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Back to School, Speak-Out Style…

Today the Finance Control Board held its last formal meeting of 2007 beginning with the traditional speak out. The meeting began nearly an hour late as the Control Board met in executive session.

After the speak-out, Stephen Lisauskas, Executive Director of the Control Board, presented Mayor Charles Ryan with a plaque and a imprint from an 1890’s issue of Harper’s Weekly featuring Springfield. Board members Nunes and Morton, along with Chairman Garbieli and Councilor Walsh provided additional accolades for the mayor. Today’s meeting was the last on which Ryan would serve as a member.

However, the most interesting points of the meeting, which WMassP&I did not stay for entirely, came during the speak-out. Yes, there was a handsome young man who passionately spoke in favor maintain funding to repair the Campanile of the city’s municipal group, but enough about me.

At least three speakers discussed the disposition of Schools Superintendent Joseph Burke. His tenure at the Schools Department has been tenuous at best. Questions circulate about his effectiveness and respect for employees within the School Department. At a minimum, he is reviled by some. Not since his predecessor, Peter Negroni has a school superintendent generated such controversy.

Both Lois Smith, the first speaker, and School Committee person Antonette Pepe had little positive to say about the current superintendent. Pepe correctly attributes any success in the schools in recent years to teachers and staff within the schools.
Teachers union leader Timothy Collins appeared to offer oblique support for Burke, but it would be wrong to actually call his comments that. Once the transcript becomes available, it may be necessary to redefine his commentary. One things is for such, Collins objected to the conclusions drawn by state education authorities with regard to Springfield schools. If what he says is true, the conclusions often paint a worse picture of Springfield than what is reality.

Pepe also produced a letter sent by the School Committee members, except for her, to Governor Deval Patrick that appeared to support Burke. In the letter the School Committee members stated that they wanted a say in the selection of a superintendent. In any event, , they invited Committee person-elect Chris Collins and not current member Pepe or Mayor Ryan, who, as mayor, is Chairman of the School Committee. According to some coverage from the Republican, the members praised Burke’s tenure as “a strong and progressive one.” Not so much.

Later on in the meeting, the Control Board agreed to launch a search for a new superintendent. The decision must have been influenced by Pepe’s impassioned speech, which also included charges that committee members were not acting impartially as many had relatives who work within the School Department. The board also directed the FCB executive director to rescind or amend Burke’s recommendation that Mazza-Moriarty be given a job managing the International Baccalaureate program. Were she to get the job, she would resign as a city councilor paving the way for great Friend of the Asselins’ former city councilor Morris Jones.

In any event, it appears that after doing fairly well to clean out 36 Court Street, the Finance Control Board now needs to turn its attention to 195 State, the School Dept. HQ. Although there had been contentious negotiations with the Teachers’ Union, finances in the School Dept. were never a huge problem. Ninety percent of its budget is paid for by the state and during the crisis, the wage freeze had been imposed there mostly to prevent grievances from being filed by the other unions. Therefore, the FCB’s most pressing goal had been a bit of housekeeping and the contracts, which included the wage freeze issue, as by that point the money was either gone or restoring it would raise the risk of other unions grievances again. Now it appears that the building needs to be sprayed for patronage.]

It seems strange that Burke would be able to slither into the political system so easily. He was from Florida and spends most of his weekends there. He was hated for that alone. He only rented a home up here. At least soon to be former Police Commissioner Flynn bought a dwelling in the city. Still somehow he got on the good side of the Mazza family, whose political establishment included former the former Clerk of Courts and Councilor Mazza-Moriarty. From there he must have gotten in good with the other committee members who either due to blindness, idiocy, or as Pepe implied, familial benefit, have gotten behind him. Either way, his days are numbered. With any luck, the School Committee might be in need of a good housecleaning, too.

The entire situation is difficult to completely assess. The inner politics of the School Committee and the Department are not as well known as the City Council or the Mayor’s office. Certainly, they are just as important as the City Council. The success of the schools are essential to bring families, particularly middle-class ones into the city. They cannot all go the city’s excellent Catholic schools, which are also suffering from fewer middle-class families in the city. But that’s for another time. For now, the media, both traditional and bloggers alike should do what they can to shine the spotlight on 195 State. Our children’s lives depend on it.

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