By Michael Sol Warren
BU News Service
This week’s Boston City Council meeting was dominated by a resolution against standardized testing in Boston public schools and a call for action on the city’s natural gas leaks.
The most talked about matter during Wednesday’s meeting was Councillor Tito Jackson’s late filed resolution for a moratorium on high stakes standardized testing in Boston Public Schools. Jackson expressed concerns that BPS teachers are currently teaching for a test, not to “educate the whole child.” Councillor Frank Baker spoke in support of the resolution, using his son’s experiences to convey concerns about the PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a group that works to develop assessments, and other new standardized tests that Boston public school students face. The resolution was invoked.
Earlier this week, the council’s Committee on Environment and Parks held a hearing on the cities numerous natural gas leaks. Monday night’s hearing was a key point of Wednesday’s city council meeting. According to Councillor Matt O’Malley, the committee chair, the city estimates that there are about 1,200 gas leaks in the city right now; others have put this number closer to 2,000. O’Malley also said that Dorchester has 620 active leaks, the highest of any Boston neighborhood.
The topic of gas leaks remains in committee, but O’Malley made clear his wish that the city council support Bill S.1728, a bill currently in the state legislature that would protect consumers of gas from having to pay for the gas lost in leaks. O’Malley said that National Grid and Eversource, Boston’s two natural gas utilities, have no incentive to repair leaks because they don’t have to pay the cost of the lost gas. Instead, he said, it is the rate payers that pay close to $100 million annually for lost gas.
The council also reviewed the Committee on Environment and Parks’s hearing on applying urban wild protections to parcels of land along American Legion Highway. O’Malley called the hearing a success and said the topic would remain in committee to explore further options. Councillor Steve Murphy said the committee was looking into how to change the street name from American Legion Highway to American Legion Parkway. Murphy also said that would like to see this project become a part of the Emerald Necklace.
Redistricting was another topic addressed during Wednesday’s council meeting. Councillors Ayanna Pressley and O’Malley introduced a resolution to support Bill H.3321, a bill currently in the state legislature that would require Boston to redistrict its voting precincts after each census. This redistricting is meant to ensure that each precinct has an equal population with the hopes of making voting easier.
Councillor Jackson spoke in support of the resolution, and said that “redistricting is already hard enough; to do it with pieces that are not the same size makes an already difficult process more difficult.” The resolution was assigned to the Committee on Government Operations.
In two late filed matters, Councillor Charles Yancey proposed orders to look into the feasibility of the Boston Housing Authority bringing free WiFi to senior and family housing.
“Today, if you don’t have access to the internet you really are locked out of communication,” Yancey said, explaining why he proposed the order. The council approved the orders and a hearing on this topic will be held by the Committee on Housing.
Elsewhere in housing news, the council approved an order from Mayor Martin J. Walsh to accept about $170,000 in federal money awarded to the Boston Fair Housing Commission. The funds came in the form of a Fair Housing Assistance Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money is to be used for the BFHC’s administrative costs, training costs and investigatory work during the fiscal year 2015.
Councillor Josh Zakim was the only councilor absent from the meeting. He missed the meeting in order to observe the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.