Boston mayoral candidate John Barros, 40, now of Dorchester, who grew up in Roxbury, fielded questions from Patch editor David Ertischek. Barros is married with two children, including a child born in the last two weeks! Barros spoke about charter schools, how he would he add subcommittees to the Boston School Committee, and
Patch: As mayor what can you do to decrease violence in Boston?
Barros: The first thing I would do is make sure we’re investing in the people of Boston, making sure the economy is growing and making sure as many people are participating. Study after study shows that by investing in neighborhoods with youth activities, and youth jobs decrease unemployment rates and strengthen families by providing more opportunities for recreation activities. This woud be moving our city in the right direction. Also we need to invest in policing community relations. You have to make sure there are strong neighborhood groups like crime watch groups, and civic neighborhood associations that are there and provide leadership with police to be making sure policies and supporting policies lead to strong relationships... One thing about police, you think about coordination and communication. It’s all of our agencies and enforcement agencies, police at local, state, and federal level coordination. That kind of coordination of bringing people together to make sure we remain a safe city is critical.
We need have a community response authority at the cabinet level for the mayor, who would be a cabinet member. Their job would be to coordinate between departments - schools, police, (EMS, fire) and make sure the level of communication is there and ensure a safe community. (I was) hearing (Boston Police) Commissioner Ed Davis talk about gaps of communication - there was a lack of communication between agencies that could have prevented the Boston Marathon bombing. We don’t want to be lax we want to make sure our eyes are always open.
Patch: What would you do with the current school assignment plan?
Barros: I think it’s headed in the right direction. A number of things concern me. What I like is it encourages and incentivizes, and we are moving toward quality schools because then we move to neighborhood schools. Hypothetically, if we had quality schools, it balances proximity with quality, and it gives something a little further from your house. We need to make sure we are consistently looking at and consistently asking us how many quality seats we can have in Boston. We absolutely need to have a robust defition for quality that is more than just the MCAS. That’s one of the things I pushed back very early as a school committee member.
As mayor I would like to change the current way the assignment process is configured to school buildings. I don’t think people should be given lists of schools of quality like Tier 1 schools without. In certain neighborhoods you give an address and you have more of a chance of getting a Tier 1 school because the Tier 1 schools have more seats in other neighborhoods, which in my case is around here. I get two Tier 1 schools with small school buildings – the Hale and the Mason, which are great schools, but small. It’s really difficult to get into those schools.
Patch: What about lifting the charter school cap?
I’d like to lift the charter school cap. We have got to provide schools that work. If it works, I'll support it.
Patch: You resigned from the Boston School Committee to run for mayor – what are you most proud of your time on the school committee?
Barros: I'm most proud of the work we did on the ELL (English Language Learners) Task Force. Boston had been cited by the Department of Justice for not providing resources to ELL students and I go together with some amazing individuals and worked to make some real improvements in the Boston schools. One of my favorite is making sure every teacher is dual-certified in having an ELL certification.
Patch: What would you say was the committee’s greatest failing or flaw during your time on it?
Barros: Our greatest failing was the inability the engage stakeholders. The way it’s currently structured is it doesn’t allow for a lot of participation and engagement back and forth. If we look at the External Advisory Committee for Student Assignment, that is a good model. We need to make sure the school committee, and as mayor I would make sure the school committee has subcommittees. You can't have a body overseeing more than one billion dollars, and not have subcommittees around partnerships, staffing, assignment - a number of them, that’s just to name a few - because parents and teacher and other stakehoulders need to be able to discuss. I think the greatest failing is a lack of engagement. That the structure limits engagement. I am for an appointed school committee because I think we can do a better job of creating a more engaged process.
Patch: How will you utilize innovative technological advancements to keep Boston being one of the most modern cities in the world?
Barros: I think the city of Boston should follow other cities, particularly look at New York where they’re releasing more public data so people can help with innovation and suggesting ideas of technology. New York is doing more of this, and in releasing some data they had a group, a team get together and solve for one of the problems of having 30 inspectors for 30,000 restaurants. They had to figure out a strategy. They took data on all restaurants they had on file with them to clean their oils and cooking byproducts. Then they took public sewers database from the sewage system and looked at recent sewage backups they had to go and clean. They crossed that data together and those were the restaurants they looked at. That kind of data makes you solve issues like this and makes you efficient, but also attracts businesses that develop software and apps for that anad attracts better relationships with universities for students. You become a city that leverages the intellectual (resources) around it for understanding larger business trends.
Patch: Boston Mayor Menino will leave the city in very good financial standing, especially considering the recent recession. What is your budgetary experience, and how will you foster financial growth for Boston?
Barros: (After graduating) out of Dartmouth College I basically worked in as an executive in a liability division underwriting corporate insurance specifically focused on high tech business. And I provided insurance for companies going public. All I did was financial management market analysis and understanding the risk in front of us. Also, I have extensive background in both practical budget experience and training. I became executive director and ran a local nonprofit local, managing my own budget and raising money. I started a small restaurant in Dorchester and put a budget together and handled most of the money affairs. As a member of the school committee I oversaw a third of the city’s budget and helped put that together and sent it to the mayor. I have extensive experience with a budget, including the city's budget. I bring a lot of skills when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
Patch: What color are your candidate signs? Why did you go with that design?
Barros: It’s two-toned. A lighter and a darker blue with a stripe of green. I love the color blue. And I thought the two blues worked well with the green. I wish I could be deeper on this one.
Patch: Climate change and how it will affect Boston is a huge topic for the future, what are your plans to deal with climate change?
Barros: I think we need to have two plans - one is the city’s plan for adapting to climate issues that are already here. (Hurricane) Sandy is real. We can get hit by those kinds of storms and it’s going to intensify and those storms are getting worse and worse and we need to make sure we’re planning for snow removal of large storms and adapting to potential flooding in large storms. We need to ask building owners to retrofit when they can when doing renovations and make sure new buildings are being designed to withstand flooding that other buildings have seen, most recently with Hurricane Sandy. That is all about adapting to the reality of today.
The second part of the plan is reducing our carbon footprint and moving to a city that is carbon neutral and relying less on fossil fuels. The way we do that is really supporting new green technology and energy efficient tehcnolgy. I think the city should play the lead by using taxpayer dollars to use more technology like solar power on their buldings. And new businesses need to come up with technology to make our buildings more efficient. Once we do that we’d have more local technology that could serve the public market and ask residential neighborhoods to think about how to integrate and move to more energy efficient homes.
Patch: I hear you’ve got basketball skills. How would you describe your game? Are you the best baller of the mayoral candidates?Barros: I’m absolutely the best baller of the mayoral candidates. I had fun with the 3-on-3. But my jump shot was off because I haven’t been playing enough so I had to go to my inside game. I play point, I’m a point guard, but I can play swing, depending upon the size of teams I’m playing against. I can play swing man, I like bodying up and playing down low.