Thursday, May 13, 2010

Carpetbaggers: Scheming their way into Boston Latin School

I am the proud aunt of a “sixie” (for sixth-former), a first year student (7th grader) at the Boston Latin School (BLS), the oldest public school in the country, and by all accounts one of the best. It is a rigorous and challenging school, and graduates tend to boast that college (even in the Ivies) is nothing compared to what they went through at BLS.

Getting in is highly competitive. Thousands of kids take the exam, and only 400 are accepted. There are two other exam schools in Boston, but they are considered second tier. BLS gets the gold star.

Many of the students at BLS spent their grammar school years in private or parochial schools, and BLS is the only public school their parents would think of having their children attend. My niece Caroline, however, has been Boston Public Schools all the way.

But, wherever the kids come from – private, parochial, or public – you’d sure like to think that they’re all residents of Boston. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

Every year, some carpetbaggers are flushed out when it’s found that their parents have purchased or rented a small footprint second home in Boston, while continuing to live in the suburbs.

The other day, Caroline mentioned that an incoming sixie who was spending the day “shadowing” at the school had told people that he really lived in Winchester, but that his parents had bought a condo on Comm Ave so that they could establish residency in Boston. Well, smart enough to get into BLS, but not smart enough to keep his mouth shut. Sorry, kid, but I hope someone dimes you.

Of course, sometimes, families actually move into Boston – such is the lure of BLS.  But mostly they do whatever they need to do to make pretend that they live here – a six-month lease during the application period is apparently one dodge.

Periodically, there’s a crackdown on carpetbaggers.

So far this year, Boston public schools have revoked acceptance offers to four would-be exam school students for next fall because they do not live in the city, while another 31 are being investigated for possibly falsifying residency documents. Those students represent the vast majority of the 48 exam-school invitees who took the entrance test last fall as nonresidents and who later filed paperwork indicating they had moved to the city. (Source: Boston Globe.)

Now the City Council is looking at a proposal that will close residency loopholes to some degree, establishing a requirement that you have to have lived in Boston for a year to take the entrance exam.

That will seemingly help a little, but someone intent on gaming the system will just get that condo a year earlier. Where someone’s got the means, they can always find the ways, no?  And there can, of course, be circumstances in which someone has actually just moved to Boston and wants their kid to try for BLS.

But on the whole, I’m all in favor of cracking down on the carpetbaggers, those scalawags!

How about having those with condos show proof that they actually live and breathe in our fair city, rather than just establishing a pied a terre so that their kids can shoulder some true city kid out of a place at BLS or one of the other exam schools. Those 31 interlopers pushed 31 potential BLS students into Boston Latin Academy, where they pushed 31 potential BLA students into the O’Bryant School, where they pushed 31 potential O’Bryant students into the blackboard jungle of the un-exam Boston public high schools, where nobody but nobody sends their kids if they can at all help it.

So, if you were living in a nice comfy upper middle class house in Newton, Brookline, Winchester or wherever when, wonder of wonders, you decided to move into a small-ish city condo, then show us that a) you’re voting here; b) your other kids are no longer attending public schools in those communities; c) you actually live here.

I’m okay with someone who honestly and truly moves into Boston after their kid gets into BLS. It may not be the best of scenarios – they’re still displacing a city kid who’s probably coming out of a school that’s nowhere near as good as the one their suburban darling attended. But at least they’re living here.

For the others, the ones who game the system…Shame on them.

What are they teaching their kids?

That as long as you’re within the letter of the law, you can forget the spirit of the law? That they’re entitled to whatever they want?

I suppose these are the same parents who’re hiring consultants to help their kids craft their résumés for the elite colleges, who help package and position them for “success”.

A pox on their houses. (Or their one-room condos.)

If you can afford to rent a fake place in the city, you can afford to send your kid to BBN, Milton Academy, or any one of a number of pricey private schools in the area.

Please do so.

You’re in position that the families from the deckers of Dorchester or the Mattapan projects aren’t.

Not every kid at BLS is poor, of course. I suspect they may even be disproportionately middle and upper class. But a kid growing up in a Beacon Hill town house is as much a city kid as the kid from leafy, suburban-like West Roxbury. Or those deckers and projects.

They’re Bostonians.

I’m paying a hefty tax bill to pay for the schools attended by Bostonians.

Those from the suburbs who have no intention of becoming one of us for real need not apply.

The Boston School Department has an investigator to ferret out scofflaws.

Ferret away!


Mike - Wise Step said...

Hmmm this is an deep interesting conversation on carpetbaggers here

Rick said...

Another possibility is to allow a limited number of out of towners in, if they pay a tuition that is close to that of a good private school. I'm sure the school could make good use of the money, whereas it gets nothing and the parents take on a lot of risk and expense if they buy a condo and try to get their kid in for free.

Anonymous said...

I'm a grad of an exam school, and I've got to say that we do resent the carpetbaggers. But at the same time, a lot of these "carpetbaggers" are not from the suburbs, but from places like revere, quincy, bridgewater, where good public schools are not available. They usually claim to be living with an aunt or grandparent, rather than claiming an unlived-in studio apartment as a residence.
My mother was always adamant about how these "imposters" were taking seats at our exam schools- but at the same time a significant number of kids in any exam school class usually end up switching to a less rigorous school within a year or two, and many more drop out entirely once they hit 16.
Drop-out rates are high even at the Latin schools, and that is the battle we should be fighting, rather than nit-picking over a dozen non-residents taking seats.

Anonymous said...

I went to BLS. I also know kids that were from Quincy and Cambridge who went to the school. I always wondered why I was never invited over to their homes. I came from the public housing projects, raised by a single mom whose English was not her first language. I always thought those carpetbaggers were in a similar situation--maybe a little embarrassed about their origins. Certainly there were a lot of Beacon Hill classmates and silver spoons to make you feel you have to be discreet about your family. Turns out it was because they were living in fairly large houses in those other towns. I hated my time at BLS, because it was always a struggle to compete with kids who obviously had the support of two very well educated parents. But now I know it was my ticket out of poverty. So really, you make an excellent point. Shame on those who take spots from other kids.