School Committee logoSchool Committee at METCO in March. / METCO photo

UPDATED April 4: The School Committee unanimously passed the 2023-24 school year budget at its March 16 meeting, held at the office of the METCO program in Boston. The operating amount is $88.9 million. See the budget details here >>

METCO stands for Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities. The venerable voluntary busing program annually brings those children of color in Boston who wish to enroll in suburban schools to attend classes at campuses in Arlington and other communities. 

This appears to be the first time that Arlington’s School Committee has convened at METCO, according to Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth C. Homan. She noted that school committees from some other METCO-affiliated municipalities previously have done likewise. 

“Arlington was one of the first districts to join the [METCO] program in 1967, and we are proud to continue our partnership with them,” she told YourArlington via email recently. She said committee members and district personnel were happy to be there “to show our commitment to the program and to the Boston families who entrust their children's education to us every day.”

Fincom backed budget March 22

After its committee approval, the budget – the document is well over 200 pages -- went to the Finance Committee for consideration and was approved March 22. Going forward, “It is subject to approval by Town Meeting, who is the ultimate appropriator of funding for all department budgets in the town (including the schools).” APS is also known as the school department of the town.

This year, Town Meeting is expected to begin its sessions Monday and Wednesday evenings starting April 24 and will have approximately two months to complete its work.

As expected, the budget includes an action requested by the Arlington Education Association – upgrading the titles and pay of a group of Menotomy Preschool staffers now known as teaching aides.

“The reclassification of TAs at Menotomy is because TAs at that school are in an inclusion settings with a mix of students who have individualized education plans and students who do not; as a result, those paraprofessionals already have similar training and do many of the required duties of paraprofessionals who are paid at a higher level,” Homan said.

“Programmatically, it makes sense to reclassify all paraprofessionals at that school at the higher level, which also allows the administration to assign duties and hours associated with the Student Support Paraprofessional level,” she said.

Budget notables

Asked by YourArlington to point out aspects of the budget that may be of greatest interest to public-school families, she mentioned the following:

  • Staff to oversee expanded programming in the new Arlington High School;
  • Staff to provide special education and English-learning services to students who need it;
  • Additional interventionists in mathematics;
  • Two additional elementary librarians; and
  • Additional staff to address enrollment increases at the secondary level.
Contract, graffiti, hiring

In other business at the March 16 committee meeting:

  • As previously reported, the committee unanimously approved a “successor contract employment agreement” with Homan that provides a raise starting later this year and a bonus at the end of its five-year time span, in June 2028. “I am thrilled that we have put together this contract, and I am very excited about the leadership,” Committee Chair Liz Exton said.  “It is a strong vote of confidence in the superintendent,” committee member Paul Schlichtman said.
  • Homan referred briefly to the recent local incidents of hate graffiti vandalism earlier this month at two APS campuses and elsewhere in town. “We condemn these acts,” she said. 
  • “Hiring season” continues at APS, with recruiting continuing for elementary principals, nurses, special-education staff and at least three dozen other posts. 

 Arlington Public Schools have supported METCO from the very beginning, in the 1960s

School Committee logoMETCO walk in March. / METCO photo

Arlington Public Schools was part of the beginning of METCO -- the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity – and that association continues strong to this day. 

School Committee logo
A committee first to meet at the Boston organization. 

Via METCO, more than 70 Boston children of color currently ride two buses to attend APS schools. Half a dozen METCO seniors are set to graduate later this spring from Arlington High School. METCO is the nation’s largest voluntary school desegregation program, and one of the oldest.

Meanwhile, the interview process is about to begin for young Bostonians who have applied as new students for the coming school year, according to Richelle K. Smith, in charge of the METCO program of APS. It is a detailed process, as staff evaluate who is the right fit for commuting twice daily and being able to benefit from and succeed at Arlington campuses.

METCO in Arlington works well with other organizations in the town, Smith said. There is an ongoing Arlington-based group of supporters of METCO, plus a relatively new partnership with the Arlington Youth Counseling Center, or AYCC

Near-future plans, Smith said, include guided tours of area colleges for high-school and middle-school students.

Smith briefly described an existing program within METCO with what, at first, appears to have a counterintuitive name: Dropout Academy. However, it has nothing to do with exiting education early and everything to do with providing tools for success. It means to drop out of old, unhelpful ways of thinking – and to instead drop in to attitudes of emotional wellness, she said.

A dramatic decade

“METCO buses continue to do their job,” said METCO President/CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas, who, along with Smith, made presentations for about 40 minutes to the Arlington School Committee as part of the committee’s March 16 meeting, held at METCO headquarters in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.

The METCO buses “go to places where people want them,” such as Arlington and other welcoming suburbs, she said.

In a bit of understatement, Arbaje-Thomas said that “In the '70s, people did not want to integrate the schools.”

In fact, virtually all attempts at mandatory busing to bring students of different races to study together met violent opposition from white residents of Boston, a tumultuous time that has been documented in several non-fiction books, and so the effort ultimately was abandoned. Read about this history in a WBUR report >>

Arbaje-Thomas noted that some white students at the time did act welcoming toward nonwhite students.

Program's roots

METCO officially began in 1966, but its roots date to 1963, as the fledgling organization worked with other nonprofit groups seeking greater opportunity for African Americans, including the NAACP and Operation Exodus. 

According to the METCO website, some 3,100 Boston families of color now have their students in more than 30 participating public school districts including Arlington. The town was one of the seven original participating municipalities; the others were Braintree, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton and Wellesley, for a total of 220 students. Now, per a map on that website, some participating districts are as far away as Marblehead, Sudbury, Foxborough and Scituate.

Another statement on the website says that “METCO creates environments where students, parents and teachers of different backgrounds can appreciate diversity, find common ground through shared experiences, build lifelong inter-racial friendships, and strive toward the mutual goal of preparing young people to become global citizens.”

“We are different, we are unique and we are special,” Arbaje-Thomas said of METCO during the March 16 meeting. “We are not in competition with anybody, and nobody can compete with us.”

'What do you need?'

Toward the end of the presentation, which occurred after a tour of METCO’s offices but before the committee took up the rest of its agenda, committee member Paul Schlichtman said to Smith, “What do you need from us?” Smith replied. “We need buses. We need transportation. That is my one ask.”

Reached via email some days later, Schlichtman provided the following in explanation: "METCO is not funded by the school department budget. There is a separate revenue stream in the form of a state appropriation for the METCO program. That amount is subject to appropriation by the legislature, a number that is yet to be determined. In order to provide additional buses, we would need to bid it out for the transportation contract for the 2023-24 school year. "

Contacted via email over the weekend about the same question, Homan responded as follows: "Yes, we are working on a plan for additional transportation capacity for the METCO program using both resources we currently have and resources planned for in the FY24 budget. We are also sometimes able to leverage the METCO grant to expand transportation capacity for the program, depending on the final allocation, which we do not yet know."

At the most recent Arlington School Committee meeting, March 30, held at its regular meeting place at AHS, Superintendent Elizabeth C. Homan reported briefly on the “APS Annual Bridging Two Communities Family Walk hosted by Arlington METCO with a record turnout of over 100 community members.” That event, the third of its kind and including Arlingtonians, involved a walk around Boston to recognize METCO's history and accomplishments.

More news from that March 30 meeting will be reported in coming days.


Watch the March 16 meeting on ACMi:

March 7, 2023: Athletics, preschool, math, heterogeneous freshman English draw positive presentations


This news summary reported by YourArlington Assistant Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Wednesday, March 29, 2023. It was updated April 1, 2023, to add a photograph and a news-feature about Arlington's long relationship with METCO; on April 3,2023,  to add information from Superintendent Elizabeth Homan about METCO transportation financing; and on April 4, 2023, to add a photograph of the participants, including Arlingtonians, of the recent "Bridging Two Communities" walk in Boston..

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