school committee

Marshalling a plan for former school building

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — City officials presented a plan to sell the former Thurgood Marshall Middle School on Porter Street on Thursday night, for a potential reuse that could include senior market-rate housing and a commercial component. But school officials opted to take no action.

City Council President Darren Cyr and James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, presented the option to the School Committee, requesting that the 19 Porter St. property be transferred to the Public Property Committee of the City Council to prepare a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit bids for its sale to a developer.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, chairwoman of the School Committee, said she was looking for the committee to make a motion to approve the transfer of the site, with a minimum asking price and timeline for when that sale could be complete. If those conditions weren’t met, the property would revert back to the School Committee.

School Committee members opted to set that minimum sales price at $4 million, and require the sale be completed within a year. The other condition set was that a School Committee member, John Ford, would sit on the RFP committee, the board responsible for preparing the document.

Ultimately, the School Committee opted to table a vote on the transfer of the property until their next meeting, upon a motion made by member Donna Coppola. Coppola said she wanted to take time to allow the committee’s attorney time to research the matter. Voting against the motion to table were Kennedy and Patricia Capano, vice-chair.

Cyr said the initial plan was to demolish the former Marshall Middle School, but a contractor reached out to city officials and wanted to buy it. His vision for the building wasn’t the vision the city had, but it let officials know there was interest in the property, Cyr said.

Lamanna said the cost to demolish the building is estimated at $2.2 million, which was part of the money bonded by the voters for the construction of the new Marshall Middle School, which opened last year on Brookline Street. If that money is not used for demolition, he said legally it could only be used for capital projects that could be bonded for 25 years, which would likely be for the construction of new buildings or additions on the school side. If the property is sold, he said the proceeds would go toward bondable projects more than five years. The proceeds would basically go into a reserve fund that would allow the city to plan ahead if, for example, a boiler in a building went.

Ford said he knows the issue is to sell the building and get some cash for the city in a cash drop situation, but he was hesitant about selling any more school property. He said there was some uncertainty about whether there would be any potential buyers, and he couldn’t see anybody paying big money for some place that’s going to cost lots of money to remediate.

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“We’re in a city where we’re land strapped,” Ford said. “We’re land poor. I don’t want to eliminate jobs on the city side. I don’t want to hurt anybody, but I really find myself in a position where it’s going to be hard for me to vote to give up any land.”

Kennedy was in favor of the transfer. For 25 years being in public life, she said she also disagreed with selling public land and felt that in most cases, it was better to bank that land.

“The reason why I’m capitulating on this particular piece of land, is that first of all it’s not big enough to build a new modern middle school, so that idea is right out,” Kennedy said. “So, it would only be usable for an elementary school or something of that size. It’s not appropriate for a police or a fire station or anything because it’s basically, it’s on a residential street.”

She said she was more comfortable letting go of this piece of land, because it wouldn’t even be appropriate for a new Cobbet or Tracy Elementary School, because it would be out of that general area of the city.

“And in light of the difficulties that we’re having making the budget come together in this year, it seems like a piece of land that may not be as valuable to the city as someplace that was located deeper into West Lynn,” Kennedy said.

Cyr said an RFP would potentially be to solicit bids for a mixed use, which would include senior market-rate apartments, as well as some commercial use, such as doctors’ offices that would cater to seniors. A small portion of those units, because of federal funding, could be allocated as affordable, he added. He said there is a true need for senior housing at marketable rate in Lynn.

Lamanna said the building was last assessed at $8 million. He said the Massachusetts School Building Authority funded the new Marshall Middle School because the assessment was that the old school on Porter Street was beyond repair. Cyr said it would cost upwards of $50 million to bring the former school up to today’s standards, for it to be restructured for a school use.

Cyr said he was a lot more hopeful after Thursday’s meeting that the transfer would be approved by the School Committee.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Peabody lays off on initial job-cut fears

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — It was a night of hard choices and lots of math for the School Committee this week as they made the final decisions on the 2017-18 school year budget.

A public hearing on the nearly $71.9 million school budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 6 at 7:30 p.m.

At the most recent budget hearing Tuesday night, the committee added back several positions that had been cut from the budget initially presented by Interim Superintendent Herb Levine earlier this month. Those additions were the result of several cuts recommended by Levine, as well as an additional $108,000 added back into the budget by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.

“This is one of the hardest times we have when we are weighing one position versus another,” said School Committee member Brandi Carpenter.

Earlier this month, Levine presented a budget of close to $70 million for Fiscal Year 2018. To meet that number, the superintendent proposed cutting about 15 teaching positions from the schools, nearly half of which would have come through retirement or vacancies.

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But Bettencourt added an additional $1.5 million into the budget, and last week, the School Committee made use of those funds to bring back a handful of teaching positions, primarily at the elementary levels, including a third grade teacher at the Center School and physical education and health department heads at the elementary and secondary levels.

Committee members also added back about $50,000 in funds for supplies and textbooks that Levine had recommended cutting from the budget to help make up a potential shortfall.

“Many of our teachers are already spending so much out of their pockets every year for supplies,” said committee member Joseph Amico.

As School Committee member Jarrod Hochman made the majority of motions regarding the final trimming of the budget, he said they were all made with one goal in mind.

“We have the most value by having teachers in front of the students,” he said. “These are hard decisions, but they are worth it if we can put a teacher back in front of students at the Carroll or Center School.”

Riley offers new point of view in Saugus

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is former School Committee member Corinne Riley.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Former School Committee member Corinne Riley is vying for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

“Watching Board of Selectmen meetings and other committee meetings, I feel that at times there’s not that many different point of views during discussion,” said Riley. “I think that more people can be represented in town.”

Riley hopes to bring a different perspective. As a volunteer at many different capacities for several years, she said she has seen the needs and heard the concerns of different community groups.

She has served as the chair of the Saugus War Monument Committee, a member of the Belmonte Renovation Steering Committee; Belmonte School Council; Belmonte Parent Teacher Organization; an executive board member, league manager, and coach for Saugus Softball Little League; a religious educator at St. Margaret Parish in Saugus for eight years; co-chair of the Saugus Coalition for the Homeless; and campaign manager for the re-election of state Rep. Donald Wong.

“One of my strong points is my ability to work with all groups,” Riley said. “I have dealt with many personalities especially while volunteering. You have to be able to give and take and negotiate, for lack of a better word, to get things done. I’m an independent thinker but I have the ability to change my mind if someone has a better argument.”

While serving two terms on the School Committee, she advocated for salary increases for teachers and paraprofessionals that work with special education students, for new science labs, and proposed to lower extracurricular user fees. She worked with the Saugus Chamber of Commerce to bring back the student job fair at Saugus High School in 2014, which has since become an annual event.

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When she learned the Ballard Early Education Center was the only school with a defibrillator, she advocated for private donations to fund defibrillators in each school, she said.

“There are other things that could be addressed that, at this time, people don’t seem to want to discuss,” she said.

Riley said the new combination high school and middle school project is a priority for her. But she also sees strong needs in other parts of the town. She strongly believes the Fire Department needs to expand to include a third station on the west side of town.

“With all the development and planning for Route 1, we really do need another fire station,” she said. “That’s really something I would like to pursue. Route 1 will be invaded with more traffic and more people.”

It’s also imperative to conduct a more thorough census, she said.

“I really think this town would benefit from a town-wide, door-knocking census,” she said. “We need to be interviewing people and talking to them and getting the real numbers.”

Higher numbers could qualify the town for additional state financial aid, she said. It would also support the notion that an additional fire station is necessary.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemilve.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

For Colucci challenger, youth are priority

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Eliud Alcala, who is running for Ward 4 City Councilor.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Eliud Alcala has launched a campaign to unseat the city’s longest serving city councilor.

The 41-year-old family counseling doctoral candidate is making his first bid for public office against Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci, who has served on the panel for 15 years.

“I want to represent all of Ward 4 and offer voters an alternative,” he said.

Alcala, the former campaign manager for School Committeewoman Maria Carrasco, said if elected his first priority will be to implement youth programs.

“We should provide career pathways and programs that engage youth in our community,” he said.

He was unsure about the cost of the new initiatives such as an English as a Second Language program he would like to see relaunched at the Ford Elementary School.

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“That program helped lots of people and we need to seek grants and be creative to pay for it,” he said.

He has also proposed that the city hire an interpreter to assist Spanish-speaking residents seeking services at City Hall.

“As I knock on doors in the ward, people tell me translators are not available at City Hall,” he said.

Alcala said he did not know how much such a position would cost or how the new post would be paid for amid the city’s budget crunch.

He does favor implementation of the .0075 percent meals tax option under consideration by the City Council that would add about $700,000 to the city’s coffers annually. In addition, he voted to support construction of two middle schools in the special election last month which was defeated.

The West Lynn resident was born in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City where he was raised by his parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico. The family moved to Lynn in 2000.  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Marblehead voters make their selection

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Paul Jalbert posts election results.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — The Town Election brought a new member to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, but also featured a low voter turnout.

Mark C. Moses Grader, chairman of the Finance Committee, was elected to a one-year term on the five-member board. He received the most votes of the Selectmen candidates with 1,899.

Grader has been a member of the Finance Committee for nine years, and chairman for the past five. He is the co-founder and managing partner of Little Harbor Advisors, an investment management firm based in Marblehead. He is married with two sons, who were educated through Marblehead schools.

“I’m very proud and honored to be elected, and it’s the culmination of a lot of teamwork and effort,” Grader said. “I’m just really pleased.”

The four incumbents — Jackie Belf-Becker, who serves as chairwoman, Harry Christensen Jr., Judith Jacobi, and James Nye — retained their seats. Nye received 1,807 votes, Jacobi had 1,783, Belf-Becker received 1,686, and Christensen had 1,535 ballots cast in his favor.

John Liming, a former selectman, was the other challenger, but did not gain a seat after receiving 819 votes.

Bret Murray was the other member of the Board of Selectmen up for re-election, but decided not to run for another term.

A term on the Board of Selectmen is only for one year, so incumbents have to run annually.

Voter turnout was 16 percent.

In switching boards, Grader said he was eager to go from an oversight role to a decision-making and executive role in Marblehead town government.

Grader said his No. 1 priority is to make sure Marblehead continues to be fiscally very sound. The financial health of the town is what makes every other initiative possible, he added.

Belf-Becker, an attorney, has lived in Marblehead for 41 years. She and her husband have been married for almost 43 years, and have two children who have gone through Marblehead Public Schools. She has been on the Board of Selectmen since 2005, and has been chairwoman for nine years, not all consecutively. Previously, she served six years on the School Committee, including three as chairwoman.

“I’m thrilled,” Belf-Becker said. “I’m very grateful to the voters for letting me serve another term … I think that we work really well together as a board and Moses will be a fabulous addition. I think that together, we do a good job for the town and that’s what matters most to all of us.”

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Belf-Becker said she would be focused on collective bargaining agreements, which all have to be renegotiated in early 2018, making sure that all budgetary needs continue to be met, and seeing what projects are coming down the pipeline.

Nye, a Marblehead native, is the president and CEO of National Grand Bank in Marblehead. He was first elected to the board in 2005. His three daughters were raised in the town.

Nye said it was a great honor to be re-elected. He said a fantastic team has been created, with the town administrator, finance director and the department heads.

“The town is really running efficiently,” he said. “I’m honored to keep it moving forward in a fiscally responsible manner. We welcome Moses to the team.”

Nye said the focus is always on the budget, and also said the priority would be on collective bargaining agreements.

Jacobi has served on the board since 2000. While running, she cited the importance of her years as a classroom teacher and a calm temperament that allows her to evaluate situations and listen to concerns.

“I’m very pleased,” Jacobi said. “It says a lot for the incumbents, and I think that altogether, we’re a good team.”

Going forward, Jacobi said her hope was to keep Marblehead the stable town that it is. Sometimes, she said, it’s more exciting to say people want change, but if the wheel is working, keep it rolling.

Christensen has served on the board for about 20 years since the 1990s on three different stints. He has been practicing law in Marblehead for more than 30 years. He is married with two children, and has three grandchildren. He has lived in Marblehead all his life, with the exception a year he spent in the United States Marine Corps.

Christensen was not at Abbot (Town) Hall for results or to comment on his re-election.  

In the only other contested race, Rufus Titus defeated Rose Ann Wheeler McCarthy 1,514 to 803 for a three-year term on the Cemetery Commission.

Other uncontested races were for Moderator, Assessors, Board of Health, Abbot Public Library Trustees, Municipal Light Commission, Planning Board, Recreation and Parks Commission, School Committee, and the Water and Sewer Commission.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Saugus to give streets a facelift

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SAUGUS Town Meeting members zipped through most of the warrant on Monday with little to no discussion.

Town Meeting members voted to raise and appropriate $642,035 for street resurfacing, handicapped ramps and sidewalks, which will be reimbursed by the state under Chapter 90.

Town Meeting also authorized the treasurer, with the Board of Selectmen, to borrow $662,100 at 0 percent interest from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Local Pipeline Assistance Program for designing and constructing improvements to the water pipelines.

Members voted to appropriate $224,212 from the premium paid to the town upon the sale of bonds issued to repair the Belmonte Middle School, which is the subject of a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion, to pay costs of the project being financed by such bonds and to reduce the amount authorized to be borrowed for the project, but not yet issued by the town, by the same amount.

An article requesting that Town Meeting vote to create a study committee that would evaluate benefits and costs associated with Saugus Public Schools providing free, all-day kindergarten was referred back to the School Committee.

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A revolving fund was reauthorized for supporting recreational programs for the community. Revolving funds were also reauthorized to support the water system cross-connection program, programs and activities at the Senior Center, the Senior Lunch Program at the Senior Center, and the Town of Saugus Compost Program.

The only debate was centered around whether a nonbinding resolution, not listed on the warrant, should be read and voted on. Town Meeting members were torn on whether the resolution, made by another member, Albert DiNardo, should be read.

Ultimately, a vote allowed the resolution to be read by DiNardo, which says that the cost of health insurance for Saugus employees and retirees is increasing at a double digit percentage rate.

“The projected FY18 cost of health insurance for Saugus is $13.3 million of an approximately $90 million Saugus annual budget,” the resolution reads. “Let it be resolved that the Saugus Finance Committee provide the Saugus Town Meeting with an analysis of past health care costs, trends, and provide a three- to five-year future forecast of costs and report back to the Town Meeting.”

The resolution passed after a roll call vote.

Town Meeting will reconvene on Monday, May 22, to take up the rest of the articles on the warrant.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

School spending boost under mayor’s budget

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — The Malden Public Schools will get $2 million more in its budget for Fiscal Year 2018 under a proposal submitted by Malden Mayor Gary Christenson.

The mayor presented his school budget to the School Committee totaling $69,218,947 for the spending year that starts July 1. That amount represents a proposed $1.99 million increase over the $67,388,193 the schools received last year.

Christenson, who serves as the School Committee as chairman, did note the city would have to use funds from its cash reserve “rainy day” funds to make the overall city budget proposal work this coming fiscal year.

“We should not be using what we are using to balance the budget,” he said, adding, “but we should be able to avoid this method in the future.”

He said continuing revenue from real estate growth “shows that Malden is growing and Malden is alive.”

In a change from past city practice for school budgets, the spending plan proposed by the mayor this year has the school superintendent’s endorsement. In past years, superintendents presented separate budget figures.

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During all five years of former Superintendent David DeRuosi’s tenure, the school budget proposal number from the superintendent came in higher than the figure proposed by the mayor.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Charles Grandson IV said cooperation was the key to getting a meeting of the minds with Christenson on school spending.

“We worked together to get to the figure we feel is needed (for the school budget),” Dr. Grandson said.

The School Committee’s budget subcommittee will meet three more times in the next three weeks to review the mayor’s budget proposal before submitting it for approval to the Malden City Council.

Christenson said the proposed school budget includes one large budget line item that was unexpected and factored into the budget.

He explained that $1.7 million had been budgeted for special education transportation expenditure. But that contract had expired with local provider Malden Transportation and the company’s new proposal was a three-year contract at $3 million per year.  The mayor said as a stopgap, a one-year, $2.55 million contract had been been negotiated with that company.

He told the committee on Monday that the school spending proposal follows state-mandated net spending guidelines.

Signs of the times in May Day march

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Marchers move down Andrew Street.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — In what was described as the city’s biggest May Day rally in years, more than 200 protesters lined City Hall Square on Monday to support immigrant and workers rights.

As Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” blared over speakers, activists held signs that read: “Everybody is an Immigrant,” “Nobody is Illegal,” “Housing is a Human Right,” and “No to Gentrification.”

“We have an administration in Washington who does not treat us with respect,” said Maria Carrasco, a Lynn School Committeewoman. “Silence is not an option. We must demand respect with dignity. We are human beings who are here and we are staying here.”

The annual May Day celebration had its roots in Chicago in the late 19th century, as unions lobbied for fair working conditions, better wages, and the eight-hour work day with strikes and demonstrations nationwide. People from all backgrounds celebrated Lynn’s history as a home for immigrants and as a leader in the fight for dignity, respect and a living wage for workers.

Carrasco said without immigrants, many service industry jobs would go unfilled.

“Nobody will do the jobs that we do,” she said. “Nobody will clean hotels or work in restaurants if we don’t do it. At the same time, we must demand that employers respect us with good pay.”

Jeff Crosby, president of the North Shore Labor Council, told the crowd that today’s worker challenges are about fair wages and embracing immigrants.

“In Chicago in 1886 workers dreamed of justice and eight-hour day so they could have time for their families and church,” he said. “Today, workers dream of a $15 minimum wage and a city without hatred where everyone is welcome regardless of where they’re from. We dream of fair pay for our teachers who educate our kids. They should not have to compete with police and firefighters for crumbs.”

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Among the marchers were dozens of Lynn teachers who protested the lack of a contract.

The three-year deal, which expired last summer, called for a two percent raise annually for the last three school years.

“We are celebrating our students and protesting the lack of progress in the negotiations,” said Brant Duncan, president of the Lynn Teachers Union.

He acknowledged that these are tough times for the city as Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy has asked department heads to trim their budgets.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing different organizations in the city being pitted against each other,” Duncan said. “The city is obligated under law to meet the minimum spending requirements and we are very mindful that the city has reached agreement with other unions this year with raises of between 2 and 2½ percent.”

In February, the firefighters reached a $2.5 million deal that provides a retroactive 2 percent raise for each of fiscal years 2015 and 2016, a 2.5 percent hike for 2017, another 2 percent for 2018 and on June 30, 2018 they will collect another 1 percent.

Last year, the $2.2 million four-year police contract called for an 8 percent retroactive pay, a 1 percent boost for 2014, a 2 percent increase for 2015, 2016 and 2017 and a 1 percent raise for 2018.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Bettencourt announces re-election bid

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Peabody Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. is pictured in a file photo.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY Recent Peabody mayors have a habit of sticking around awhile.

Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. recently announced that he is seeking a fourth term as the city’s leader.

Bettencourt is only the fourth mayor Peabody has seen since Nicholas Mavroules was elected in 1966. Since then, mayors’ tenures have been more likely to be measured in decades than terms, with Peter Torigian serving for 23 years followed by a decade of leadership by Michael Bonfanti.

Bettencourt said he is proud of what he has helped the city accomplish in his first three terms and looks to continue to move the city forward.

“Our focus on economic development, education, public safety, quality of life and affordability has helped make Peabody one of the most desirable cities to live in all of Massachusetts,” Bettencourt said.

In a re-election statement, Bettencourt pointed to several accomplishments that have taken place during his administration, including the construction of the new Higgins Middle School and the redesign and beautification of Peabody Square.

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Other highlights of his first three terms include the completion of the South Peabody Trail Network, the dredging of Crystal Lake, taking over the management of Tillie’s Farm on Lynn Street, and an increase in the number of firefighters assigned to the city’s neighborhood stations from two to three.

“I am committed to maintaining Peabody’s affordability while still investing in our future and delivering the core services that residents expect,” Bettencourt said. “I love this city and I love this job. If the voters see fit, I will continue to give it my very best every single day.”

Bettencourt, who ran unopposed in 2015, has yet to see any challengers take out papers to run against him this year. Potential candidates have until July 21 to take out nomination papers, and those papers must be filed by July 25 with at least 50 certified signatures. The preliminary election is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 12 and the final election is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

There’s already been a good amount on interest in City Council seats, both in several of the six wards and for the five at-large positions. There will be at least two new faces on the council come 2018, as Councilor-at-Large Tom Walsh will be focusing on his position as a state representative, and Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz has said he will not be running for re-election this year.

Potential at-large council candidates who have taken out nomination papers as of Monday morning include incumbents Tom Gould, David Gravel, and Anne-Manning Martin. School Committee member Tom Rossignoll, Ryan Melville, Stephen Collins, and Peter Bakula have also taken out papers.

In the wards, incumbents who have taken out papers include Ward 1 Councilor Jon Turco, Ward 2 Councilor Peter McGinn, Ward 3 Councilor James Moutsoulas, Ward 4 Councilor Ed Charest, and Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw. Michael Geomelos and Margaret Tierney have taken out papers to replace Sinewitz in Ward 6. Other potential challengers for the incumbents include Bukia Chalvire in Ward 4 and James Jeffrey and Andrew Diamond in Ward 5.

 

Saugus Town Meeting is at play

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Town Meeting agreed to appropriate $1 million for the town’s parks and playgrounds Monday night.

Two articles passed pertaining to the parks: one for $500,000 to repair and maintain existing playgrounds and a second for $500,000 to add security, lighting and cameras to three parks – Bristow Street Park, Veteran’s Elementary School and Belmonte Middle School.

“It seems we’re spending a lot of money on things we don’t really need,” said William Cash, a Saugus police officer. “When the Town Manager gets up here and talks about priorities – I think police and fire deserve to be priorities. So far this year, we’ve given half a million to parks and playgrounds and it looks like it’s going to be another half a million. I read different things are being allocated in this article – $30,000 for seesaws and some sort of fire engine playground equipment. The priority should be more on the town employees than $100,000 on a lacrosse wall.

“Last night a police officer told me he’s collecting food stamps,” Cash said. “That is completely unacceptable and that needs to be a priority. We didn’t ask for much in our negotiations and we deserve to be treated a little bit better by our community.”

But Town Manager Scott Crabtree said the money will be used for much-needed repairs to parks, some of which haven’t seen updates in half a decade. Improvements to Stackpole field and removing apparatuses such as steel slides are on the list.

“We’re ready to start doing this work immediately so that people can enjoy (the parks) this spring rather than waiting for the Annual (Town Meeting) to close,” Crabtree said. “The Department of Public Works will produce a short list for each playground. There are still a lot of safety issues – kids are getting hurt.”

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The second allocation will allow the installation of security cameras on the parks and around the perimeters of the parks and schools. The cameras will have remote access so police officers can monitor the parks on their laptops, Crabtree said.

Gregory Nickolas, director of Youth and Recreation, voiced his support for the motions. Nickolas said the fields are in deplorable conditions and many of the parks are dangerous.

A few Town Meeting members questioned why all of the articles had to be taken up in a special meeting and whether it had to do with tying up funds right out of the gate.

School Committee Member Peter Manoogian and several residents spoke about the School Department’s need for more funding and questioned whether the town really needed to move $1.5 million into the Stabilization Fund to maintain its bond rating or if a lesser amount would have the same effect. Many suggested cutting the number to $1.2 million and using the excess elsewhere, such as in the schools or to go toward the pumping station repairs. Parents hoped the money could be used to avoid the School Department’s proposed solution to closing the budget gap by closing the Ballard Early Education Center and increasing class sizes.

“Why couldn’t it have waited until Article 8 at the annual – was it to tie the money up? Perhaps,” said Manoogian.

Ultimately Town Meeting voted 35-3 to transfer the full $1.5 million in free cash to the fund.

Town Meeting members voted unanimously to support an article to borrow $4.3 million to fund the first two phases of improvement projects to the town’s main pumping station on Lincoln Avenue.

The station, constructed in the 1980s, has a poor design and is in need of a permanent bypass, said Crabtree. Saugus Public Schools was also allocated $82,000 for the one-time purchase of Chromebooks.

The annual meeting was suspended until next Monday, May 6, when members will take up the remaining issues.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

Lynn teachers step up on May Day

FILE PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Brant Duncan, president of the Lynn Teacher’s Union, says that this year at the May Day March there will be a focus with regards to their contract.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

 

LYNN — Lynn teachers will participate in today’s May Day March in support of their students and for a fair contract.

The “May Day March for Immigrant and Worker Rights” is scheduled for 4 p.m. at City Hall. Activists are inviting people from all backgrounds to celebrate Lynn’s history as a home for immigrants and as a leader in the fight for dignity, respect and a living wage for workers. The annual event takes place in cities nationwide.

Brant Duncan, president of the Lynn Teachers Union, said Lynn teachers have marched annually in the event, but this year, there’s some focus with regards to their contract. The union has been in contract negotiations with the School Committee since September. He said their contract expired in Aug. 2016.

“It’s been a difficult time for kids and we want to reaffirm our love for teaching all of our students, from across the world,” said Duncan. “Diversity is one of our many assets here in Lynn, so it’s two-fold. We march in support of our students and for a fair contract.”

The Lynn Teachers Union, in their notice for the event, said “our students and their families deserve safe, welcoming schools, and educators deserve a fair contract to support the work we do with our students.”

“Our teachers and support staff are proud to work with students from all over the world,” reads the notice. “We believe our schools should be safe havens for children and their families, and we deserve a fair contract to support our work with all children.”

Duncan said contract negotiations will be conducted with the School Committee in executive session, and would not share the terms publicly, but reiterated that the union was looking to reach an agreement that is fair.

Coinciding with the march is the “Build Schools, Not Walls,” Campaign, as part of The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which describes itself as fighting to reclaim the promise of public education as the nation’s gateway to a strong democracy and racial and economic justice. “Every community deserves quality public schools where immigrants are welcome and kids and families are safe, respected and loved,” reads a description of the campaign.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

City seeking student sanctuary

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — The School Committee adopted a policy to protect students from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“It would be bad if we turned our backs on these kids,” said Oscar Ross, who has a daughter in Lynn Public Schools who dreams of being both a police officer and a cook. “If we don’t give them the chance to be what they want to be.”

Mary Sweeney, a retired teacher, said that during her career, students had to worry about getting their homework done.

“I never faced situations of kids being deeply afraid,” said Sweeney. “I think with the issues of immigration and ICE — it’s a reality.”

The panel voted unanimously to adopt a policy that affirms the schools are safe and welcoming sanctuaries for all students, regardless of their immigration status. The document said the resolutions are intended to ensure that all Lynn Public Schools students have the same right to a free, public education and will be treated equally.

“The mission of Lynn Public Schools is to maintain a multicultural school community dedicated to the realization of the full intellectual, physical, social and emotional potential of its students,” reads the resolution. “The city is enriched and strengthened by its diverse cultural heritage, multinational population, and welcoming attitude toward newcomers.”

Committee member John Ford pointed out that while he agreed with where the resolutions were coming from, he believed they were only reaffirming what the district already does. Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham agreed.

“I believe we have welcoming schools and that our teachers are wonderful and welcoming,” said Latham. “We have not had a case where ICE has come into our schools.”

She added that she believes ICE is restricted from taking immigrants into custody at schools and churches.

“Rather than us saying we already do that, we’ll be able to say that we have a policy for that,” said committee member Donna Coppola. “I think it would be a huge reassurance to our students. Let’s be upfront and be what we are — a proud community — and show others that we care.”

Immigrant-worker march set for Monday

Latham and committee members expressed concerns about a resolution included in the original draft that prohibited federal immigration law enforcement officers, or personnel assisting them, from entering a school building.

“I worry about training teachers not to allow law enforcement to come into the building,” she said.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy added that she was “very uncomfortable” with the section of the resolution because it should be recognized that federal law supersedes local law.

“It seems to me that it’s not a valid exercise of a city’s rights in the presence of federal government,” she said.

The panel amended the resolution to state that law enforcement can enter the building, but must remain in the main office until his or her credentials are verified and the superintendent is notified. The vote will be subject to final approval of the language.

Under the policy, the district will not inquire about, record, or request information intended to reveal the immigration status of a student or their family members. They will not disclose private information without parental consent, and staff will refuse to share all voluntary information with immigration agencies to the fullest extent permissible by the law.

All requests for information from a student’s education record will be immediately forwarded to the School Department’s attorney. The motion also noted that the district does not ask for immigration status when families register children for school.

A letter will be sent to parents and staff summarizing the resolutions in simple language. A list of all available resources, including community-based organizations and legal service organizations, will be provided to each student and made available at each school. It will be translated when necessary. Teachers will be trained on the policy before the start of the school year, when they become familiarized with all other policies.

In the next 90 days, Latham will be expected to develop a plan for training teachers, administrators and other staff on the new policy and best practices for ensuring the wellbeing of students, who may be affected by immigration enforcement actions. The plan will be implemented within five months.Legis

A copy of the resolution will be submitted to the Massachusetts Attorney General and to Lynn’s federal, state, and local legislative representatives.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

 

Taking a pulse in Swampscott

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Naomi Dreeben, left, Michael McClung, and Laura Spathanas retained their seats.

Low voter interest in Swampscott on Tuesday still managed to produce changes in the political landscape. Just over 10 percent of the town’s voters cast ballots and the results, once counted, produced upsets in two town boards.

Voters, perhaps tellingly, ousted the chairman of the Library Trustees and the chairman of the Board of Health. Outgoing Trustees Chairman Herrick Wales and Martha Dansdill, the current health board chairwoman, are respected civic volunteers who brought experience and dedication to their service on behalf of the town.

Emily Cilley and Ellen Winkler ran smart campaigns built on strong qualifications to win election, respectively, to the health board and library trustees. But what was going through the minds of town voters when they decided to make changes on two boards most town residents know little or nothing about?

The 13 percent voter turnout on Tuesday may have been a reflection of Cilley and Winkler’s ability to identify their supporters and get them to the polls. Bear in mind, both women won election by a few dozen votes with Cilley beating Dansdill 678 to 579 votes and Winkler besting Wales 619 to 567 votes.

Elections on a national level or a town level are won because smart, organized candidates know who supports them and make sure those voters get to the polls. Give Cilley and Winkler credit for running effective campaigns. But town voters who bothered to cast ballots this week might have walked into the polls convinced it’s time for a change in Swampscott, beginning with new blood on a couple town boards.

2 incumbents out in Swampscott

It is interesting to note that voters did not make any changes to School Committee membership. Tuesday’s election may have been a case of civic-minded town residents sending a message to local government about the need for attention to details. By voting new faces onto the health board and library trustees, voters may have been urging town officials to look carefully at how well government is or isn’t working in Swampscott.

The town, to be sure, has a magnificent library with a vibrant programming schedule and the Board of Health, Planning Board, and other volunteer committees and boards attract committed and intelligent town residents.

But Swampscott also has significant challenges it needs to address on a large and sweeping scale. How and when will it build new schools? Are business districts defined and zoned for the best benefit of the town? What will happen to the Marian Court property? Is a rail trail a good idea and why?

These are big questions to ask in a small town and they may have been on the minds of the voters who took the time to cast ballots on Tuesday. In the course of electing Cilley and Winkler, residents who turned out to vote may have asked themselves, “We’ve got a lot to get done in Swampscott and maybe it’s time to restock the talent shelf when it comes to people willing to do the nitty gritty work involved in making a representative government run effectively.”

It’s an interesting question to contemplate and Tuesday’s election might turn out to be the proverbial snowball that sets a political avalanche in motion.

2 incumbents out in Swampscott

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Michael McClung photographs the election results as Laura Spathanas looks on.

SWAMPSCOTT — The Town Election had a low voter turnout on Tuesday, but featured two upsets, with the chairs of the Board of Health and the Trustees of the Public Library losing their seats.

Emily Cilley, a registered nurse, defeated Martha Dansdill, 678 to 579 for a seat on the Board of Health. Dansdill is the current chairwoman on the board, which she has been on for three terms and nine years.

Herrick Wales, a schoolteacher in Marblehead and chairman of the Library Trustees, was defeated by Ellen Winkler, an attorney in Marblehead and president of Friends of the Swampscott Public Library. Winkler, who was elected for a three-year term, received 619 votes to 567 for Wales.

The third contested race on the ballot was for School Committee, which saw the two incumbents, Suzanne Wright and Gargi Cooper, retain their seats for a second, three-year term, holding off a challenge from Melissa Camire. Wright was the top vote getter, receiving 876 votes, Cooper received 774 votes, while Camire had 524 votes.

Voter turnout was 13 percent.

“It’s been my privilege to serve on the Board of Health for these nine years,” said Dansdill, the former executive director of HealthLink, a North Shore environmental nonprofit organization, who now serves on its Board of Directors. “I wish Emily Cilley much success on the board.”

Cilley, who works for Northeast Clinical Services and as a substitute nurse in town, said she felt “amazing” after winning a seat on the board, and that she didn’t know what to expect before the results. She said she felt nervous, as Dansdill has been on the board for a long time, but was delighted.

Cilley, who was elected to a three-year term, said two issues she would be focused on are the opioid crisis and the health of the children in town. As a substitute nurse, she said she sees children in the schools, and gets to see all of the concerns happening.

“I want to focus on the health of our children and making sure we are aware of what their stresses are,” Cilley said.

When running, both Library Trustee candidates said it was an exciting time for the library, which is in the midst of its yearlong centennial celebration. The building on Burrill Street turned 100 on Jan. 20. The Friends group finances library programs and is funding the celebrations. Winkler said she would have to step down as president for her new role, but could remain a member of the Friends group.

“That’s wonderful,” Winkler said upon hearing the results. “I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m really glad.

Transforming the city’s waterfront

“I hope people will continue to celebrate the library this year and pay attention to what a great resource it is,” Winkler continued. “I look forward to working with people and making great plans for the future.”

She said her focus would be on figuring out how to use the library space in the best way possible.

“I want to congratulate Mrs. Winkler on her election as Library Trustee,” said Wales, who was running for a second, three-year term. “She is an avid supporter of the library and she will devote her energies and talents to further enrich our great library.”

Wright said she was excited to be re-elected to School Committee. She said her focus would be on facilities, a technology plan for the schools, a new school building, and getting the budget under control.

Superintendent Pamela Angelakis recently submitted two statements of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, one for replacement of Hadley Elementary School and the other with the intent to renovate Swampscott Middle School.

Cooper said she was happy and excited, and grateful for the votes and support from the community. To move the school district forward, she said continuity on the board is the best way. For her next term, she said her focus would be on technology, facilities and stabilizing the budget.

In an uncontested race for Board of Selectmen, Naomi Dreeben and Laura Spathanas, chair and vice-chair respectively, were re-elected for a second, three-year term.

“I feel great,” Dreeben said. “I’m excited about what the next three years is going to hold for us and I’m pleased to be working with Sean (Fitzgerald), our new town administrator.”

For her next term, Dreeben said she will work hard to support the school’s vision and plans. She hopes to be able to do some economic development to be more proactive about bringing new businesses to town.

Spathanas said “it’s an honor” to be elected to the board. She said she hopes she can take the fact that she and Dreeben didn’t have any competition as people being happy that they are serving them and with the direction the town is going. She said her focus would be on a long-term capital plan, looking at the master plan, and prioritizing what the town needs and wants.

Another uncontested race was for Planning Board. Angela Ippolito, chairwoman, was re-elected for a second, five-year term. The Town Moderator race was also uncontested, with Michael McClung re-elected for a second, one-year term.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Marblehead candidates stake out positions

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — Board of Selectmen candidates got an opportunity to state their cases to voters during on a forum Monday night, leading up to the May 9 Town Election.

A term on the five-member board of selectmen is only for one year, so incumbents have to run annually. Six candidates are running to fill five seats. Four incumbents are vying to retain their seats and two challengers are looking to get on the board.

Jackie Belf-Becker, who serves as chairwoman, Harry Christensen Jr., Judith Jacobi and James Nye have each decided to run for re-election. Bret Murray decided not to run for another term. John Liming and Mark C. Moses Grader are each running to become selectmen.

The four incumbents and two challengers faced off at the Marblehead League of Women Voters’ Candidates Night at the Marblehead High School Library. The forum was moderated by Jeff Shribman, a former selectman.

Belf-Becker, an attorney, said she has lived in Marblehead for 41 years. Her husband of almost 43 years is a lifelong resident. Their two children have gone through Marblehead Public Schools. She is running for her 13th term on the Board of Selectmen and has been chairwoman for nine years, not all consecutively. Previously, she served six years on the School Committee, including three as chairwoman.

“I believe that understanding the town, the budget process and the need to be fiscally responsible while addressing the services Marbleheaders rely on are key factors to one’s success as a selectman,” Belf-Becker said. “We don’t reinvent the wheel here. We keep it rolling smoothly and seemingly effortlessly.”

Belf-Becker said the town has consistently received a Triple A bond rating, which she said speaks volumes to the strong financial position of the town. Also reflecting that strength, she said, is the lower than most tax rate. She said the town has not had a general override for the past 12 years, largely due to fiscal planning.

One of the key issues for the board, Belf-Becker said, is that all collective bargaining agreements have to be renegotiated in early 2018. She said successful, fair, and good faith negotiations are beneficial for both sides, and an experienced board is best able to handle collective bargaining.

Jacobi said most of the qualities that she brings to the board come from the values that her parents, late husband and family have instilled in her, which are “the importance of honesty, integrity and service to others.” Her years as a classroom teacher have also been critical, she said. She said her calm temperament allows her to listen to concerns, evaluate situations and sometimes change her mind.

Jacobi said she has served on the board since 2000, and ran originally to make sure a well-run town stays well-run.

“Most importantly, I am running because I feel energized serving the town I am lucky enough to call home,” Jacobi said.

An important issue facing the board, Jacobi said, is being able to live within a budget so the town doesn’t have to ask for a Proposition 2½ override. “It is challenging, but it is important to keep the level of services Marbleheaders have come to expect,” she said.

Christensen, who is over 70 years old, said he’s served for about 20 years on the board since the 1990s on three different stints, but couldn’t remember how many terms. He said he has lived in Marblehead all of his life, with the exception of the year he spent in the United States Marine Corps.

Good vibrations in Lynn City Hall

Christensen has been practicing law in Marblehead for more than 30 years, with much of it in municipal law. He is married with two children and has three grandchildren. After the first semester of his Bachelor’s degree, he joined the Marine Corps. He was badly wounded in Vietnam, spending about five months there, and was sent home. After a stint in the naval hospital, he went back to school.

What’s most important for the board, he said, is what it has been doing.

“What we do is protect our town employees and ensure that we provide you people with the same services that you’ve been receiving over the years for the same buck,” Christensen said. “I’ve always thought that it’s been a pleasure and a privilege for me to serve the town.”

Nye, a Marblehead native, is the president and CEO of National Grand Bank Marblehead. His three daughters were raised in the town. He was first elected to the board in 2005.

“Over the past, the board, the town administrator and the finance director (departments) have managed the town budget efficiently and economically within the scope of Prop 2½ with no general override required,” Nye said. “I would like to continue this work on behalf of the taxpayers of Marblehead.

“The most pressing issue this year, as is every year is delivering the high level of service that the residents of Marblehead expect and deserve while providing for a small increase in pay for our town employees within the town’s budget, avoiding the general override.”

Grader said as a member of the Finance Committee for nine years, and chairman for the past five, he has been responsible for advising and recommending to Town Meeting. With his FinCom colleagues, he has reviewed, analyzed and vetted every appropriation budget and article project that has come before the town in that period.

Grader, co-founder and managing partner of Little Harbor Advisors, an investment management firm based in Marblehead, is married with two sons, who were educated through Marblehead schools.

He said the financial health of the town is the No. 1 issue, as the quality of services Marblehead residents have come to expect cannot be maintained without strong and well managed financial resources.

“What you have in me is a financial fiscal conservative who No. 1, has a deep understanding of the complex workings of the town government budget approval process and No. 2, who understands the importance of collaboration, fostering and maintaining the culture of accountability and getting things done,” Grader said.

Liming, a former selectman, said he would focus on fixing sidewalks, so children can walk to school safely. He said the sidewalks are in disrepair. He said he would work on giving more transparency, offering selectmen hours at town hall. If elected, he said he would pledge his stipend to go the Marblehead Holiday Decoration Fund.

“By running and winning, I hope I can open the gateway for other citizens of Marblehead who desire to run for public office,” Liming said.

The two candidates for the Cemetery Commission, the only other contested race on the ballot, were also supposed to debate each other, but Rufus Titus could not make it. Rose Ann Wheeler McCarthy and Titus are vying to fill a vacant seat on the commission, as William James is not running for re-election.

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Saugus school magic number: $900,000

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The closure of the Ballard Early Education Center is among the proposed cuts to help bridge a potential $900,000 budget gap.

Should the building have to close its doors, the program would move to other public school facilities, said Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi.

“My worst case scenario is on paper right now,” DeRuosi said.

The School Committee voted a $29.6 million budget but the Finance Committee is supporting Town Manager Scott Crabtree’s recommendation for $1.6 million less. After making adjustments to the department’s critical needs, DeRuosi said the district would still face a $900,000 shortfall. Town Meeting will vote on the budget May 1.

At a meeting Tuesday, he proposed cuts that included closing the center and not replacing seven retiring employees, six teachers and a nurse, and cutting one elementary school teacher. Six paraprofessional positions would also be eliminated to save the district between $98,000 and $114,000.

The Ballard Early Education Center has several curriculum-based preschool classes, about five of which are integrated classes of both regular and special education. DeRuosi proposed relocating the more self-contained classes to Saugus High School and the more inclusive classes to Veterans Memorial Elementary School. This year the school has 118 children, though some are half-day and part-time students. Moving the program would save the district between $140,000 and $145,000, he said.

“When you’re spending over $1 million on 45 students, you have to look at how you can do that more efficiently,” said Chairwoman Jeannie Meredith.

Federal loan paves way for Malden streets

DeRuosi also questioned whether two retiring custodians needed to be replaced and whether a currently open position needed to be filled.

DeRuosi added that as a long-term goal, the master plan includes having fewer school buildings. He and School Committee members shared a vision that high school juniors and seniors could take child development courses and volunteer in classrooms to help prepare them to pursue degrees in fields such as social work and education.

By not replacing teachers, some schools would be faced with larger class sizes of up to 26 students, DeRuosi said. He added that parents would have the option to move their children to another school with smaller class sizes.

School Committee member Peter Manoogian argued that keeping smaller class sizes should be a priority when looking at the budget. Member Arthur Grabowski said he would rather see higher paying positions eliminated than teachers and nurses.

The panel also discussed whether the Belmonte Middle School needed its current two vice principals, three councilors and an adjustment counselor in addition to Principal Kerry Robbins.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Ruggiero denied Peabody superintendent post

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Debra Ruggiero answers questions during an interview for the superintendent position.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Interim Superintendent Herb Levine will likely serve one more year as the head of the school district.

The search for a new superintendent came to a temporary end Wednesday night, when the Peabody School Committee voted to request a waiver from the state’s Department of Education allowing Levine to stay on for another year because of a critical shortage of qualified superintendent candidates.

The vote means Debra Ruggiero, the principal of Lynn’s Harrington School and the last finalist standing in the committee’s superintendent search, will not be offered the Peabody position.

Committee members praised Ruggiero, but the members were united in saying they were disappointed there were no candidates brought forward with the kind of central office experience they believe Peabody needs. The two other finalists, John Oteri and Arthur Unobskey, were offered the top school jobs in Malden and Wayland, respectively, and withdrew from consideration in Peabody.

“I think the three finalists we had were excellent people, I just think they lacked the district experience,” said School Committee member Tom Rossignoll. “We want somebody with district experience, and that was not offered to us.”

Several committee members also said they believed the search process, which was overseen by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, started a little too late this year to bring in enough qualified candidates.

“I think one of the problems with starting a little late is that candidates were scooped up quickly,” said School Committee member Brandi Carpenter. “If we’re going to do it again, we need to start earlier and we need to think outside the box.”

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

Carpenter also said she felt Ruggiero was an excellent candidate, but that she and the other finalists lacked the budget and contract negotiation skills needed in such a large district.

“I too, although it was not the fault of the candidates, was disappointed in the pool,” said committee member Jarrod Hochman. “This is a quasi-urban community with over 6,000 students, over 1,000 employees, and a $72 million budget. We had candidates who did not have experience with collective bargaining, and not one candidate had experience formulating a budget beyond the building or department level.”

Committee members noted that the process next year should wrap up by March, rather than April, in an effort to get a jump on the best candidates.

For Levine, the 2017-18 school year will be his third year in a row as interim superintendent in Peabody. The former Salem school chief was also the interim superintendent in Peabody during the 2011-12 school year.

Levine said he is willing to stay on in the interim position for another year, but that he was drawing a line in the sand.

“I’m not going to work beyond that; I’m going to be 70 years old,” he said. “I’m proud to have the privilege to steer the ship for one more year.”

 

Ruggiero on super post: I have the experience

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Debra Ruggiero answers questions during her finial interview.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — The school committee is down to its final candidate for superintendent, but Debra Ruggiero will have to wait until at least Tuesday to see if she is offered the position.

Ruggiero, principal of the Harrington Elementary School in Lynn, fielded questions from the School Committee for 90 minutes Wednesday night. At the conclusion of the interview, the committee voted to table any discussion on making a decision on the position until its next meeting April 11.

Ruggiero was one of three finalists to replace Interim Superintendent Herb Levine, but over the past week, the other two finalists accepted positions in other districts and withdrew their names from consideration.

School Committee member Joseph Amico said the process has shown how there is a critical shortage of qualified candidates for top administrative positions in the state.

“We had five or six competitive candidates,” he said. “But the two other finalists did go to strong districts.”

Gloucester assistant superintendent Arthur Unobskey took the top job in Wayland, while on Monday, Somerville High School Headmaster John Oteri was offered the superintendent position in Malden.

“I have accepted the (Malden superintendent’s post), pending successful contract negotiations which I am confident will take place,” Oteri said.

On Wednesday night at the Wiggin Auditorium at Peabody City Hall, Ruggiero had the spotlight to herself, answering questions about her leadership style, experience, and how she would handle contract negotiations.

Ruggiero characterized herself as a collaborative leader who puts the needs of the students first and uses data to help achieve the best outcomes for students and teachers.

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School Committee member Brandi Carpenter noted that Ruggiero has handled budgets at the school building level but that the district budget for Peabody reaches $70 million and asked her how she would make the jump to handling such a large budget.

“I’ve always included the senior leadership team at the school level,” said Ruggiero, adding that any requests that come before her required data to back up the need. “I don’t want to make a decision just because we think we need something.”

Ruggiero, a Peabody resident, was asked her thoughts on potentially working and living in the same community by Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.

“Connections make a difference,” said Ruggiero. “If you live in the town where you work, the parents feel like you are more approachable, and the parents and teachers feel like you are more invested in the school system. It is absolutely a positive to be a presence in the city and to be involved in the community.”

In her closing remarks to the school committee, Ruggiero acknowledged that it is a big jump from building principal to superintendent, but said she has the skills, experience, and passion to succeed in the job.

“It’s been a pleasure to go through the process,” she said. “It’s been quite a journey and I’ve learned a lot about myself and how people see me and who I am as a leader. I do have the experience I can draw on for this position and I do have the drive and passion. I’m reaching for the stars, and Peabody is my star.”


Steve Frecker contributed to this report.

Peabody superintendent search down to two

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Pictured is Harrington Elementary School Principal Debra Ruggiero.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY The School Committee could select a new superintendent as soon as next Wednesday.

The city is down to two candidates to replace interim Superintendent Herb Levine after one finalist, Arthur Unobskey, accepted the superintendent position in Wayland earlier this week. The choice now looks like it will come down to Debra Ruggiero, principal of the Harrington Elementary School in Lynn, and John Oteri, headmaster at Somerville High School. Oteri is also a superintendent finalist in Malden.

The School Committee made a site visit to Lynn on Thursday to see Ruggiero in action and will be heading to Somerville on Tuesday. On Wednesday, April 5, both candidates will be in Peabody to meet with city officials during the day and for a second round of interviews with the committee that night.

“There could be a vote on that night, or it could be made at the School Committee meeting the following Tuesday,” said Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.

Early in possible race, McGee ahead in funds

The position was advertised with a salary range of $175,000-$190,000 with a three-year initial contract. The official posted start date is July 1.

Earlier in March, the School Committee interviewed six of the 19 candidates who applied for the position.

Bettencourt has said the district is looking for a candidate who will bring stability and enthusiasm to the position.

 

Committee ponders meaning of ‘sanctuary’

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN — The School Committee continued a discussion regarding the concerns of immigrant students on Thursday.

Member Maria Carrasco initiated the conversation at the previous committee meeting, saying she has been approached by a number of students who are worried about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) entering the schools.

In response, attorney and committee member Jared Nicholson drafted a resolution meant to clarify the law and reassure students.

Nicholson read aloud from the resolution, which stated the Lynn Public Schools’ commitment to providing a safe learning environment.

The resolution reiterated that city schools do not request immigration status information from students.

School attorney John C. Mihos said the resolution doesn’t constitute a policy change, just a restatement of the laws as they already exist.

Carrasco and committee member Donna Coppola both spoke in support of the concept of becoming a “sanctuary school district,” a distinction that Mihos said would only alter the title of the resolution and not its purpose.

“The word ‘sanctuary’ means protection for somebody who feels chased,” said Carrasco, who argued that the word alone does have some impact.

Saugus Rotary up to speed

Member Patricia Capano said there have been no incidents regarding students and immigration enforcement in city schools. She said the resolution is an attempt on the committee’s part to be proactive.

Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said she spoke with Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett regarding the subject and was told there have been no deportations in the county.

Carrasco disputed that claim, but said she could not ethically provide the identities of the individuals impacted.

A vote to adopt the resolution was tabled in order to bring the topic to a full committee for further discussion.

Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Planning board OKs land transfer for YMCA

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN — The Planning Board voted on Tuesday to transfer a parcel of land for use by the YMCA.

The 35,000-square-foot property is a public way at Wheeler Street and Neptune Boulevard.

“Built in 1974, the current Y facility is not equipped to meet the future needs of Lynn,” said a written project summary. “The new YMCA property will include a nearly 65,000-square-foot full-facility Y.”

Bruce Macdonald, president and CEO of YMCA Metro North, previously said the plan is to develop a new Y right in front of the one that is there.

The plan to purchase the land at Wheeler Street and Neptune Boulevard is another step in the process of achieving that goal.

Lynn stands tall for Vietnam veterans

In a March 1 letter to the members of the school committee, Macdonald said the YMCA is working on a permanent parking plan for the site that will include 90 spaces on the property.

The project summary said more than 320 staff will be employed at the new Y campus and more than 175 youth will receive employment training.

A land swap where the city would abandon 50-70 Market Square to allow South Street to be widened for the $30 million Market Basket project was approved at the same meeting.

Schools out for the time being in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is pictured at a discussion on schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — No new schools will be built in the city anytime soon.

That was the decision of a city panel Tuesday that orchestrated a plan for construction of two middle schools to ease overcrowding and replace a dilapidated facility.

Following last Tuesday’s special election where voters resoundingly rejected a request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field, the Pickering School Building Committee withdrew its application for state funding.

In addition to taking itself out of consideration for funds, Lynn Stapleton, the city’s project manager for the school proposal, said Lynn had a number of options. They included a plan to split the project into two and build one school first and then a second; build one school and renovate the Pickering Middle School; or build one school and use Pickering as an elementary school.

But the panel seemed in no mood to consider them.

Before the vote to end the city’s bid for school dollars, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy invited Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, the grassroots organization that campaigned against the schools, to speak to the committee. The mayor said he had an alternative plan. But he declined.

School Committeewoman Donna Coppola voiced concern about where new students would be placed.

“We have kids coming in that will not have seats,” she said.

Edward Calnan said the committee did their job and despite the vote against the schools, the members should be proud of the work they did.

“We were told we needed to provide space for 1,600 students and that’s what we did,” he said. “We did an exhaustive search for sites in the city and came up with the best ones that were the least expensive to make the project viable.”

Off and running in Lynn

Kennedy said it’s clear the voters have no appetite for more taxes and she will honor their wishes.

“The people spoke loud and clear,” she said. “The problem was the price tag and I’m just ready to drop the whole thing. They say insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. That’s what we would be doing if we did anything but drop it.”

With that, the 16-member group voted unanimously to tell the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the  quasi-independent government authority created to help pay for the construction of public schools, that Lynn won’t be seeking funds.

At the close of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham choked back tears as she expressed her disappointment in the failure of the vote for the new schools.

“Our new Thurgood Marshall Middle School is a model for the entire state and I was hoping that just viewing that could carry an equalized opportunity for all our students,” she said. “But it was not to be.” 

In an interview following the meeting, Castle defended his position not to speak to the committee.

“It was a bag job,” he said. “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn school uniforms an ongoing conversation

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN — The school committee will continue a discussion this April regarding the implementation of uniforms in city schools.

Jared C. Nicholson, chair of the Ad Hoc Uniform Policy Sub-Committee, said a vote on the adoption of a uniform policy has been postponed from this Thursday due to the conflicting schedules of the two pilot school principals.

The schools that have agreed to pilot a uniform policy are the Aborn and Callahan elementary schools. At a school committee meeting in March, Aborn principal Patricia Muxie said a recent survey was conducted at the school with pro-uniform results.

Seventy-one percent of parents who returned surveys were in favor of bringing on school uniforms, she said.

“For our school, there is a definite interest there,” said Muxie.

Carving out 90 years in the furniture industry

Principal Brian Fay of Callahan Elementary who was at the meeting, said a survey at Callahan yielded similarly pro-uniform results.

Muxie said she prefers the concept of an appeal process if a family doesn’t want to participate in the uniform policy. She suggested that the school could focus on providing positive incentive for classrooms with high participation numbers instead of disciplining students who attend without a uniform.

“We want to make it voluntary to some degree,” agreed Fay, who said trousers known as chinos may be encouraged in the future.

Muxie said the school could begin with a uniform shirt and give students an option of pants or a skirt.

Committee members raised the idea of offering some form of financial assistance for students if a policy is adopted, and of recycling uniforms from graduating students.  

“I think people are really going to care about the particulars,” said Nicholson.


Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Cahill will not seek re-election to City Council

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Lynn City Councilor Daniel Cahill.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — After serving on the City Council for nearly a decade, Daniel Cahill will call it quits at year’s end.

The 38-year-old councilor who was elected to the Legislature last fall and works as an attorney, said it’s time for someone new to join the 11-member panel.

“I loved being on the council,” he said. “But having three jobs became a little bit much. It’s right for me to step down and focus on the Legislature. It’s hard to do both.”

But not everyone understands his need to relieve the pressure of being a citywide councilor, enduring a demanding courtroom schedule, being a member of the Democratic majority on Beacon Hill and raising two young children.

“My wife wants me to stay on the council,” said Cahill. Angela Cahill is a sixth grade teacher at the Thurgood Marshall Middle School.  “She’s a resident too and likes what I bring to the table.”

Cahill said he is proudest of being part of the city’s rezoning.  

“It became apparent in order to create an environment where people want to invest in Lynn, we had to do the zoning,” he said. “There was coalition building with the Chamber of Commerce, developers, businesses and the neighborhood. It was lots of fun.”

Construction of the $67 million Thurgood Marshall Middle School is also a highlight of his tenure, as is a $4 million bond to refurbish parks and playgrounds, renovate City Hall and the addition of air conditioning to the Lynn Auditorium.  

“In some jobs, you don’t get to see the product of your work, but on the council you do,” he said. “If a constituent has a problem with a sidewalk, a tree, or their utility company, we solve it.”

In 2003, while a 24-year-old graduate student in a master of political science program at Suffolk University, Cahill launched his first bid for office. He sought the School Committee post vacated by Loretta Cuffe O’Donnell.

“I always enjoyed politics since I was young and decided it was time to run for office. I just got the bug,” he said. “I was single and living with my parents. I gathered my friends, family and put a campaign together.”

But he wasn’t exactly sure how to do that. Cahill sent an email to the mayor’s chief of staff that read: “Hi, I’m Dan Cahill and I am thinking of running for office, how do I do it?”

“One of my first mailings featured a picture of me in my parents’ dining room with jeans and a suit top,” he said. “Instead of getting a shot of me from the waist up, you can clearly see a little of the jeans, it was funny.”

Despite the slow learning curve, the bid paid off. Cahill placed sixth and won by about 80 votes. He sought re-election two years later and scored a second term.

“School committee was a great place to learn things,” he said. “I learned about contracts, hiring, and budgets.”

In 2007, he saw an opportunity to run for councilor-at-large. He  won and later served as council president.

Last year, the Northeastern University and Suffolk Law School graduate sought the legislative seat vacated by state Rep. Robert Fennell in the 10th Essex District. He ran unopposed.

“The Legislature was the most logical step for me to use my expertise as a municipal elected office and bring it to the state level,” he said.  “Since college I wanted to be a state representative. It’s the best place to make change.”

More recently, he joined the Lynn law firm of Bradley Moore Primason Cuffe & Weber LLP.

Charles Gaeta, executive director of Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development, said he counts Cahill as one of his best friends.

“His strong work ethic and community involvement were modeled after his parents,” he said. “He will be missed on the Council. I’ve learned a lot from him. My staff routinely praise him for the many initiatives he’s helped on.  It will be sad to see him go, but we are fortunate he will be at the State House.”

Frances Martinez, president and CEO of the North Shore Latino Business Association, said while Cahill will leave a void on the Council, he will be better able to perform his duties on Beacon Hill.

“It’s best for him to wear one hat and not two with that level of responsibility,” she said.

Several candidates have already pulled papers to run for the open seat including Taso Nikolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood and Jaime Figueroa, a college student, who hopes to be the city’s first Latino councilor.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Harrington principal among 3 super finalists

ITEM PHOTO BY ADAM SWIFT
Pictured is Harrington Elementary School Principal Debra Ruggiero.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Debra Ruggiero, principal of the Harrington Elementary School in Lynn, is one of three finalists for superintendent in Peabody.

Somerville High School Headmaster John Oteri and Gloucester Assistant Superintendent Arthur Unobskey are the other two finalists to replace interim Superintendent Herb Levine.

“I’m certainly very excited and honored that they see me as a candidate who is viable to be superintendent,” Ruggiero said. “I’ve worked very hard in my career, and I hope (the School Committee) sees that in the site visits and final interview.”

Over the coming weeks, the Peabody School Committee will be visiting the home school districts of the three finalists followed by visits by the finalists to Peabody and a final interview before the committee.E

School Committee members will visit Lynn on March 30, and Ruggiero said she will be visiting Peabody in April for the site visit and interview. During the visit to Peabody, the finalists will meet with city leaders, such as the police and fire chiefs, as well as school officials.

Ruggiero said she understands it is a big jump from elementary school principal, but said she believes she has the educational experience to make her a qualified candidate for the position. Ruggiero is also the only superintendent candidate who calls Peabody home.

“I know that it is a key part that they are looking for someone to be invested in Peabody as a whole, whether they are a resident or not,” said Ruggiero. “I have lived in Peabody for a long time, and have been involved, particularly when my children were younger.”

Stability is principal concern in Swampscott

At the first round of interviews with the School Committee earlier this week, Oteri said he places a premium on hiring educators who go above and beyond and are able to communicate clearly and concisely.

“The objective (in a classroom) should be very clear,” Oteri said. “I should go in the classroom, a grandmother should be able to go in there and know what they are doing within five minutes.”

Unobskey, who met with the School Committee last week, said he has an educational philosophy that serves all kids and makes sure all teachers are heard. He said he’s done his research on Peabody and would love to be a part of the community.

“I really think that the diversity and the size is a wonderful combination for me,” Unobskey said.

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said he is happy with the candidates the School Committee selected to move forward to the next round of the process.

“The superintendent in Peabody is a very challenging position and we want to make sure the next superintendent is the right person to handle all the responsibilities of the position,” said Bettencourt. “This is the most important decision the School Committee will make, and the three candidates are worthy to continue the process and for us to learn more about.”

School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne voted against moving forward with the three finalists, citing the candidates’ lack of experience as superintendents.

“I’m personally disappointed, I had hoped we would have had someone apply who had been a superintendent, possibly in a smaller district,” said Dunne. “Peabody is a big district with a lot of moving parts, I think someone with experience as a superintendent would be better than someone who has not been a superintendent before.”

The position was advertised with a salary range of $175,000-$190,000 with a three-year initial contract. The official posted start date is July 1.

Dunne said she is also concerned about the salary level, since when it was approved, she said the committee was basing those numbers on bringing in someone with superintendent experience.

“I was willing to pay for someone with experience,” said Dunne. “Now it’s a really good salary range for someone who has not been a superintendent. All three finalists are fine people, and I think they will make fine superintendents, just not in Peabody … this is a huge job.”

Stability is principal concern in Swampscott

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Superintendent Pamela Angelakis appointed Jason Calichman and Robert Murphy as the permanent principals of Swampscott Middle School and High School, removing their interim labels effective immediately and foregoing a formal search process.

“Mr. Murphy and Mr. Calichman have done an outstanding job in their respective buildings,” Angelakis said. “They have demonstrated an extremely high level of student-centered leadership, as well as the ability to make difficult decisions. They are highly engaged with their school communities and have exhibited the ability and commitment necessary to implement the vision for their schools.

“Through personal observation and overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, teachers and staff, it is clear to me that Mr. Murphy and Mr. Calichman are the right leaders at their schools and for our district,” Angelakis continued. “They have exhibited an understanding of the critical need to balance academic achievement with the social-emotional well-being of students, which has proven to be a high priority in our district. They have changed the culture in their schools to further emphasize the importance of educating the whole child.”

Angelakis made her announcement at a School Committee meeting Wednesday night, with Calichman and Murphy in attendance. Last March, the superintendent appointed both men as interim principals of the middle and high school.

Murphy, 48, a Danvers resident, moved into the high school position from the middle school, where he served as principal for four years.

“It’s exciting, humbling and exciting,” Murphy said. “You try to do the best you can and to be recognized for that is an honor. Having grown up here in Swampscott, it’s almost like a double honor. In my youth days, I never would have imagined myself being the principal of Swampscott High School.”

Calichman, 40, a Swampscott resident, was the assistant principal of the middle school for four years before he was upgraded to the principal position.

“I’m honored and so proud and so happy to be part of this district,” Calichman said. “I live here, work here. I’m going to have two kids going through the schools here and there’s not a more important job to me than the middle school job. I take the challenge very seriously and I look forward to growing in the position for hopefully a lot of years.”

Lynn budget under the knife

Both have been in their interim positions since July 1, which was initially slated to be for the entirety of the current school year, with the superintendent intending to post the permanent positions and start a search process. Last year, when appointing Calichman and Murphy to their interim positions, Angelakis said she considered the instability that the high turnover rate in the high school principal position has caused. She had posted the high school principal position in December 2015, but halted the search process because she was unhappy with the applicants.

Edward Rozmiarek, the former high school principal, resigned on Dec. 15, 2015, after a Beverly police investigation revealed that he had a series of graphic Internet chats with someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl. The police report revealed that he was actually corresponding with a decoy from a nonprofit group called The Perverted Justice Foundation.

Previously, Angelakis had appointed Frank Kowalski, assistant high school principal, as interim principal of the high school from January through June 2016.

Angelakis said she doesn’t see the wisdom in investing an extensive amount of time in a search for the two schools’ principals when she is confident she has the right people in place, referring to Calichman and Murphy.

“When I appointed Mr. Murphy and Mr. Calichman, I was confident in their ability to do the job, but they have both exceeded all reasonable expectations,” Angelakis said. “And while they may be relatively new to their roles and have an opportunity to further grow into them, their performance has me convinced that they should be leading these schools into the future.”

Before he became principal at Swampscott Middle School and High School, Murphy spent five years as principal of Pickering Middle School in Lynn, two years as assistant principal at Revere High School and two years as an assistant principal at Marblehead High School. Before that, he was a world history and geography teacher at Lynn Classical High School for nine years. He grew up in Swampscott and went to Hadley Elementary School.

Murphy said he was trying to create a sense of stability at the high school, citing the turnover in the position, and create a strong sense of pride back at the high school. He said he was focused on moving the school forward and preparing its students for the next steps of their lives after high school, and also on making sure staff and administrators are doing what’s best for the whole child.

“I look forward to being here for a very long time, until my retirement,” Murphy said. “I’ve come back home and I’m staying, and I’m not going anywhere as long as you’ll have me.”

Before his time at Swampscott Middle School, Calichman spent eight years in Wakefield as a sixth grade English and social studies teacher. For the last six months at Galvin Middle School, he filled in as the assistant principal. He spent two years teaching the same subjects to seventh- and eighth-graders in New Jersey.

Calichman said that the middle school has been focused on the whole child, making sure students are happy and healthy, while also having high academic expectations.

“My No. 1 goal is to make sure every student here feels like they can come to us with any sort of issue, whether it’s academic or a social issue, and we’re going to work with them to figure it out,” Calichman said.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Marblehead schools budget for the future

By LEAH DEARBORN

MARBLEHEAD The 2018 fiscal year budget for the Marblehead Public Schools saw a 5.1 percent increase from last year.

At a public hearing Thursday in the L.H. Coffin Elementary School , Superintendent Maryann Perry said most of the additional cost came from contractual increases across all grades.

Textbook and curriculum renewal is a priority, said Perry, as well as continuing to update technology accessible to students and teachers.

She said additional interpretation services were contracted over the past year as the student base in town continues to diversify.

“We want to make sure every child and their family feels welcome here in Marblehead schools,” said Perry.

She said a separate $115,000 was granted by the town finance committee to supplement recent federal cuts to Title I program funding. Title I focuses on narrowing the education gap for at-risk learners.

The hearing was part of the regular School Committee meeting.

Harrington principal among 3 super finalists

Before the budget hearing, the future of the Elbridge Gerry School was discussed. Committee member David Harris said this week kicks off the hiring process for an owner’s project manager to direct the feasibility phase of consolidating the Gerry and Coffin schools.

He said the committee is analyzing an alternate possibility of combining the Gerry, Coffin and Malcom L. Bell schools that would support 450 students, a course Harris described as a means of preparing for the future growth.

The Gerry School Building Committee entered the 270-day eligibility period with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) in March and was given the green light to move forward to the next phase of gathering information.

“They’re right there with you from start to finish,” said Harris about the project manager position.

He said whomever is hired will work hand-in-hand with the building committee and architect in a process the MSBA estimates will take an average of 18-24 months.

The feasibility study is estimated to cost up to $750,000, according to the Marblehead Public Schools website. The MSBA will reimburse the town approximately 32 percent of the study cost.

The first of the public project manager interviews is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. tonight at Marblehead High School. The remaining two will take place on Monday, and a final recommendation will be brought before the committee on April 6.


Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Malden reflective of Community N’ Unity

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — The city has evolved into one of the most diverse in Massachusetts over the past 15 years and has made major strides toward community unity and inclusion. But there’s still work to be done, according to a Boston-based consulting group’s report.

Working with Strategy Matters of Boston, city and public school officials brought together residents for a series of meetings titled, Community ‘N Unity. Strategy Matters of Boston helped the city coordinate the meetings and released a report on its findings.

At the meetings, residents told stories of their personal experiences and those of their families and friends living in Malden, which led to the report.  

The city is already addressing one key finding of the report: Increasing racial and cultural awareness among municipal employees. The city Human Resources Department has plans for cultural competency and awareness training for all city employees.

“The best part of the whole process is that everyone has the same goal: Bring Malden closer and keep everyone working to make our entire community a welcoming and vibrant one for all of our residents,” said Malden City Councilor at large Debbie DeMaria.

Librarian of Congress checks out Malden

Mayor Gary Christenson announced the creation of the Mayor’s Task Force on Racial Harmony which is expected to develop strategies and goals for the coming year and beyond.

“The report identifies the group’s findings and includes Malden’s strengths as well as areas for improvement,” said Christenson, adding, “(The report) also offers suggestions and recommendations for promoting community cohesion and strength.”

One of the Strategy Matters of Boston report’s findings focuses on local public school efforts to increase diversity. Close to 70 percent of Malden’s public school population is of African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic descent, while the majority of teachers and staff are Caucasian.

Malden’s interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Grandson IV is the first African-American to hold Malden’s top education post.

“It was an excellent series of forums and we were thrilled with the response citywide. We heard a lot of good experiences and got a lot of information presented,” said DeMaria, a former Malden School Committee member.

School committee members seek 2nd term

COURTESY PHOTOS
Pictured is Gargi Cooper, left, and Suzanne Wright.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Two incumbents vying to retain their seats on the School Committee are stressing the importance of continuity and consistency on the board. One challenger argues that there needs to be more transparency and communication from the committee.

Suzanne Wright and Gargi Cooper have each decided to run for a second, three-year term on the school committee. They face a challenge from Melissa Camire, who will also appear on the ballot for the April 25 local election.

Camire, who has lived in Swampscott for the past five years, said she would bring a unique perspective to the committee, because she has a six-year-old child in the school system and her partner teaches at Swampscott High School.

Camire wants to see more transparency among the committee. If elected, she said she would do more investigation into the budget and said there could have been more transparency and communication about why certain cuts were made.

Wright, in advocating for consistency, said there have been lots of leadership changes in recent years, both on the board and in the administration.

“For the first time in years, we have a school committee and a superintendent who are able to offer our students and the district staff a level of continuity and consistency of policy that has too often been lacking prior to this administration,” Wright said in a statement.

“Last year was the first time in nearly two decades that we saw a school committee that stayed intact for more than a single year. The constant turnover in the past created an inconsistency that presented a number of problems, not the least of which is having the same leadership from one teachers’ union contract to the following one,” Wright continued.

Cooper also cited the district leadership and school committee turnover prior to her time on the board.

“This lack of consistency has caused the district great difficulties in gaining traction on many important initiatives, including addressing mental health support and technology needs,” Cooper said in a statement. “I am proud to contribute to the district strategic plan that places the emotional and behavioral safety of our students at the forefront.

“I would like to see the mental health initiatives (SWIFT and Harbor programs) that were introduced into the high school this year expand to our middle school because they will provide our children with the support needed to address the needs of students reentering school after absences, due to serious mental health challenges or medical illness,” Cooper continued.

Affordable housing for seniors on the agenda

Wright said she also wants to see them expand to the middle school. She said the need for both mental health initiatives is unquestionable and the difference they are making for students is undeniable. Wright also wants to continue work on a district-wide technology plan to benefit students.

Camire said she disagrees with the continuity argument. She said both candidates had a chance to effect change in their three years, and their plans should already be underway. She said the district should start looking into a panel of parents, students and educators to hire the next high school principal. She said the turnover in administration needs to stop and people need to be hired who “fit our vision for what we want the Swampscott school district to become.”

Camire said the schools are “crumbling around us” and some are not ADA compliant, and there seems to be no technology budget. She is for school consolidation for the lower grades, rather than smaller neighborhood schools, arguing that at just 13,000 residents, Swampscott is already a neighborhood.

“We need to start making that forward progress towards stronger schools for a stronger community,” Camire said.  

Cooper cited her work as chairwoman of the Joint Facilities Task Force, saying that she led the school system to work with town administration to strengthen Swampscott’s infrastructure and improve efficiencies. She said hiring a joint facilities director, a shared position between town government and the school department, has made the district become proactive.

“Our current school board has been working collaboratively and has been able to drive our district forward,” Cooper said in a statement. “Continuity on the board is paramount to continuing our district’s positive momentum. With the knowledge and experience I have gained over these past three years, I am truly invested and committed to bring these and many other much-needed initiatives to completion.”

In addition to her role on the school committee, Cooper said she remains involved in the public schools as a parent and PTA volunteer. She works as a nurse practitioner and runs the medical outreach program out of the Lynn Community Health Center that provides medical care to the homeless in Lynn.

Wright said her four children have all been educated through Swampscott Public Schools.

“If we are going to have the kind of public schools that Swampscott residents expect and are paying for, we need to provide stable, even-handed vision that lasts beyond each year’s election,” Wright said in a statement.

“Right now, there is a healthy diversity of skills, personalities and opinions on the school committee,” Wright continued. “We work well together and respectfully challenge each other and the school administration to make sure we are doing the best we can for the students. We are committed to tackling issues large and small, including the tough financial issues we need to solve. We are seeing results.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Cugno eyes Medford council seat

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Anne Marie Cugno.

MEDFORD — In the last Medford municipal election, two popular former School Committee members successfully made the jump to the City Council. Now a third committee member is ready to make the jump.

Anne Marie Cugno finished first in committee balloting in the 2015 election. It was Cugno’s second consecutive ticket-topping final election and her fourth number-one finish in six elections. She wants to join former longtime Medford School Committee members John Falco and George Scarpelli on the council.

Falco was the only council candidate to tally more than 6,000 votes in 2015. Scarpelli came in third in the seven-person race.

In announcing her campaign for one of the seven at-large seats, Cugno cited what she called her steady record of success through 12 years as a committee member. In a campaign announcement she also pointed to her experience on a regional and state platform.

In 2014 she served as Massachusetts Association of School Committees president.

“Over the past 12 years I have served on many local, regional and state boards and committees. As I gained knowledge and information, I would return and share the information with my colleagues and community.”

Developer gears up on the Lynnway

Cugno was recently reappointed by Gov. Charlie Baker to the Local Government Advisory Board, which researches and reports to the governor and other state officials on educational issues related to the state budget.

She was first appointed to that board several years ago by former Gov. Deval Patrick. As a committee member, Cugno supported implementation of a $3 million district-wide technology system; a $2.5 million renovation of the Medford High School pool; and a $16 million reconstruction of the Medford High science facility.

“All of (these projects) utilized state and federal grants, eliminating the need to go before the Medford City Council with a proposal that would have raised taxes,” she said.

Cugno is a lifelong resident of Medford and has worked in the Medford Public Schools in the past. She and her husband, Michael, are the parents of four sons who are all Medford High graduates and former student-athletes.

“As I watch my children progress in their in lives, I know it is time for me to do the same. To lead by example, to bring the knowledge and experience I have attained in the past 12 years on the Medford School Committee to a different level,” Cugno said.

Lynn principal candidate for Peabody super

ITEM PHOTO BY ADAM SWIFT
Pictured is Harrington Elementary School Principal Debra Ruggiero.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Harrington Elementary School Principal Debra Ruggiero, a longtime fixture in Lynn education, is one of six candidates looking to take over the top spot in the Peabody schools.

Ruggiero was one of three candidates interviewed by the Peabody School Committee Wednesday night for the superintendent’s position. The committee will interview the remaining three candidates Monday night at City Hall.

“I’m a 24-year resident of Peabody with 32 years of experience in education,” said Ruggiero. “I am humbled and honored that you have chosen me as a viable candidate for the superintendent post.”

Ruggiero has experience as a regular education, curriculum and instruction, and special education teacher, as well as a principal.

“I have always been a proactive, collaborative, data-driven and reflective educator,” she said. “Through these practices, I’ve been able to work with teachers, parents, district and state in helping a school move from a Level 4 school to a Level 1 school.”

All Massachusetts districts and schools with sufficient data are classified into one of five accountability and assistance levels, with the highest performing in Level 1 and the lowest performing in Level 5.

At the Harrington School, Ruggiero said she has been able to put into practice her educational philosophy of focusing on the whole child, not just the academic side of a student. She also said schools must look at teaching to the individual abilities of the students and innovative ways to help them learn.

“It’s not about the the tests,” Ruggiero said. “It’s about teaching skills and strategies where students can learn no matter what is in front of them.”

Lynn fashionistas strut their prom stuff

As the only Peabody resident in the field of six candidates being interviewed, Ruggiero said she has a deep connection to the city. Her children went through the Peabody school system and Ruggiero has been involved in youth sports, among other activities.

The school committee also interviewed Laura Chesson, an assistant superintendent in Arlington, and Arthur Unobskey, an assistant superintendent in Gloucester, on Wednesday night.

The committee is scheduled to interview Peter Badalament, former principal of Concord-Carlisle High School; Lourenco Garcia, principal at Revere High School; and John Oteri, headmaster at Somerville High School, on Monday.

The six candidates were selected from 19 applicants by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC), which was hired by the city to oversee the superintendent search process. It is expected that after the interviews are finished, the school committee will conduct site visits in the home districts of several of the candidates, with an eye toward hiring a replacement for interim superintendent Herb Levine within the next three to four weeks.

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said he was happy with the quality of the candidates brought forward by the MASC.

The new superintendent would start work in Peabody on July 1.

Saugus battles over bucks

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The school department is preparing to pinch pennies after meeting with the Finance Committee about the budget.

“The budget is a moving target right now,” said Jeannie Meredith, chairwoman of the School Committee. “I think it’s a little early in the game to say ‘the sky is falling.’ I feel confident that we’re working with a qualified superintendent. We’ll get through it like we do every year.

“Budget season in Saugus and in every district is always a contentious time,” she said. “There’s only one pot of money and it has to be divided. As School Committee chair, I always want to see more for the kids. As a realist, I realize we need to budget for all the departments. Working together I think we can try to come to a mutual agreement.”

Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi defended the School Committee’s vote for a $29.6 million budget in a presentation to the Finance Committee on Wednesday. The request is up from a $28.1 million spending plan last year. Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen voted on a $28.4 million school department budget, $1.6 million less than the appropriation the School Committee requested.

“My goal was to present a budget that reflects how a school budget is actually built,” said DeRuosi.

His intent was to put meaning behind the numbers being requested at each line item of the budget.

“It doesn’t have to do with believing in the numbers or not believing in them,” said Kenneth DePatto, chairman of the Finance Committee. “It has to do with sustaining it. We can’t keep on growing at this level. I’m really concerned with the level of growth.”

The increase requested by DeRuosi and the School Committee will reinstate Spanish as a requirement, rather than an elective, a cut that was made for last year’s budget. An allocation of $82,000 will fund Chromebooks, which will be necessary next year when MCAS testing will require a computer.

The biggest hit to the wallet, DeRuosi said, is meeting the needs of the district’s changing demographics.

Lynn principal candidate for Peabody super

In 2012, the district had 88 ELL students. Last year, that swelled to 126. Children in Saugus Public Schools now speak 23 languages other than English, he said. About 40 percent of students are considered low-income and qualify for a free or reduced price lunch program. They are also eligible to ride to school at no cost, he said. The homeless population has increased steadily over the past five years and reached 40 students in 2016.

As of Wednesday, 165 students had elected to attend charter schools rather than staying in the district. “This is a red flag for me,” DeRuosi said “If we’re losing these numbers, we’re going to feel the financial impacts. I want this bar to go down. We want to keep these kids.”

Out-of-district special education costs pay for services for any Saugus child who the district cannot meet the needs of. The students sometimes attend residential or daytime residential programs that can cost the school department hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

“My fear is that this is not a sustainable number,” said DePatto. “I’m looking at your contractual needs and your critical needs. Eight to nine percent growth — that’s a level of growth I don’t think is sustainable, looking at the needs of the schools, according to the superintendent and School Committee.

“There’s only so much money that comes into this town,” said DePatto. “We need to find savings within the operating budgets or go to the people and tell them we want a general override.”

By April, DeRuosi will outline in detail the impacts of the $872,000 deficit created by only appropriating the district an increase of $300,000. He will create two additional budgets for a scenario where the department instead receives $400,000 and $500,000, with deficits of $772,000 and $672,000.

The full committee will begin meeting for budget workshops to talk numbers by the end of the month. They have not yet started discussions about what will be cut to make ends meet, said Meredith.

“The Finance Subcommittee was created to go over the financial reports and see if there are any questions throughout the year,” she said. “The first budget workshop will be when the five-member committee will be meeting for the first time to discuss any budget changes. My personal opinion — I don’t want to see teachers laid off. I’m not looking to cut any teachers this year.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemilve.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Swampscott plugs school spending gap

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — After months of scrambling to bridge a significant spending gap, and with the help of an 11th hour increase in town allocation, the School Committee approved a balanced $30.41 million FY18 budget Wednesday night.

The FY18 budget represents a 2.2 percent change over last year’s amount. School officials struggled to achieve a balanced budget, and initially faced a $1.722 million spending gap.

Officials were able to reduce the gap to $275,000, a figure they had been working with for weeks, after $726,000 in salary reductions and $721,000 in expense reductions. Still faced with a substantial gap to fill, the option of eliminating free full-day kindergarten was floated, much to the ire of many parents in town. A tuition full-day model was proposed with a free half-day program.

Superintendent Pamela Angelakis and other school officials spent part of their public budget discussions lobbying town officials for more than the projected $750,000 increase in town allocation, arguing that the figure wouldn’t even cover their anticipated salary increases.

The school committee is currently in contract negotiations with the Swampscott Education Association, the teachers’ union, which has rejected a proposed contract, and is potentially seeking higher raises.

Their lobbying was answered, as the Board of Selectmen approved a $67.63 million town budget last week, opting to allocate an additional $200,000 to the schools, or a $950,000 increase over last year. The selectmen approved allocating $28,197,500 to the schools.

Saugus school head defends budget

To bridge the remaining $75,000 gap, Evan Katz, school business administrator, said the town will take over the school’s snow removal costs, which allows that $40,000 be allocated elsewhere, and expenses have been further reduced by $35,000. He said that included custodial supplies and utilities.

Angelakis said last week the additional town allocation will be used to continue to fund the full-day kindergarten program for the next school year.

Katz said the increase in town funds is actually $1.2 million, rather than $950,000. Other town support includes taking on $100,000 of the school maintenance expenses, paying half, or $46,000 of the shared facilities director salary, and allowing the schools to hold onto the $64,000 that would have gone toward the 53rd week of payroll for FY18. There are only 52 weeks in that year, and the funds will be allocated elsewhere.  

Katz said the town support allows the schools to meet a $400,000 maintenance goal, which is sorely needed for aging buildings.

The budget reserves $200,000 for high growth programs such as high school science, English language-learners and special education, Katz said.

Some cuts have included eliminating about five teacher positions. The special education teacher position at Hadley School has been eliminated, elementary health content is being moved to the physical education program, the middle school red, white and you class is getting the ax, high school Mandarin is moving to online-only in the midst of being phased out, a METCO clerical position is being absorbed into an existing staff person and one-third of the middle school reading program is being curtailed, Katz said.

An unpopular decision among the school committee is the decision to raise athletic fees by $75 for students. But Angelakis said fees have not been increased for nine years, and the $80,000 it would generate was necessary to balance the budget.

The town budget is subject to further conversation with the Finance Committee before ultimately coming back to the selectmen for final approval. Town Meeting members will vote on the budget, which is still subject to change, in May.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Saugus school head defends budget

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi said he plans to defend the School Committee’s vote for a $29.6 million budget to the Finance Committee next week.

The Finance Subcommittee, comprised of two members of the full committee, met with DeRuosi, Executive Director of Finance and Administration Pola Andrews and Lisa Howard, executive director of pupil personnel service and special education, Tuesday morning to discuss the town manager and Board of Selectmen’s vote last week.

Selectmen voted on a $28.4 million school department budget, $1.6 million less than the $29.6 million appropriation the School Committee requested.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree noted that, at this time, the schools have been allocated about $300,000 more than what they were given last year in their operating budget. With charge-backs, the school department has about $41 million to go toward education, he said.

The Finance Committee will review the request and make a recommendation to Town Meeting in May.

“I’m going to defend the budget we voted,” said DeRuosi. “They’ve asked and requested a ton of information and we’ve answered all of their questions to the best of our ability. I think we can stay civil and work together to get somewhere.”

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On March 15, he plans to explain the increasing costs of special education. By April, he will outline in detail the impacts of the $872,000 deficit created by only appropriating the district an increase of $300,000. He will create two additional budgets for a scenario where the department instead receives $400,000 and $500,000, with deficits of $772,000 and $672,000.

“With $873,000, yeah, you’d have to do some serious number crunching,” said DeRuosi. “$672,000 you can chip away at a lot easier than $872,000.”

Committee member Peter Manoogian said he was concerned that if he didn’t prepare the budgets sooner, he wouldn’t be able to answer specific questions about what the underfunding would translate to in terms of changes to the district.

“You’re the expert on this,” Manoogian told DeRuosi. “We need to hear the proposal from you. That’s what we have you here for. I don’t want the School Committee proposing cuts.”

He added that he wanted residents and Town Meeting members to be aware of the effects of the budget they would be voting on.

“I don’t want people saying ‘gee, I didn’t know when I voted on the school budget that it meant this,’” he said.

“We need to have in much more detail what this school district would look like with a $300,000 increase, a $400,000 increase and so on,” said committee member Arthur Grabowski. “We want the numbers and recommendations to be hard with justifications of how the numbers you’re recommending will affect the district. Last year, we didn’t know what it was going to do to our district. We didn’t know what it would do to the high school.”

Manoogian tossed around the idea of not replacing retiring teachers and staff to cut costs. The budget includes $317,592 in cost containments from retiring staff whose positions will be filled at lower salaries.

“What if you don’t replace them? What if you chose not to replace those people?” he said.

Andrews reported the retirees included eight teachers; four elementary school teachers, one elementary specialist in computers and literacy, one high school teacher, a speech and language coach and a nurse in a supervisor position.

Should the elementary teachers be distributed across the town’s schools, choosing not to replace the teachers would result in larger class sizes, DeRuosi said.

“Our strengths are at the elementary level,” Manoogian said. “There are obviously down sides.

The subcommittee voted to make a recommendation to draft the three budgets to the full committee at the next meeting. They will also request alternating weeks with the full committee and finance committee, so finance subcommittee members can report their findings between meetings.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

More or less for schools in Saugus

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Members of the School Committee will discuss the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation for a $300,000 budget increase from Fiscal Year 2017 at a meeting today.

Selectmen voted on a $28.4 million school department budget, $1.6 million less than the $29.6 million appropriation the School Committee requested.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree noted that, at this time, the schools have been allocated about $300,000 more than what they were given last year in their operating budget. With charge-backs, the school department has about $41 million to go toward education, he said.

The Board of Selectmen supported the town manager’s $79.9 million budget proposal last week. The Finance Committee will review the request and make a recommendation to Town Meeting in May.

“This is very early in our process — this is a preliminary estimate,” said Crabtree. “We try to put together the best we can do. This is the sixth budget we’ve put together and this is probably the most challenging budget, in the sense of fiscally, because of the continued increase in fixed costs with a 2½ levy increase with limited new growth.”

The budget includes an estimated fixed-cost increase of $1.9 million. Health insurance providers for the town asked that health insurance costs be budgeted at a 12 percent, or $1.2 million increase, from last year. Crabtree called the increase “pretty significant.

“Also, our personal contribution is mandated by state law,” Crabtree said. “We are on a schedule that has been set out by the retirement board and in that schedule, this year calls for an aggressive increase in the contributions on behalf of the town.”

The $580,000 increase brings the pension appropriation to $6.5 million. The increase keeps the town on track to fully funding its pension obligation by 2029.

Regional and vocational education cost increases and an 8 percent property and liability insurance increase are also included in the fixed costs. Contractual and wage adjustments are not factored in.

“This is one of the most challenging budgets as far as funding and because we are at the very top of the levy,” Crabtree said. “We’ve anticipated new growth but it’s not something that’s going to be realized until (major development) projects are completed.

“I think, some of the perception is that there is some sort of windfall money because of the new development and new growth that we’re going to be realizing,” he said. “That’s not happening this fiscal year and it’s likely that it won’t happen for at least another fiscal year.

“What we’re trying to do, I think, as a board, is support and prioritize looking at ways to grow our levy and grow our town.”

Ten thousand dollars will cover the costs of police dispatcher training.

The legal counsel budget jumped from about $273,700 to $323,500.

“Legal, in general, has been under-budgeted for many years,” Crabtree said. “If you’re getting the right advice in the beginning or during, you save a lot of money in the long run.”

He also expressed interest in creating a position for a town hall floater to fill in when others are out of the office, but didn’t include money for the job in this year’s budget.

Partners’ cuts hurt Lynn

About $775,000 was allocated to repair, maintain and provide electricity for the town’s street lights, up from $550,000 in FY17.

The library’s request for $611,243, the Department of Youth and Recreation’s request for $127,262 and Council on Aging’s $277,053 request were all supported.

“I remember it wasn’t that long ago that we talked about closing Youth and Rec, the senior center and the library,” said Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. “Kudos to the town manager and our treasurer.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

All-day K safe for now in Swampscott

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT —School officials can rest easy after the town budget allocated enough to the schools to take free all-day kindergarten off the chopping block.

The Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a $67.63 million budget last week, which is subject to further conversation with the Finance Committee before ultimately coming back to the board for final approval. Town Meeting members will vote on the budget, which is still subject to change in May. The FY18 town budget, as it stands now, is a 1.2 percent increase over last year.

Town officials opted to allocate an additional $950,000 to the schools, $200,000 more than the projected increase in recent months, which contributes significantly to closing their anticipated $275,000 budget gap. When faced with that gap, school officials were considering eliminating free all-day kindergarten, and instead switching to a tuition full-day model, with a free half-day program.

“At last night’s board of selectmen meeting, the board recommended a budget that included additional funding for the school department,” said Superintendent Pamela Angelakis in an email last Thursday. “This additional funding will be used to continue to fund our full-day kindergarten program for the next school year. This is wonderful news and I am grateful for the town’s continued support. Keep in mind that this is only the first formal step in the budget process and it will not be official until a vote on the budget at Town Meeting on May 15.”

The School Committee is scheduled to vote on their $30.49 million FY18 budget on Wednesday. After revolving grants and funds are taken into account, the school district budgeted for $28,272,500 in town allocation. With the increase, the town allocation is $28,197,500, leaving the schools with a $75,000 budget gap. Evan Katz, school business administrator, said school officials are evaluating how to fill the remainder of the gap.

Selectman Peter Spellios said the town has provided the school department with increases well in excess of what other areas of the town budget have received in the past several years.

“The problem with this is that it’s not sustainable,” Spellios said. “We are robbing Peter to pay Paul … The reality for us is that in order for us to have increased the funding, we have now just underfunded some town programs. We have deleted initiatives. We have taken things away.”

Spellios said the selectmen decided to allocate the additional funds in the face of losing all-day free kindergarten. But he said next year, the discussion may not only be kindergarten, but also about cutting AP English, two items that are on the superintendent’s list.

School officials are still in the midst of contract negotiations with the Swampscott Education Association, the teacher’s union, which recently rejected its proposed contract and is potentially seeking higher raises. In December, Katz projected there would be $960,000 in salary increases for school employees and teachers, based on a then-anticipated 1.5 percent raise for educators.

Before ultimately settling on an additional $200,000 to the schools than was initially projected, town officials expressed an uneasiness with advocating additional funds, if it would potentially go toward payroll, rather than programs such as full-day kindergarten. As 80 percent of the school budget is already devoted to salaries, Spellios said last month that contractual increases were outpacing the revenue the town could give to the schools.

That sentiment was echoed by Carin Marshall, chairwoman of the school committee, last month after teachers representing the union gave prepared statements defending their decision for turning down their contract. Teachers said the rejection was based on several factors, the least of which was monetary, and that they didn’t feel respected as professionals. They also questioned how an initial $1.6 million school budget gap at the start of mediation when salary bargaining was underway became $275,000 after a tentative agreement was reached.

To reduce an initial $1.6 million budget gap to $275,000 before last week’s increase in town allocation, there have been revenue increases of $240,000, personnel transition savings of $200,000, program reductions of $314,000, and the $300,000 budgeted for the unknown amount of students who may join the district and require special education services has been eliminated.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Lynn Woods elementary tapped out

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN At Lynn Woods Elementary School, all drinking fountains have been temporarily shut off following an extensive series of voluntary copper and lead tests in city schools.

Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said bottled water has been supplied to students at the school and letters were sent home to parents.

Michael Donovan, director of the Inspectional Services Department (ISD), said a plumber has been hired and the fixtures at Lynn Woods will hopefully be back up and running by the end of next week.

Donovan said that all possible drinking sources were tested at every school in the city, including water fountains, kitchen equipment and sinks — over 2,000 samples taken from 695 taps.

Of the fixtures, roughy 2 percent were found to be above acceptable lead or copper limits.

Across the board, 88 fixtures tested high for lead and 19 were beyond acceptable levels for copper. Donovan said compromised fixtures will be replaced or have their supply lines changed.

“Thank you for being proactive,” said School Committee member Patricia Capano told Donovan on Thursday.

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Although the drinking water levels are regularly monitored, the latest testing marked the first time all of the fixtures in the district were checked at once, said Donovan.  

Each fixture was sampled twice by a third party inspection service with the testing paid for by the state, said Donovan.  

On April 26, 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker and State Treasurer Deb Goldberg announced that $2 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust would fund efforts to help public schools test for lead and copper in drinking water.

If copper levels are higher than 1,300 micrograms per liter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends a school take action to determine the source, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  

For lead, MassDEP lists the water action level at 15 parts per billion. Lead typically enters the water supply through lead pipes or plumbing that contains lead parts or solder.


Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Committee to study custodian calculations

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy has signed off on a plan to transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff to the school department from City Hall.

“Overall, this move accomplishes my intention of putting the custodians back to the school department where we will capture $1 million in healthcare costs toward net school spending,” said Kennedy.

The next step is approval of a home rule petition by lawmakers on Beacon Hill, typically a formality.

Kennedy’s signature caps a drama that unfolded last month, when the School Committee rejected the mayor’s request to move accountability of the school custodians from the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) to the schools by a 6-1 vote. Only the mayor, chairwoman of the committee, voted for it.

While the school committee can recommend to the Lynn delegation on Beacon Hill to reject the change, they are powerless to stop it on their own.

“The schools are never, ever affected the way the city side is,” said the mayor at a school committee meeting Thursday, calling it an accounting move to increase flexibility within the city budget and avoid layoffs.

“The city does not pocket any money whatsoever because the city pays all of the health insurance,” said Kennedy.

Other committee members expressed hesitation out of fear that the transfer will have unanticipated consequences on the school budget.

“We don’t have numbers,” said committee member Maria Carrasco.

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Member Patricia Capano asked attorney John C. Mihos whether the committee could stop or rewrite the petition if it was found to be unfavorable.

Mihos said the next avenue of action would be to request the state legislature not move it forward at the state level.

Capano successfully made a motion asking the committee to write to the state delegation, ensuring their awareness that the vote on the Home Rule Petition was lopsided.  

The movement of custodians, which was approved by the City Council last month, has been controversial. In 2006, then-Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy shifted the janitors and maintenance staff from the school department to the city. The transfer came, he said at the time, because the schools were dirty and the janitors lacked supervision.

It was Michael Donovan, ISD’s director, who took the added responsibility of monitoring the workers.

When he inherited the 166-employee unit in 2007, it included 120 permanent custodians, 20 substitute contract workers who filled in for absentees and 26 maintenance technicians for 26 schools.

Changes were implemented, Donovan said, that required more accountability. They instituted attendance and timekeeping policies, employees punched time cards, vacation rules were tightened, staff was moved and lots of maintenance project work was outsourced.

Today, the streamlined department has 57 custodians, a dozen maintenance workers and the afternoon staff is outsourced with a budget of $14 million.

In a quirk in state law, while salaries for the janitors as city employees count toward school spending, their health insurance premiums do not. By moving them, the city can add health insurance and reduce the deficit.

Kennedy said she hopes the change will take place by July 1. But City Councilor and state Rep. Daniel Cahill, who supports the change, said it could be months until the Legislature acts.


Item staffer Leah Dearborn contributed to this story. Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Saugus getting read on Chromebook spending

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
First-graders Josean Ortiz and Giuliana Patricelli use a Chomebook at Oaklandvale Elementary School.

BY BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Saugus officials are hovering over the keyboard when it comes to finding funding for Google Chromebooks for students.

Earlier this year, the panel approved a $29.6 million spending plan for fiscal year 2018, up from $28.1 million last year. The amount includes an allocation of $82,000 to fund the Chromebooks. The request will be considered by the Finance Committee in the spring.

School Committee member Peter Manoogian said in a meeting earlier this month that the board also voted to submit a request for Town Meeting to fund the purchase. He drafted an article and presented it to the committee on Feb. 16. Manoogian complained that his peers hadn’t yet acted on the article. But a few members questioned whether it was too soon to ask the town for more money.

The new technology will be necessary next year when MCAS testing will require a computer, according to committee member Arthur Grabowski. Eric Jones, principal of the Oaklandvale Elementary School, said his students are already there.

Children in grades four and five are using Google Docs for the majority of their writing assignments, he said. All students are completing assignments using the tool and teachers are using the comments feature to provide feedback in real time. The open line of communication has motivated students to complete quality work — many of them are checking for corrections and making improvements after school hours, without being asked to, said Jones.

“Our goal is to have the kindergartners learn how to log in to Google Docs so that by the time they’re in the first grade, they can jump right into it,” Jones said.

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The Oaklandvale School has about 130 Chromebooks for 220 students to use, he said. Each year, money is donated to each school by the Saugus Business Education Collaborative. Jones said for the past five years he has used every penny, $2,000 to $3,000 each year, on Chromebooks.

“This was my vision five years ago and it’s finally happening this year,” Jones said.  I can see it happening. The biggest hurdle was getting the tools, getting the technology. We’re getting to the point where we need more. Teachers want one for every student.”

Gianna Ferace, a fourth-grader, worked on a letter to a book author over February vacation. Her teacher, Joy Wright, was able to follow the changes made to the document and communicate with her on feedback through Google Docs’ comments feature.

“I think it’s helpful,” Ferace said. “If you make mistakes, you can see it.”

A search online revealed Chromebooks range from $149 to $499 each, depending on the model. The amount of cash included in the budget would fund the purchase of between 164 and 550 laptops.

“(Superintendent) Dr. David DeRuosi’s recommendation was to keep $82,000 in the budget and then figure out how we’re going to do it,” said chairwoman Jeannie Meredith. “We don’t know how much money we’re getting from the town, we don’t know how much we’re saving with the soft freeze — where’s the fire? Let’s see what we get, what we need and where we’re at before we ask for more.”

DeRuosi implemented a budget freeze, which he calls a “soft freeze,” to save the district money by the end of the school year.

“About halfway through the school year, we put a freeze on the budget and we start to go in and check and look at utility run rates, maybe resignations or retirements — we basically look at cost centers,” he said. “It’s a practice that the committee here has done before. You begin to look at your projections versus your budget line items. A school budget is fluid, it moves all the time. There’s always a cost differential.”

DeRuosi said he has been honest with the committee and asked members to meet twice a month to discuss the freeze and how and where it could be beneficial to the district.

Manoogian said DeRuosi never mentioned the possibility of paying for the Chromebooks with the savings from a soft freeze when the board met with the Finance Committee on Feb. 14.

“I have learned that the superintendent is telling members, of which I am not one, that he has the money and does not need the special article,” said Manoogian.

But DeRuosi argued that that was not the case. He said in an Item interview Tuesday that he couldn’t predict whether there would be ample savings to fund the entire one-time cost.

“I believe it’s premature,” said committee member Elizabeth Marchese, who requested that the board rescind the earlier motion to ask for the money in both the budget and a town meeting article. “We have not yet received any monies or know what monies we’re going to receive from the town.”

Marchese later changed her motion and asked to revisit the matter on March 23, the final meeting before the Board of Selectmen close the Annual Town Meeting warrant. The request was ultimately supported unanimously.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Swampscott school race draws contenders

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Two incumbents are vying to retain their seats on the School Committee.

Suzanne Wright and Gargi Cooper could face a challenge from Melissa Camire, who also pulled nomination papers for a chance to fill one of the two open seats.

Wright and Cooper are running for a second, three-year term on the school committee.

Candidates have until March 3 to obtain nomination papers and until March 7 to return them. Fifty certified signatures are required for a candidate to appear on the ballot. The local election is April 25.

Wright said she decided to run because she is enjoying the whole process of being on the committee. She said it took almost a full year to get up to speed after initially being elected.

“Now, I feel we’re working really well as a committee,” Wright said. “It’s been really rewarding.”

If re-elected, Wright said she is looking forward to some new projects, including seeing a new school get built. School officials intend to submit a statement of intent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority by April. Officials are seeking state support for one or several new school buildings in Swampscott, which would be for a new elementary or middle school.

Wright said she wants to be a part of the continuation of the mental health initiative in town. Two new programs were recently unveiled at Swampscott High School, aimed at providing a supportive environment for students suffering from mental or emotional health concerns. Wright said she wants to see those programs introduced at the middle school. She also wants to see a comprehensive technology plan for the entire district.

Cooper said she decided to run for a second term because she believes in her tenure, the committee has created transparency between the school department and the community.

“I feel that we have made positive movement on many initiative(s) that help unite resources for the town and the school department,” Cooper said in an email. “The school department underwent a large amount of changes over the past three years during my term and I am proud that during this process a lot of important initiatives have occurred, including a new facilities director that has helped unite the school and town on improving our aging facilities.

“I believe continuity is also important in our school department and feel that I will help continue this positive momentum,” she said.

Camire could not be reached for comment.

Elections taking shape in Swampscott

Amy O’Connor, vice-chair of the school committee, also spoke about the importance of continuity on the board, and endorsed her fellow members. If Wright and Cooper win, she said it would be the first time in more than 10 years that there is consistency on the board.

“With all the turnovers in school leadership in the past decade, Swampscott can’t seem to maintain any traction,” O’Connor wrote in a text message. “Hopefully, we will this time … We’ve had so many (superintendents) and principals. This is traction we need. We are in the midst of making difficult decisions.

“If you had asked me two years ago if I would support their re-election, I’m not sure what my answer would have been,” O’Connor said. “It was a slow start. But I can say categorically that I support them now. We disagree on a lot, but it is great discourse and positive friction. Each one of us is pushing the others to be our best.”

There is one open seat on the Planning Board. Angela Ippolito, chairwoman of the board, is running for a second five-year term.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to run again for another term,” Ippolito said. “I love the work that we do on the planning board. I think it’s really important.”

Ippolito said the planning board is the authority for site plan review. She said the board manages the town’s zoning bylaws and any change comes before it. The board doesn’t look at zoning as putting restrictions on what a developer can do, but rather as trying to encourage the right type of development in town.

She said the board also develops and executes a master plan. The town’s master plan was completed last spring, and will be implemented over a 10-year period. Many municipal departments and boards have responsibility for various parts of the plan, but the planning board coordinates and oversees the process, she added.

Ippolito said she also wants to continue to work on spearheading the town’s effort to purchase White Court, the former Marian Court College, and utilize the property for a public use. The 6.2-acre site is owned by the Sisters of Mercy.

“We are doing all those things finally,” she said. “I feel that it’s a board working really well together.”

As reported in The Item on Wednesday, Naomi Dreeben and Laura Spathanas, chair and vice-chair of the Board of Selectmen respectively, have announced they will be running for a second, three-year term. Both said they want to continue to see town projects move forward, as part of their reason for running.

There are four other open seats in town, and all of the incumbents are running. As of Thursday afternoon, no challengers have pulled papers. Only Michael McClung, town moderator, has returned his papers and is guaranteed to appear on the ballot, according to Town Clerk Susan Duplin. He is running for a second, one-year term.

William Sullivan is running for another three-year term on the Board of Assessors. Martha Dansdill is trying for another three-year term on the Board of Health.

Duplin said local elections usually average about 20 percent voter turnout.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Mayor weighs custodian transfer

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy will take the rest of the week to decide whether to transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff from City Hall to the school department.

In a drama that unfolded last week, the School Committee rejected the mayor’s request to move accountability of the school custodians from the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) to the schools by a 6-1 vote. Only the mayor, chairwoman of the committee, voted for it.

The change, which requires approval from the mayor, City Council and the Legislature, was Kennedy’s idea as a way to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty. But the mayor said she needs to review the Home Rule Petition in its entirety before she makes a decision.

“I plan to take most, if not all of this week, to read through the complicated nine-page document,” she said. “I am fully committed to the move, but I want to make sure nothing has been inserted to the home rule petition before I sign it.”

The draft of the change was straightforward, the mayor said, as simple as shifting the management to the schools. But there are other questions as to who will do the hiring, scheduling and disciplining, she said.

“The devil is in the details,” she said. “I’ve heard the School Committee making comments about hiring as many as seven new people and I need to read the amendments to see how they got that number.”

A review of the document found two positions created under the new ordinance, a supervisor of school custodian and ground services and an assistant.

“My intention is to get the custodians over to the school side so there’s a net zero impact on the budgeting and not spend another dime to do the same job ISD has been doing for years,” she said.

There has been some talk by School Committee members to end the practice of privatizing afternoon janitor services that cost the city $1.5 million. If schools hire their own workers, the cost would soar to $2.8 million in salary and benefits for 40 custodians.

“I am a member of the School Committee as well, and I don’t want to see teachers laid off in order to make room for 40 new custodians.” Kennedy said. “That would be a bad move financially, I want to provide direct services to kids.”

The move was approved by the City Council last week. If the mayor fails to sign it, she could send it back to the council for amendments. While the School Committee would be asked to reconsider any changes, officially they do not have a say in the move. They can only recommend to the Lynn delegation on Beacon Hill not to support the change.

Showdown over Lynn school custodians


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

CFO accuses school committee of ‘fuzzy math’

By THOMAS GRILLO and BRIDGET TURCOTTE 

LYNN  — One day after the School Committee overwhelmingly rejected a move to transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff from Inspectional Services to the school department because of the costs, the city’s chief financial officer blasted the panel’s fuzzy math.

“There was a lot of bad information spewed by the School Committee Thursday night,” said Peter Caron. “If the schools take over custodial operations as they exist today, the only cost to them is $1 million in health insurance. All the other talk about it costing another million here and another million there is baloney.”

The controversy began last month when in an attempt to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy engineered a plan to transfer supervision of school custodians from City Hall to the school department. Earlier this week, the city council voted unanimously for the change.

But in a 6-1 vote Thursday, the School Committee rejected the home rule petition that would make the transfer a reality. The panel asked the city’s Beacon Hill delegation to deep six the proposal when it reaches the State House. Only the mayor, chairman of the school committee, voted for the change.

“There are far too too many questions for us to support this change,” said Patricia Capano, a School Committee member. “We still don’t know what it will cost us, we want answers. Can we afford it without depleting our budget? It would be shortsighted.”

Showdown over Lynn school custodians

State Rep. Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn), who also serves as a City Councilor at-Large, supported the measure at the council meeting.

“I hopes the issues get resolved in a way that benefits everyone in the city,” he said.

State Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) said he will wait to see the home rule petition arrives on Beacon Hill before he makes a decision on how to vote.

Sen. Thomas M. McGee (D-Lynn), through a spokeswoman, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Michael Donovan, ISD director, said half of his $14 million budget pays the salaries for 57 custodians, a dozen maintenance workers as well as for supplies and maintenance.

Caron insists that portion of ISD’s budget, or $7 million, would go to the schools, and it will not cost the School Committee a dime more to do the same job.

Still, Capano said she has no idea what it costs for the afternoon shift of custodians that are privatized. She wanted to know how much it would be for the schools to hire their own custodial staff.

“We want to make an intelligent comparison if it would benefit the citizens of Lynn to have 40 new employees, but can we afford it?” she said.

Donovan said the cost of the private company for the p.m. shift is $1.5 million. But it would increase to $2.8 million in salary and benefits if the schools hire their own workers.

But Caron insists such an added expenditure is unnecessary.

“If they choose to fire the private company and hire new custodians, that’s on them,” he said. “But if they continue to use the private afternoon service, I would take the cash out of ISD’s budget and put it into the school budget. The net result is zero extra costs for the schools.”

Technically, the School Committee has no say in the transfer. They can only make a recommendation.

The mayor has until Thursday to decide whether to sign the home rule petition request and send it along to the State House.

Kennedy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Despite the custodian transfer, the city is still dealing with other school spending issues. Caron reported a clerical error that resulted in a significant underfunding to the schools of about $1.6 million.  He anticipates a similar shortfall next year.

The health insurance portion of the net school formula was miscalculated using a head-count method, he said which only includes individual health insurance plans, not the added costs of covering families.

“I’ve recommended to the mayor that the city seriously consider moving away from a self-insured plan to a premium-based plan,” he said. “We would know what the cost would be for each employee every year. We would know exactly how much money we would expect for insurance costs for the coming year.”

Of the $8.9 million in debt the city is committed to repaying in a four year period, Caron said. About $900,000 has been repaid, leaving two years to repay $8 million, he added.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.comBridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com.

Showdown over Lynn school custodians

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE and THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  — The school committee wants changes to be made to a Home Rule Petition that would transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff to the school department from the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD).

The move, engineered by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, is designed to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty. Under the revised rules, the city’s school custodians and maintenance staff are headed back to the school department. Earlier this week, the city council voted unanimously for the change.

The school committee, which did not have a vote in the transfer, was scheduled to hold a public comment session to hear from the employees and learn more about the change. But the meeting was canceled because of  last week’s snowstorm. Instead the discussion continued Thursday night, after the council vote. Kennedy said she would take all comments into consideration before signing off on council’s decision.

“I will take several days after this lands on my desk to decide if I’m going to sign it or not,” said Kennedy. “It has not been presented for a signature yet. By the city rules, I have 10 days once it is presented to me.”

Should Kennedy decide to veto the decision made by council, the panel would either make changes to the petition or drop it. But if she signs off, it moves on for approval from the legislature.

James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, said while the school committee can recommend to the city council that they rescind their vote from earlier this week to move custodian management to the school department from ISD, the council is under no obligation to reverse its vote. In addition, the school committee may ask Lynn’s Beacon Hill delegation to reject the home rule petition for the change, but they too are under no obligation to support it.

The controversy erupted in 2006, when former Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy shifted the custodians and maintenance staff from the school department to the city. The transfer came, officials said, because the schools were dirty and the janitors lacked supervision.

When ISD inherited the 166-employee unit in 2007, it included 120 permanent custodians, 20 substitute contract workers who filled in for absentees and 26 maintenance technicians for 26 schools.

ISD Director Michael Donovan said as a result of the switch, the custodians were held accountable, attendance and timekeeping policies were implemented, employees punched time cards, vacation rules were tightened and the city outsourced lots of maintenance project work.

Today, the department has 57 custodians and a dozen maintenance workers with a budget of $14 million.

While there’s agreement that ISD’s management of the custodians has worked well, Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said shifting the employees to the school department will add about $1 million to the city’s required school spending.

In a quirk in state law, while salaries for the custodians as city employees counts toward school spending, their health insurance premiums do not. By moving them, the city can add health insurance and reduce the deficit.

Caron and the mayor say moving the custodians to the school department will allow them to include those health care costs in the budget.

Richard Germano, vice president of AFSCME Local 1736 representing the workers, has said they are happy to go back to work for the school department. But because the petition calls for two custodians who clean City Hall to be transferred to the schools in addition to a supervisor position that has yet to be filled, Germano is concerned that the supervisor position was designed with a specific candidate in mind.

“That section is very offensive, as a taxpayer of this city,” he said. “The chief of inspectional services, I guarantee, will get this job. I guarantee it was put in there for him.”

Caron did not present the committee with any indication of the costs the transfer would pose to the school department because he said the numbers were not requested. School Business Administrator Kevin McHugh argued he sent an email to Donovan on Feb. 6 that has not been returned.

“This doesn’t feel correct,” said committee member Patricia Capano. “I feel that there are statements behind these statements that we are not aware of.”

Board members also shared concerns that the hiring process was in violation of state laws because the document does not indicate that veterans will have preference. The process outlined also requires three people to sign off on hiring a potential employee, rather than leaving the responsibility to the superintendent.

“When this comes to you (Kennedy), I would like to see it be sent back to the council to have them correct these things,” said committee member Donna Coppola.

“I share concerns about the costs,” said member Jared Nicholson. “I would appreciate seeing a breakdown. We spent a lot of time talking about the net school spending and this is entirely motivated by school spending. It was initiated by city council but everything in it is being implemented by the school department.”

Day without immigrants hits Lynn


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Saugus schools head to drawing board

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The Massachusetts School Building Authority approved the town’s plan for a combination middle and high school building concept, allowing officials to move on to the design.

The quasi-independent government agency that funds public schools is working with Saugus to construct a new building.

“Now we will move on to modular four of the project with the MSBA, the schematic design phase,” said Town Manager Scott Crabtree. “Over the next year we will work with the architects to design the actual building.”

The project is expected to cost about $153 million. In June, Town Meeting will be presented with a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion vote that would increase the tax levy beyond the state limit of 2.4 percent for more than 20 years or until the project is paid off, Crabtree said. The question will then go to the polls. The amount that could be added to residents’ bills to fund the investment is still unknown, he said.

The new middle-high school would be constructed on the same property as the existing high school. A new football stadium with multi-use fields would replace the current building.

The building process began when the town sent a letter of interest to the MSBA at the end of 2013, which was accepted the next month. By last February, PMA Consultants was chosen as the owner’s project manager and HMFH Architects Inc. was chosen to design the new building.

Cambridge-based HMFH is known for its user-centered designs and use of color in their work. The company has experience working with the state on combination middle-high school and standalone high school projects.

HMFH project director Lori Cowles described a pod-style layout focused on keeping students within one area of the school, rather than a compartmental design that keeps clusters of classrooms teaching one subject together.

“I think it’s very exciting to move onto the next phase of the school building project,” Crabtree said. “This will be the school district and the town’s time to work with the residents and parents and students of the community on designing a plan that fits and is designed to support the new education plan that was voted by the school committee and building committee.”

Additional public outreach meetings are planned for the next year in an attempt to engage more residents in the process and ensure voters make informed decisions when it comes to funding the project, he said.

“We are on sort of an accelerated rate of trying to move the project forward,” Crabtree said. “We have been able to make some of the benchmarks sooner than scheduled. We look forward to continuing to have a partnership with the MSBA.”

Sergeant approved as new harbormaster


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

How to pay for all-day K in Saugus?

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Pictured is a kindergarten student at Oaklandvale Elementary School. 

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS  — The burden of funding free, all-day kindergarten throughout the district, could be shared by Town Meeting.

At the request of the School Committee, the Board of Selectmen added an article to the Annual Town Meeting warrant that, if approved, will result in the formation of a committee of five people, including at least two Town Meeting members, to “evaluate the benefits and costs” of all-day kindergarten.

The board voted 4 to 0 to move the article forward.

Should Town Meeting accept the article, the new group will review the findings of the All-Day Kindergarten Task Force, hold at least two public outreach sessions, identify public funding sources and make a recommendation at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting.

The task force formed in November at the request of school committee member Peter Manoogian. The group includes an elementary school principal, two kindergarten teachers, a Town Meeting member, a few parents, Manoogian and Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi.

Tuition for all-day kindergarten is $2,700. There is no tuition for half-day kindergarten. Each year, 10 full-day scholarships are awarded based on financial need. The task force’s mission is to provide a richer educational experience to all kindergarten students, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.

The final day to submit a Town Meeting article to the Board will be April 12.

School committee pushes for all-day K


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

School committee pushes for all-day K

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Kindergarten student Grant Leonard and his teacher Andrea Proctor work on math at the Oaklandvale Elementary School. 

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The school committee is requesting Town Meeting take action to further efforts to provide free, all-day kindergarten throughout the district.

The panel will go before the board of selectmen tonight to ask that an article be added to the Annual Town Meeting warrant that would request the formation of a committee of five people, including at least two Town Meeting members, to “evaluate the benefits and costs” associated with all-day kindergarten.

The group will review the findings of the All-Day Kindergarten Task Force, hold at least two public outreach sessions, identify public funding sources and make a recommendation at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting.

The task force formed in November at the request of school committee member Peter Manoogian. The group includes an elementary school principal, two kindergarten teachers, a Town Meeting member, a few parents, Manoogian and Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi.

Tuition for all-day kindergarten is $2,700. There is no tuition for half-day kindergarten. Each year, 10 full-day scholarships are awarded based on financial need. The task force’s mission is to provide a richer educational experience to all kindergarten students, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.

“What was apparent to me — the compelling reason (half-day students) weren’t enrolled (in full day kindergarten) is the $2,700 cost,” Manoogian said.

Children in the full-day program spend 60 minutes on math, 60 on social studies and 60 on English language arts each day, he said. Alternatively, students in the half-day program spend about half an hour on each.

School committee chairwoman Jeannie Meredith supported the article with a positive vote but said she misunderstood the motion.

“I would recommend we ask the current task force to continue their work and open it up to other community members, rather than a separate committee of Town Meeting members,” said Meredith.

“Although I’d love to see free, all-day K in our district, I firmly believe we have to have our financial health in order and have our priorities outlined,” she said. “For the last several years, we have made band-aid budget cuts but we’re not really addressing the issues. As chairwoman of both committees — the school committee and the school building committee — my primary focus is the new middle school, high school project and working on a capital plan with the Town Manager and current selectmen that addresses all the current schools, pre-K through 12.”

As part of a complete overhaul of Saugus Public Schools, by 2020, the number of school buildings could be condensed to just three. A lower elementary school would serve pre-K through grade 2 students; an upper elementary would serve grades 3-5; and, through the project closest to fruition, the middle and high school would share a single building.

The new school structure would replace the existing pre-K, four elementary schools, middle and high school. Fewer schools would mean less operating costs and more money in the school budget, Meredith said.

“As important as kindergarten is, I’d like to see that come with time,” she said. “We need programs that are going to bring our district to a level 1; like robotics and STEAM. In my opinion, we cannot afford to cut any programming from our students. We need to start looking at ways to bring these things now, not wait until we have a new building.”

Meredith said she was opposed to cutting teachers’ jobs and existing programming but declined to comment on how the programs could be funded.

Saugus debates pros + cons of all-day K


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Region digs in to to dig out

ITEM PHOTO BY BOB ROCHE
John Bray, with snow up to the top of his 18-inch boots, clears his driveway on Quinn Road as a plow adds to his work.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

Parking during Thursday’s major snowstorm was a headache for some Lynn residents.

David Garcia, 36, parked at Connery Elementary School, on Wednesday night after the city’s parking ban was announced. He went to take his car out the next afternoon to drive to Stop & Shop in Jamaica Plain, where he works for U.S. Security Associates, but found that it was blocked in. A row of cars, had parked in front of cars in spaces, seemingly after drivers were unable to find any parking in the lot.

David Garcia clears his car so he could head to work. Item photo by Jim Wilson.

Garcia was left confused with what he could do to get to work. When he spoke with The Item, he was already supposed to be at his job. He said he parked his car in a way that it would be easy to get it out, and never had an issue with being blocked in a lot during a snowstorm before.

“When they remove the emergency, everybody has to take the car out,” Garcia said. “If they say tonight at 9 o’clock, so I’m working at that time. So, maybe they tow my car.”

Garcia was one of many residents taking advantage of parking in the city’s schoolyards during the snowstorm.

The School Committee voted last month to keep the city’s school parking lots open for emergency snow parking for the remainder of the year. The issue was raised in early January when parking during snow emergencies was limited to the city’s middle and high schools. In the past, parking has been allowed at some, but not all, elementary schools.

During a snowstorm in early January, city councilors and members of the school committee heard from dozens of residents who were left without a place to park. At the time, a few councilors made the decision to open the chains blocking off the lots.

Fnu Atal clears his car at Ingalls School. Item photo by Jim Wilson.

Fnu Atal, 30, was parked in Ingalls Elementary School on Thursday afternoon, but not before he received a parking ticket for leaving his car on the street earlier that morning during the parking ban. The ban went into effect at midnight on Thursday. But he said he was working the night shift and was unaware there was one in place.

Atal said he got off from working as a security guard in Somerville at 7 a.m. and then had a doctor’s appointment shortly after. When he went home from the doctor, he got a ticket on his car.

“Every day I park on the street,” Atal said. “This never happened before.”

Atal said before the parking ticket, he already paid more than $200 for highway tickets, on top of his monthly expenses, on an hourly wage of $12. How can he support his family, he asked.

“I’m not happy,” Atal said about parking at the schools.

Check here for Friday parking news, closings and cancellations.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott teachers turn down contract

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — School officials already grappling with a $275,000 budget deficit are seeing an additional obstacle after the Swampscott Education Association, the teacher’s union, rejected their proposed contract and could potentially seek higher raises.  

School officials held a public forum on their proposed $30.49 million FY18 budget last week. After revolving funds and grants are taken into account, the school district budgeted for $28,272,500 in town allocation. But the town is only allocating an additional $750,000 from last year’s amount, or $27,997,500. Therein, lies the $275,000 deficit.

School officials are faced with a scenario where the $750,000 increase in town allocation is not even enough to cover their teacher- and staff-anticipated salary increases. In December, Evan Katz, school business administrator, projected there would be $960,000 in salary increases for school employees and teachers, based on a then-anticipated 1.5 percent raise for educators.

Parents are not happy that to bridge the $275,000 gap the school department is considering transitioning full-day kindergarten to a half-day program at no charge. Parents would have to pay tuition for the full-day program.

Many of the same parents who voiced their opposition to that option last week to the school committee repeated those concerns to the board of selectmen on Wednesday night. School officials have asked the town to increase their allocation to bridge the gap instead.

Selectman Peter Spellios said the board, made up of parents of children in Swampscott Public Schools, is sympathetic to the talk around preserving full-day kindergarten.

But, he said, since the budget was presented at the public forum last week, the teachers’ union voted not to ratify their contract, which was negotiated with the school department. He said it was his understanding that part of the reason given was that the union found it “suspicious” that the school was miraculously able to take a $1.5 million deficit and make it a $275,000 gap.

Initially, school officials were faced with a $1.5 million projected budget deficit. Through some cuts and fee increases, the deficit was reduced to $275,000.

Spellios said he would not advocate for allocating more town funds to the school department, if it would potentially go toward payroll, rather than keeping programs such as full-day kindergarten. He called union leadership irresponsible that they would reject the contract because they thought that there was more money on the table for them. He said 80 percent of the school budget is already devoted to salaries, and added that contractual increases are outpacing the revenue the town can give to the schools. He compared it to feeding a Pacman that keeps eating the programming.

Superintendent Pamela Angelakis said without ratification of the contract, or the Memorandum of Agreement, budgeting an unknown increase for potential raises is difficult, if not impossible.

“If the union were to attempt to negotiate a higher increase, then yes, the current deficit would increase,” Angelakis said in an email. “I support the board of selectmen’s position. If more money were allocated to the schools, I could not allow it to be used for anything other than (kindergarten) programming because it’s the right thing to do.”

The Swampscott Education Association issued a statement on its Facebook page on why they “overwhelmingly rejected a proposed contract.” The SEA said there was no language in the contract to protect the professional autonomy and educators’ judgment and no language giving educators sufficient voice in school-based decisions.

“The members of the SEA question the dramatic change in statement about the town’s deficit, which was reported by town officials as $1.6 million at the start of mediation when salary bargaining was underway and was more recently pegged at $275,000 after a tentative agreement was reached,” the statement said. “Please support your Swampscott educators as we head back to the bargaining table.”

Nancy Hanlon, SEA president, was asked if the union would be seeking higher raises. She said it feels that in the midst of mediating a fair contract, it would be unethical to issue a full statement.

“However, we want to be clear that the rejection was based on several factors, the least of which was monetary,” she said in an email. “The SEA believes that teachers are not being treated with respect as professionals.”

To reduce the initial $1.5 million budget gap to $275,000, there have been revenue increases of $240,000, personnel transition savings of $200,000, program reductions of $314,000, and the $300,000 budgeted for the unknown amount of students who may join the district and require special education services has been eliminated. School officials say eliminating free full-day kindergarten is a last resort.

Swampscott fired up again


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Saugus spending to address school changes

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — As the demographics of the district change, the school committee delivered a budget that they pledge will support students.  

The panel approved a $29.6 million spending plan for fiscal year 2018, up from $28.1 million last year. The request will be reviewed by Town Manager Scott Crabtree and the Board of Selectmen.

As a result of the increase, Spanish will be a requirement, rather than an elective, a cut that was made for last year’s budget. An allocation of $82,000 will fund Chromebooks, which will be necessary next year when MCAS testing will require a computer, according to committee member Arthur Grabowski.

“Down the road, all state testing will be done online,” said Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi. “ELL (English language learner) testing is already online and MCAS is making the transition.”

Two new transition counselors and an expansion of the English language learning department are included in the budget to help the needs of the district’s changing demographics.

During a presentation Monday, DeRuosi described the financial impacts of the change. In 2012, the district had 88 ELL students. Last year, that swelled to 126, he said. The public schools have students who have “very limited English skills. Some don’t even have skills in their own language,” he said.

About 40 percent of students are considered low-income and qualify for a free or reduced price lunch program. They are also eligible to ride to school at no cost, he said.

The homeless population has increased steadily over the past five years and reached 40 students in 2016.

“Enrollment might be dropping but the kids that we have are becoming absolutely more needy than the kids we had before as a population,” DeRuosi said. “As a district, we are beginning to feel the effects of a changing student demographic.”

Transition councilors would help with the social-emotional needs of students, which would help them remained focused and get more out of their educational experience.

Swampscott tries to bridge a gap

More than $300,000 will be saved in cost containments, including two students who will no longer need to be transported out of the district, retiring employees whose jobs will be filled with newbies at a lower salary and cuts in the cafeterias.

“It is the responsibility of the school committee to advocate for an educationally sound budget, whatever that budget number might be,” said Grabowski. “To advocate for something less or to make a request that’s not inclusive of what our needs might be, from my point of view, is irresponsible.”

The budget will be presented to the town manager and board of selectmen by Feb. 1.

The Saugus High School Project Building Committee is asking for parents, teachers, members of the Parent Teacher Organization and residents to attend their next meeting on Monday to provide feedback on the combination middle-high school project.

Jeannie Meredith, chairwoman of the committee, said she hopes to hear from residents before the project enters its next phase with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the quasi-independent government agency that funds public schools.

The feedback will help the committee with the design and educational space for the new school building, she said.

The new middle-high school would be constructed on the same property as the existing high school. A new football stadium with multi-use fields would replace the current building.

By 2020, the school system could be transformed to contain one lower elementary school for Pre-K through grade 2; one upper elementary for grades 3-5; and a combination middle and high school. The new school structure would replace the existing Pre-K, four elementary schools, middle school and high school.

Sixteen-year-old Veterans Memorial Elementary School would become the lower elementary building. Modifications would be made to the Belmonte Middle School and it would become the Belmonte STEAM Academy. The upper elementary school would have a special focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

The building process began when the town sent a letter of interest to the MSBA at the end of 2013, which was accepted the next month. By last February, PMA Consultants was chosen as the owner’s project manager and HMFH Architects Inc. was chosen to design the new building.

Cambridge-based HMFH is known for its user-centered designs and use of color in their work. The company has experience working with the state on combination middle-high school and standalone high school projects.

The meeting will be held at Saugus Town Hall at 4 p.m.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Swampscott tries to bridge a gap

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Parents are not happy that the $275,000 school budget deficit could threaten free full-day kindergarten.

Under a scenario where the budget deficit is not eliminated, school officials are exploring an option to transition full-day kindergarten to a half-day program at no charge. Parents would have to pay tuition for the full-day program.

Katie Holt, who recently moved to Swampscott, and has a daughter who will start kindergarten in the fall, said the idea of going from full-day kindergarten to a half day bothers her in many ways. She wondered what kind of burden that would place on the first grade teachers if their students didn’t learn enough in the previous grade.

Claire Beckett said she moved to the seaside town about a year ago partly for the good school system. She got emotional at the thought of losing full day-kindergarten for her 2½-year-old child.

“As a working mother, it feels incredibly regressive to lose full-day service for me,” Beckett said. “We can do better than that.”

Parents such as Holt and Beckett spoke at a public hearing for the FY18 school budget, held during a school committee meeting on Wednesday.

But officials say cutting kindergarten is a last resort and that they’ve been scrambling for weeks to come up with ways to eliminate the initial projected $1.5 million deficit. Through some cuts and fee increases, the deficit has been reduced to $275,000.

“When we had the $1.5 million gap, we were faced with bad choices, all of them being bad choices,” said Superintendent Pamela Angelakis. “And it came down to, if we need several hundred thousands of dollars, what is the least of the bad choices? That’s where kindergarten tuition came in (to) this discussion. Do I want to go there? I absolutely do not. Do I believe it’s the right thing to do? I absolutely do not. And given that the gap is getting smaller and smaller, my hope is that we don’t have to go there. It would set our district back tremendously.”

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School Business Administrator Evan Katz presented a $30.49 million budget to a room of more than 100 residents. After revolving funds and grants are taken into account, the school district budgeted for $28,272,500 in town allocation. But the town is only allocating an additional $750,000 from last year’s amount, or $27,997,500. Therein lies the $275,000 budget deficit.

In mid-December, school officials were faced with a darker situation. Before Angelakis and her administrative team started cutting into the budget, the projected FY18 school budget exceeded available revenue by $1.5 million.

To get that gap down to a more reasonable amount, Katz said there have been revenue increases of $240,000, personnel transition savings of $200,000, program reductions of $314,000 and the $300,000 budgeted for the unknown amount of students who may join the district and require special education services has been eliminated.

One increase will be in athletic user fees and is projected to save the district $80,000. As a result, each student will be paying an additional $75 to play each sport. Currently, athletic user fees only cover about 30 percent of the cost to run the school district’s sports programs. With the increase, Katz said the fees would cover 40 percent of the cost. The district covers the rest of the cost.

“The idea that athletic user fees are only covering 30 percent of the actual cost, while we’re talking about cutting full-day kindergarten is something I cannot support,” said Amy O’Connor, school committee vice-chair.

Three teacher retirements are anticipated, which saved $100,000. An unfilled technical director position has been eliminated, saving another $100,000.

For program reductions, Katz said about four additional teacher positions are expected to be eliminated, along with the administrative assistant position in the METCO program. The Hadley Elementary School special education job is being cut, as the student population there doesn’t require one, he said.

Elementary health will merge into the physical education program. The middle school red, white and you class is getting the ax. Mandarin is switching to online only.

“I think that it’s important to notice this is going to have a ripple effect on the world language program,” said Jessica-Gahm-Diaz, head of the school world language department.

Gahm-Diaz predicted larger class sizes for French and Spanish, with Mandarin potentially getting phased out. With potential class sizes of 30 students, classes would be unable to go to the language lab, which only has 28 computers.

Another large piece of reducing the deficit, Katz said, was eliminating the $300,000 set aside for students who may come into the district and need out of district services for special education. He said officials are pretty comfortable with the money set aside for students the district is currently educating, and can’t afford to set aside any money for students who may move into the district in the next 18 months.

“We have weathermen who can’t predict the forecast and we’re expected to predict special education students 16 months ahead of time,” Angelakis said. “To add an additional $300,000 into our budget for unknown costs is ridiculous and it’s the way we’ve been doing it in the district for years. So, that is a huge change and one that I’m in support of.”

Katz said as a backup, school officials are recommending that the town fund a special education stabilization fund, which would be money set aside for students requiring those services who may come into the school district. The fund would require a Town Meeting vote.

Despite the work done to close the deficit, school officials are saying the $750,000 increase in town allocation is not even enough to cover their teacher- and staff-anticipated salary increases. In December, Katz projected there would be $960,000 in projected salary increases for school employees and teachers. He said officials are trying to raise people’s awareness that the school committee has done a good job of negotiating favorable contracts with staff.

“I think the message I’m putting out there tonight is we need a little bit more help than that $750,000,” Angelakis said. “If that doesn’t even meet the salary requirements that we’re contractually obligated to give, how are we supposed to balance the budget?”

The school committee is scheduled to vote on the budget on Feb. 8.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.