This set the stage for Spillane's appointment. Thus, the five-person School Committee had two Black members, a radical departure from Boston politics a decade earlier. The passage of a referendum expanding the committee to thirteen members resulted in greater representation on the School Committee. Nine were to be elected from voter districts whose boundaries would be identical to those for the City Council and four would be elected at large. The City Council also changed to election by single-members districts. Black candidates i. This system, however, which required city wide voter support for election, made it extremely difficult because most minority candidates could not afford to run citywide campaigns.
The first thirteenmember Boston School Committee took office in , the year before Laval Wilson's selection. His election emphasized the growing importance of the Italian ethnic community in Boston politics. Politically, Nucci was located near the center of a School Committee spectrum, which, for the sake of convenience, may be divided into two predictable factions: liberal and conservative. Liberals were strongly in favor of minority access, educational innovation, and school reform.
Conservatives, by contrast, were more bound to an inbred school administrative network and to traditional modes of instruction. There were exceptions within both factions, of course, and on given occasions, members would take uncharacteristic positions. Generally, however, this accurately depicts the central tendencies of the ideological groups represented on the Boston School Committee. An analysis of this new thirteen-member board's voting record during its first year revealed a 7 to 6 conservative majority on most closely contested issues.
Members like O'Bryant and McGuire were in the liberal camp, while others, such as committee Treasurer Daniel Burke and committee member Rita Walsh-Tomasini, voted consistently with the conservatives. It is important to note here that Nucci was close enough to the spectrum's political center to win the presidency by gaining support from both factions.
He supported some of the social and educational changes proposed by the liberals. He also had higher political ambitions, as subsequent events would attest— Nucci won an at-large seat on the City Council. A successful superintendency search could raise his political profile. In any case, when Spillane opted to move on—he had tired, he said, of the expanded committee's interference and had also found the Fairfax offer "too lucrative" to refuse—Nucci opted for a national superintendency search.
This decision provided an opportunity for the broadest range of outsiders to apply, including Laval Wilson. While the precedent for this procedure had been set in the search that yielded "Bud" Spillane, there was not unanimous School Committee support for it on this occasion. Nevertheless, Nucci's decision prevailed. The total membership reached twenty-four when five School Committee members opted to join the committee's officers on the search panel.
Despite this expansion, the basic composition and character of the Search Committee was unchanged. It remained a large, broadly based and decidedly liberal unit. Its membership included individuals of the highest local prestige, including Mayor Flynn himself. Joining them were a sufficient number of liberals and progressives e. This situation, of course, did not please the School Committee's conservative faction. Given the stature of so many Search Committee members and the fact that any School Committee member who wished to do so could join the Search Committee, there remained, however, virtually no School Committee criticism on this issue.
Consistent with its liberal orientation, the Search Committee's majority was committed to including minority candidates among the finalists. David Cortiella, a prominent member of that majority stated this goal bluntly: "One, we wanted to stop McDonough [the acting Superintendent] and, two, we wanted to send the School Committee at least two strong minority candidates Edwards Stopping McDonough at the search level was a priority for liberals because of the conservative majority that controlled the School Committee.
Catalog Record: Black power/white power in public education | HathiTrust Digital Library
If McDonough reached the finals, it was generally felt that he had enough votes on the School Committee to win the superintendency. A quiet, accessible, and mannerly man, McDonough had risen The Hiring and Firing of Laval Wilson 25 through the ranks of the bureaucracy and had worked in the school system for over thirty years. As a deputy superintendent he had previously served as acting superintendent after Kennedy's death and was now serving in that role again. Despite his self-effacing and amiable demeanor, in this situation McDonough's background made him a symbol to liberals of a discredited school bureaucracy.
McDonough did, indeed, have strong support on the School Committee, particularly in Joseph Casper, a vocal and flamboyant committee conservative who was often at the center of its volatile interpersonal dynamics.
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One could speculate, in fact, that Casper's support hurt McDonough more than it helped him since it served to unify liberal efforts to defeat McDonough's candidacy. In the end his candidacy was defeated, but in the struggle to save it, a revealing subplot emerged involving the candidacy of Laval Wilson. Like himself, Wilson was African American and conservative.
Being the only Black candidate of stature who possessed these attributes, Wilson was the ideal choice of the leader of a traditional civil rights organization like the NAACP. Robinson, therefore, decided to launch an early, vigorous campaign on Wilson's behalf. Joseph Casper, like Robinson, was educationally conservative, and for that reason, Casper claimed he was also attracted to Wilson. Casper's first choice for superintendent, however, was Joseph McDonough.
Given the Search Committee's liberal majority, Casper was afraid that McDonough would not be among those recommended to the School Committee. So he and Robinson, as they both later acknowledged, struck a deal. The openness of Casper's and Robinson's advocacy, however, was uncharacteristic of the Search Committee's internal deliberations, where partisan lobbying was carefully avoided. Cortiella, for example, strongly desired a Latino superintendent, but did not lobby for one Negroni until after the Search Committee's work was done. Nor did it require lobbying for the Search Committee's liberal majority to realize its goal, which was to ensure that progressive and minority candidates were presented as finalists to the School Committee.
Through ideological bonding and by supporting each other at every stage of the search process, their wills prevailed. Because the June 26, vote had been taken by secret ballot and since McDonough had failed to make the final list, Casper and School Committee member John Grady initiated legal action to invalidate the vote. In a subsequent vote, however, taken by open ballot on July 12, the Search Committee selected the same three finalists. After the June 26 ballot, when the names of the finalists became known, it did not take long for a campaign on behalf of Laval Wilson to begin, one that openly appealed to racial sentiment.
The editorial then proceeded to exert pressure on the School Committee's minority members. Pressure on behalf of Wilson reached a point, in fact, where some felt that it threatened to divide the Black and Latino communities. To address this situation, a coalition of Black and Latino organizations held a press conference on July 24, at which The Hiring and Firing of Laval Wilson 27 it chastised certain Black leaders for attempting to "bully" Black School Committee members.
The spokesperson for the group, James Jennings, of the Black Political Task Force, accused Robinson and Melvin Miller, the Banner's editor and publisher, of sacrificing "the needs of children to petty ethnocentric considerations," and of supporting Wilson "for no other reason than skin pigmentation. Negroni's supporters had made efforts on his behalf, but less openly and in a less confrontational manner than had the supporters of Wilson. And Cortiella was very much at the forefront of those efforts.
They got used to seeing me on the eleventh floor [the School Committee's offices at 26 Court Street]. I told them to put blinders on, to forget about skin color. Negroni was simply the best man to lead the system after Spillane had restored its respectability. I told them that they needed a progressive educator at this point, someone to take the system in a modern direction.
I tried to stick to educational philosophy and stay away from the race issue" Edwards Romero was the School Committee's only Latino member but she did not come out in favor of Negroni. Moreover, her cryptic, unpredictable style made Cortiella wary of her. I knew she was unpredictable, but I had to do it" Edwards Romero, as events would unfold, encountered serious legal difficulties during the period of the search.
These troubles were caused mainly by signatures that had been gathered on her petition for renomination to serve on the School Committee. A July 17 article in the Boston Herald quoted Election Commission Chairman Michael Joyce as saying that his office had found "what appears to be fraudulent signatures" on Romero's petitions. The article pictured a portion of one petition on which the same names appeared more than once but in "dramatically different handwriting" Edwards Romero was indicted in August on charges of filing campaign papers with false signatures.
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All parties denied Romero's allegations. A spokesperson for Flynn characterized them as "the height of ridiculousness" Edwards Cortiella called them "outright lies.
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And I got good reports. He was simply the best candidate" Edwards Robinson confirmed that Romero had told him she would vote for Wilson. Cortiella's failure to gain Romero's support did not discourage him, however, since he had not really expected it. He regarded her as only one of thirteen members he needed to attempt to persuade.
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The open lobbying now under way for Wilson and Negroni signaled a shift in the search's focus to the School Committee itself. No similar efforts were made on behalf of Cuban. The School Committee had meaningful options to choose from among the candidates presented to it. Wilson earned his doctorate from Northwestern University and had previously held superintendencies in Berkeley, California for six years , and in a city on Long Island, New York for one year. He had also previously served as an assistant superintendent, a principal, and a teacher.
Wilson had a reputation as a stern, no-nonsense administrator, one who was a hard worker and who drove his staff hard as well.
Ralph Edwards and Charles V. Willie, Black Power/White Power in Public Education
He had been raised on Chicago's South Side, and was, therefore, no stranger The Hiring and Firing of Laval Wilson 29 to the realities of inner-city life. Joseph Hill, a former superintendent of schools under whom Wilson served as an assistant superintendent and principal in Evanston, Illinois, during the late s, described Wilson as "a bulldog. If it can be done," Hill said, "Laval Wilson can do it. He wouldn't take 'no' for an answer" Boston Globe, Aug. Peter Negroni also knew the inner city firsthand, having learned it on the streets of New York City where he grew up and from his immersion in the politics of the Latino school district in the Bronx, where he had been a superintendent since Negroni, forty-three years old, was of Puerto Rican descent and held a doctorate from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
New York City's school system of approximately one million students is divided into thirty-two districts, each with a nine-member school board. These districts administer elementary and middle schools, while the seven-member central Board of Education operates the high schools and sets overall policy for the system.