayor Menino has asked the BRA to think differently – in areas where performance lags and where the organization has succeeded.
Palmieri raised Downtown Crossing as a priority, citing the need to build upon recent achievements such as renovations to the area's theaters, the expansion of Emerson College and Suffolk University, and new residential growth. He urged support for the creation of the city's first Business Improvement District in Downtown Crossing, similar to those seen in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. He also called on the community to begin a process of re-imagining the balance of uses for One Franklin Street – site of the former Filene's Basement – in order to animate the site again and strengthen the surrounding neighborhood. Palmieri concluded that a similar approach will be used to spur innovative growth on the South Boston Waterfront, create infrastructure investments in the Marine Industrial Park, and improve the Article 80 development review process.
Lisa Signori, Director of Administration and Finance, completed the speaking program by focusing on the notion that transformational change requires a financial plan that continues to work. With uncertainty about the global economy still prevalent, she noted that fiscal year 2011 will be even more difficult than the current fiscal year. Signori identified municipal health care costs, representing an annual expenditure of about $280 million for Boston, as the number one concern moving forward.
Last December, Mayor Menino filed legislation to give all municipalities the same powers over health plan design as the Commonwealth, which has been able to control the growth of insurance costs far better than municipalities. With the city losing over $1 million every month that goes by without this legislation passing, Signori urged the business community to lobby Beacon Hill to help Boston and other municipalities provide quality health care for employees while containing costs for taxpayers.
Mayor Menino thanked the audience at the program's conclusion, stating, "I am excited about our plans, and I need you to help us get them done. There are tremendous opportunities for you to make a real difference in your city. Teamwork goes both ways, so we stand ready and willing, as always, to help you. Our work together has brought our city a long way, and given us an unprecedented opportunity to cement Boston's greatness."