The city of Boston is making a final decision Wednesday on who will be the next person to lead the school district. There are two finalists hoping to take the place of outgoing Brenda Casselliusas top administrator in the state's largest school district: Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper and Boston Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Tommy Welch. GBH News Learning Curve reporter Meg Woolhouse joined GBH’s Morning Edition hosts Jeremy Siegel and Paris Alston to talk about the upcoming vote. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Jeremy Siegel: The two people in the final stages of the interview process, they're both local. Why don't you remind us who they are, who we're looking at here?

Meg Woolhouse: We have two candidates for the job, Mary Skipper and Tommy Welch. Both are local former teachers and very competent and successful running networks of schools in Boston. Skipper improved graduation rates before she moved on to be superintendent in Somerville, and Welch improved attendance. Those are pluses for both of them. On the downside, neither finalist has managed a district as big as Boston's before.

Paris Alston: So from the get-go school committee members have wanted this process to be a very transparent one. But how much would you say that request has been honored?

Woolhouse: You know, it depends on who you talk to. Both candidates endured a full day of interviews, a gauntlet, really. There were public committees, meetings, public interviews. But what happens behind the scenes? That's always a question in politics. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has also benefited from a system that allows her to appoint a school committee. That same school committee will vote tonight on the superintendent. Now, Wu has pledged to make the school committee more democratic and return some of their members to elected roles. But that hasn't happened yet. So she's still got a lot of sway when it comes to the school committee.

"Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has pledged to make the school committee more democratic and return some of their members to elected roles. But that hasn't happened yet."
-GBH News Learning Curve Reporter Meg Woolhouse

Siegel: We've been following your reporting over the past week on criticisms that there's a lack of representation in the finalist pool of superintendents. Most recently, Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston NAACP, has been calling that out. Some people are going so far as to urge the committee to halt or reopen the process. Why has this been a sticking point in the finalists selection process?

Woolhouse: You have to go back to the city and the state's negotiations over receivership. The city and the state reached a late-hour agreement earlier this week that will allow them to go forward making fixes to the system. But some say that plan has actually, in some ways, sabotaged the number of candidates who are willing to run, who are willing to throw their names into the ring in the superintendent process. So Tanisha Sullivan at the Boston NAACP has been saying quite powerfully that this is the time, right now is the time, for such a big, important decision, for the city to reopen the process. And let me just add to that — she's not alone. There are longtime education activists, city religious leaders, academics, who are all pressuring the mayor to do the same. They're wondering how a school system where nearly 80 percent of the students identify as Black or Latinx can't find someone who's worked in an urban system like Boston's before.

Alston: Considering that the school committee is voting tonight, is there anything that can be done to address those concerns now? What's the possibility that the process actually would be stalled or reopened at this point?

Woolhouse: That's a really good question. It seems like the process is going to go forward. That's what the mayor's office is saying. They're saying that she's looking forward to the vote tonight. And there's been a lot of build up to this moment. So to change up now would really upset the apple cart and it would require some reshuffling of this with the state as well. They've reached this agreement with the city and that has certain timelines in it where improvements need to be made, and fast. So there is some time pressure here.

Siegel: Let's talk a little bit more about this agreement between the city, the school system and the state that avoids a receivership takeover from the state. They just made this agreement right as we're going to see the choice on who's going to become the next superintendent. What are the details about what's included in there?

"To change up now would really upset the apple cart and it would require some reshuffling of this with the state as well."
-GBH News Learning Curve reporter Meg Woolhouse

Woolhouse: It says the city has to urgently address problems in the schools,particularly around special education. It says that the district has really been failing its most vulnerable students. It also has criticized the district for releasing data that's just plain inaccurate, everything from graduation rates right down to the number of bathrooms it renovates every year in the district. So this agreement was reached by the city and the state. It avoids receivership, or a state takeover of the schools. And that's a very serious event, if and when that does happen. But they've avoided it. And the state will hire auditors who will evaluate programing and processes on the district's educational goals and give them $10 million to fix some of the problems over the next few years.

Alston: And that receivership, or the possibility of the whole agreement, has been the culmination of many issues within the Boston Public Schools system. Was this something that the state sort of used to influence the process of finding this new superintendent? And how will whoever is selected have to meet those expectations and turn things around?

Woolhouse: That's exactly right, Paris. They're saying that this has really tainted the process and caused a lot of problems. You can imagine if you're an applicant thinking about coming to lead a district that's had a lot of problems and the threat of receivership is hanging over your head, you're not going to be so inclined. You're not going to be quite so excited. And critics are saying that's why we have two local candidates. They're good. But the big question is, how will they help the district move forward? And neither has the experience on the scale.