schools

Warren rides the Blue Line into Lynn

ITEM FILE PHOTO
This February 2017 file photo shows Newton Mayor Setti Warren on a visit to Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Democratic candidate for governor Setti Warren promises to extend Blue Line service into the city and have millionaires pay for it.

The two-term Newton mayor will make the case for the MBTA project at Central Square Station at a campaign stop Friday morning.  

Warren, who is running to unseat Gov. Charlie Baker, is facing a challenge for the Democratic nomination from environmentalist and entrepreneur Robert K. Massie and former Gov. Deval Patrick administration budget chief Jay Gonzalez. Whoever wins, they will battle Baker, who was recently named the country’s most popular governor in a nationwide poll.

Warren, an Iraq War veteran, said he did not know how much it would cost to extend the Blue Line 4.5 miles above ground from Wonderland Station in Revere into Lynn.

“Here’s what I do know,” he asked. “The cost of not doing it is the loss of access to high-paying jobs, not getting cars off the highway and more congestion because that’s what’s happening right now.”

In 2013, the MBTA conducted a Blue Line Extension study and estimated the cost from $737 million to $1 billion.

Warren said there are at least two ways to pay for the T project. First, as governor he pledged to examine $12 billion in state tax credits that are lost to the treasury.  

“I’d look at exemptions that are in the tax code right now that gives revenue away to special interests,” he said.

Warren candidacy could connect in a blue state

The second method to raise revenue is to implement the so-called millionaire’s tax.  If approved by voters next year, the proposal would amend the state constitution by imposing a 4 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million. The money would be designated for schools and transportation.

About 20,000 or 0.5 percent of households in the state would be hit by the new tax and it would raise $1.9 billion annually, according to the state Department of Revenue.

“Transportation is a critical part of moving people back and forth to work,” Warren said. “It’s critical to get people off the roads and out of their cars. If we are not making smart investments in things like transportation and we are giving away revenue through tax exemptions, we are not being honest about how we are spending money.”

The Newton mayor also endorsed the Lynn to Boston ferry which was cut last summer amid budget problems.

“The longer we wait to make investments in things like the ferry and Blue Line, we are growing economic inequality because we are not providing Lynn with the chance to grow economically,” he said. It’s essential for the vitality of the city for these projects to move forward so Lynn can meet its full potential.”

Jacqueline Goddard, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, declined comment.

But in a visit to Lynn last year, state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said given the T’s budget troubles, the T was not building new stations on the state’s dime.


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

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.

Peabody lays off on initial job-cut fears

“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.

First-graders salute Memorial Day heroes

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.”

Baker: I like Tom — but I’m with Judy

By THOMAS GRILLO

SALEM — Popular Gov. Charlie Baker could make the difference in re-electing Republican Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy in what could be a close race in November.

“I have known the mayor for quite a while and I will certainly support her re-election,” the Republican governor told The Item on Wednesday. “That said, I have a good working relationship with Sen. McGee … they are two fine people and that’s good for the city of Lynn.”

Last week, state Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) kicked off his bid for mayor at the Knights of Columbus. The senator told the crowd he was running because he loves the city and the values Lynn represents. Kennedy launched her bid for a third term last month and pointed to dozens of accomplishments.

The race comes amid financial troubles for the cash-strapped city. The 2017 and 2018 budgets continue to pose challenges for Kennedy’s administration. She has asked department heads to make cuts. Some managers may have to trim up to 8.5 percent in their personnel budgets, a request that could lead to layoffs.

I am the best person for the job, McGee says

Kennedy and McGee were behind the failed measure in March to build a pair of middle schools. Voters overwhelmingly rejected increasing their real estate taxes by $200 or more annually for the next 25 years to pay for them.

But they are on opposing sides of an added meals tax that would go into the city’s general fund. McGee supports the idea of adding .0075 to the state’s 6.5 percent meals tax, while Kennedy vetoed the plan last week.

Baker is the most popular governor in America, according to a poll by Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C. research firm. The survey ranked him No. 1 with a 75 percent approval rating. The governor’s disapproval rating is a modest 17 percent, the survey said.

When asked how he would help Kennedy win, Baker declined to be specific.

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

“I have a day job, which is pretty busy and chews up lot of my time,” he said. “But if Mayor Kennedy would like me to support and help her, we will do what we can. As I said, I have a lot of respect for Sen.  McGee and those two folks bring a lot to the table for the city.”

While Baker and McGee are native sons of the North Shore, the governor acknowledged he and the senator do not have the same close relationship shared with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.   

“Mayor Walsh and I talked every day for more than a month during those snowstorms shortly after I took office,” he said. “That cemented the relationship, it’s just different.”


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

 

A new chapter for Saugus author

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Michael Coller is running for Saugus selectman.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — A private investigator and author of two controversial books is seeking a spot on the Board of Selectmen.

Given his law enforcement and investigation background, Michael Coller said he feels confident he can thoroughly research anything that comes before the board and make a well-informed decision in the town’s best interest.

“If you all have the same feelings to vote as one body, what’s the difference between having five different selectmen or just one,” said Coller. “I’m not challenging anyone on the board but I think finer points could be brought out. I’m hoping to create a little more degree of independence.”

Coller is on the Conservation Commission and Library Board of Trustees. He was born and raised in Saugus and graduated from Bridgewater State University with a degree in management.

He has worked as a security professional for 23 years, focusing specifically on large retail firms, criminal investigations, asset protection, and firearm licensing.

In his spare time, he enjoys writing. He takes pride in a series of books he’s working on, the Bruno Johnson series. He’s currently working on the third installment, which follows the main character, a private investigator, as he returns home to uncover political wrongdoings in local government.

Characters in the second book “Bruno Johnson: Against the Grain,” include Missiles, known for her “voluptuous breasts years ago (which) were worthy of being dipped in bronze. However, they now look like tube socks with baseballs sunk in the bottom;” Alisa, “a tiny peanut sized gal with what appeared to be fried eggs for breasts;” and Sue the Moo, who is “as big as a cow with four wrecking balls attached to her body. Two stuck on her chest and the other ones jammed in the seat of her pants.”

Labor of love in Revere

Coller maintains that while the plot of the books may mirror local politics, the similarities are “purely coincidental.” He admitted he changed the names of characters in his book to protect the identities of real people but called his work fictional.

Like himself, he said Johnson is a character who refuses to knock on doors; he just opens them.

“I surely have the creativity to research what I need to research to come to a sound decision that will benefit the town,” he said. “This town shouldn’t be a stepping stone. I’m looking for a balance between property taxes and commercial taxes. As far as a new high school, it’s only going to help our property values. I don’t have children in the schools but I support a new high school. It’s going to help our town.”

If elected, Coller hopes to contribute to the revitalization of the town’s waterfront and Cliftondale Square.

“I went to Saugus High School with some of the people who own businesses (in Cliftondale Square),” he said. “It’s not as prominent as Saugus Center with the library and Town Hall. I think it’s gotten kind of dreary while Saugus Center is more welcoming. It needs some work. When I grew up here, it was as busy or busier than Saugus Center.”

Last year, a study of the square using a $10,000 Massachusetts Downtown Initiative grant found that 72 percent of the square’s businesses are independently owned. With more than 192,000 square feet of commercial space, the 66 existing businesses are underutilized, with some retail stores seeing fewer than 30 customers a day.

Coller worked as a commercial fisherman in Saugus, Gloucester, and Boston while putting himself through college and said he has an understanding for the importance of improving the waterfront area.

Town Clerk Ellen Schena said potential candidates can take out papers to run for office in July. Board of Selectmen candidates will be required to obtain 50 signatures and return the papers by Sept. 19.


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

Wayne Alarm: Why you should join our team

SAFETY TIP OF THE DAY

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With a company that brings honest work all throughout the North Shore, joining a team whose main focus is to bring customers a system that provides them with the highest level of protection is rewarding. Sure, joining the team will provide you with full health benefits but there’s nothing better than being a part of a mission driven team that is providing innovation and growth in the security business. If you’re a self-motivated individual, your work will be an important factor that is significant to the Wayne Alarm Systems foundation.

With 48 years of Ralph Sevinor success, president of Wayne Alarm, you’ll become a part of their growing team in providing exceptional customer service, being one of their well certified sales professionals, or out on the field as a technician.

Additional to the work Wayne Alarms provides, you’ll be able to share the privilege of being in a team that believes in giving back to the community by being involved in local events, motivating fundraises and truly providing a difference that can not only benefit you as an employee, but as a member of the community. Ralph Sevinor believes in giving and getting back. As he gives, students at the local schools and colleges that Wayne Alarm sponsor, get back the chance to become employees and part of the Wayne Alarm family.

If interested, head to their careers page for open opportunities, or, if an entry you seem fit isn’t available, send Wayne Alarms your résumé to careers@waynealarm.com.

 

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“Here yesterday… Here today…Here tomorrow.”

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Malden school suspends hair extension ban

SCREENSHOT FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
“Even if I get expelled, I don’t care; the policy is inappropriate,” Mya Cook said.

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — A Malden-based charter school has suspended its policy ban on students wearing hair extensions for the remainder of the school year following a directive from state Attorney General Maura Healey’s office  on Friday that the policy “appears to be … clearly unlawful.”

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s (MVRCS) board of trustees met in a closed meeting Sunday night to review the school’s Uniform Policy regulations, which include the hair policy. Following the nearly three-hour meeting, interim Director Alexander Dan announced the action.

“The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School board of trustees unanimously voted tonight to suspend the hair section of the uniform policy for the remainder of the school year,” Dan said to some media members outside the meeting Sunday. “The school will continue to work with the attorney general’s office to ensure that the uniform policy reflects our long-standing commitment to the rights of all of our students.”

Dan also said students who were facing consequences for violating that policy may now also resume all school activities.

On Monday morning, the school released a detailed letter, where it stood by its overall Uniform Policy and cited its value and results.  “Our Uniform Policy is central to the success of our students. It helps provide commonality, structure, and equity to an ethnically and economically diverse student body while eliminating distractions caused by vast socio-economic differences and competition over fashion, style and materialism.”

The letter went on, “Our formula consistently delivers top results. Our African-American students have higher MCAS and SAT scores than African-American students from all other districts in our region, and nearly all attend college. Our dropout and attrition rates for African-American students are not only lower than those from our sending district, but they are lower than Caucasian rates. The role that our Uniform Policy plays in our results, and those of all our students, is not insignificant.”

The MVRCS dress code policy regarding hair extensions, where two sisters, who are black, received before and after school detentions and other punishments for refusing to remove hair extensions from their braids, has been at the center of a recent controversy which has been reported nationally.

School responds to hair policy uproar

The mother of the two MVRCS high school students contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP and state AG’s office asking those agencies to investigate the situation, citing what she called discrimination based on her daughters’ race.

The mother and her daughters were among a contingent of protesters who were present at the start of Sunday’s MVRCS Trustees meeting, a number of whom waited until the end of the meeting for news.

A letter sent to the school Friday after a meeting at the Malden Square headquarters of the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) stated: “State law prohibits discrimination by public schools, including charter schools, against students ‘on account of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or  sexual orientation.’” The letter, obtained by NECN, reads: “We are concerned that MVRCS’s Hair/Make­Up policy violates state and federal law … by subjecting students of color, especially black students,  to differential treatment and thus denying them the same advantages and privileges of public education afforded to  other students.”

In its letter, Mystic Valley stated the school administration had already started implementing changes to its hair policy before the recent controversy, specifically to the provision against hair that is more than two inches in height.

“This change was made well before any outside interest group or government agency raised a concern, for the first time earlier this month, that our state-approved policy might be impacting any class of students unfairly,” the letter reads. “It should also be noted that in cases where a student had a substantiated religious or medical conflict with our policy, the school adjusted its policies to accommodate those concerns.”

Mystic Valley officials also stated they believed the existing policy would stand up in court, despite the AG’s assertions. “While we believe there is precedent confirming that our policy could stand a legal challenge … we do not wish to engage in a legal battle that would divert the focus and energy of our faculty and students, siphoning financial resources from the school and the students it serves,” the letter said.

The school will now work with the AG’s office on a Uniform Policy, and hair regulation, that “is consistent with our long-standing commitment to the rights of all our students,” stated the school’s letter.

Lynn teacher joins the march

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Miriam Rodriguez-Fusco is one of hundreds of teachers planning to attend the Rally for Public Education Saturday at the Boston Common.

The speech and language therapist in the Lynn Public Schools and parent of a third-grader at the Aborn Elementary School plans to board a bus in Lynn for the trip into Boston.

Rodriguez-Fusco, an educator for nearly two decades, said she feels strongly about her son’s future and the challenges of public school funding as traditional schools compete with charter schools for limited cash.

“We must raise our voices so that we can stand up to Trump and tell him we need adequate funding for public education that is free and not privatized,” she said.

The protest is sponsored by the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, a grassroots organization of students, parents, educators, and concerned community members who are dedicated to preserving public education.

Entertainment, education at ‘Harrington Reads’

The Alliance said since Donald Trump was elected president, they have been standing up for women, immigrants, science and now they’ve turned their attention to public schools.

Protesters plan to meet on the Common at 2 p.m. and later march to the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center on Boylston Street where delegates from MTA’s Annual Meeting are meeting.

On the recent vote to defeat funding for a pair of middle schools in Lynn, Rodriguez-Fusco said she was disappointed.

“No one wants to pay more taxes,” she said. “But we’re talking about the children who are our future and we have to invest in them or we will never have better.”   


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

Pickering Middle School honor roll

The following Pickering Middle School students have made the Honor Roll for the third quarter:

GRADE 6 HIGH HONORS: Ava Allaire, Ava Anderson, Ava Barbuto, Nyla Crowder, Delaney Dana, Madison Donahue, Ryan Dunn, Khanyka Fialho, Emely Flores-Castaneda, Allie Fritz, Lauren Hennessey, Roberto Lopez Ramirez, Anuragh Mangar, Veronica Oung, Zachary Perry, Asif Rahman, Victoria Samuel, Ava Thurman, Justin Touch.GRADE 7 HIG

H HONORS: Tia Barker, Cody Beauchamp, Matthew Bushway, Aida Corado Hernandez, Julia Gonzalez, Catherine Herrera, Ashley Hughes, Christopher Kelley, Thomas Malone, Molly Mannion, Cameron Moloney, Gianna Nikolakakis, Shaylis Rodriguez Soto, Ava Ruma, Sofia Saren, Madison Spencer, Olivia Teague, Olivia Waterman, Ethan Wilson.

GRADE 8 HIGH HONORS: Aaliyah Alleyne, Andrea Brazell, Sailor Brinkler, Khoa Bui, Lucas Fritz, Nanima Guerrier, Jack Hogan, Shakib Idris, Alexis Irawandi, Emeline LeJeune, Devin Monaco, Alyx Nelson, Samantha Parker, Anna Phelan, Cole Story, Caeley-Ann Thomson, Brooke Warren.

GRADE 6 HONORS: Adam Abdel Salam, Aida Bellal, Alyssa Bennett, Trent Brown, Abeline Calixte, Krystian Callor, Lily Caplin, Nevaeha Chandler, Timothy Chez, Katelyn Comeau, Nicholas Costa, Angelina Costin, Katieri Cutone, Ashley Dewan, Timothy Donahue, Ryan Dugan, Josephny Eang, Taylee Emerson, Brendan Falasca, Dayana Garcia, Jamie Germano, Pablo Granados Mayen, Melenie Gutierrez Rivera, Sammy Ho, Akibul Islam, Kirsten Kouch, Jack Mancaniello, Yvana Masse, Madelyn Mateo, Emma Murray, Jatniel Negrin Castillo, Alex Nguyen, Chloe Nguyen-Som, Samuel Parker, Jayden Patrick, Iris Perez Escobar, Madelyn Rivera, Kevin Saing, Tyler Santiago, Tae Thaw, Fernando Vasquez, Jazlynn Ventura, Alondra Vilorio Castro, Brady Warren, Kevin Whalen, Turner White, Asia Wilkey, Alexander Wonoski.

Students explore careers at Shadow Day

GRADE 7 HONORS: Jack Anderson, Fatiha Ashraf, Madilyn Aubrey, Kaylee Bamaca Lopez, Lissett Barraza, Ricardo Beato Padilla, Romane Bellevue, Joselyn Bonilla, Aaliyah Bonilla –Sanchez, Kaleigh Breen, Reese Brinkler, Nicholas Chan, Jordan Chhay, Chloe Clement, Gianna Coito, Ava Correnti, Annabelle Dao, Isabella Faessler, Sydney Finnigan, Anna Flaherty, Nicole Fogarty, Ava Foglietta, Ryan Fraher, Sherlyn Gonzalez Mejia, Gabriela  Guzman Simez, Aleya Hill, Heather Holey, Charles Krol, Samira Krol, Richard Lebrun, Sean Leonard, Drew Logue, Steven Lopez, Ema Macorri, Patrick Mannion, Jose Mariano, Natalia Masse, Patrick McHale, Quinn McHale, Kenzie McLaren, Darrin Mel, Yarelin Merida De Leon, Katherine Miller, Maggie Nerich, Jariah Nolasco, Felix Pol, Jose Portillo, Melanie Rivera Collazo, Ashley Roepsch, Marcus Ryan, Olivia Shultz, Joseph Strangie, Ben Tartarini, Kenneth Tetrault, Darlenys Tolentino, Alexander Towles-Emmons, Amanda Tucker, Mikayla Vega, Bremely Velasquez Esteban, Thomas Walsh, Grace Young, Kaitlyn Zayac.

GRADE 8 HONORS: Maria Bustos Gonzalez, Michael Carey, Kyle Chear, Liliana Cruz, Melanie Cuevas, Daniel Finnigan, Tyler Furlong, Nicholas Galeazzi, Ammy Gonzalez Rivera, Trevor Henry, Catherine Hines, Richard Johnson, Kameron Ky, Michelle MacPhail, Kathleen Mannion, Riley Mannion, Adam Mariano, Astrid Marte, Cormac Miller, Gabriel Minaya, Antonio Morganelli, Giovanni Morganelli, Leakhana Ngeth, Lisa Nguyen, Diomedes Ortiz Cid, Melissa Ortiz Valenzuela, Jessica Page, Keiry Paniagua Cabrera, Harrison Parker, Mathhew Patrie, Isabella Pavei, Promise Peralta, Juan Perez, Kyle Phommachanh, Jadalise Richards, Kacey Rouse, Salwan Sabil, Safwan Samir, Daniel Sampaio, Ryan Sansone, Jessalyn Simms, Gay Soe, Damion Sok, Anthony Timmons, Hannah Tobin, Kevin Torres, Uchenna Uzoma, Zachary Vega, Precious Ven, Brandy Vuong, Ryan Walker, Olivia Wallace, William Whalen, Aryanna Wlodkowski.

Gonzalez says Gov. Baker OK with status quo

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Jay Gonzalez speaks with The Item’s editorial board.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez isn’t shy about saying what’s needed to fix the Bay State’s troubled transportation system and underfunded schools: new taxes.

“I support the fair share tax on incomes in excess of $1 million,” he said. “This is the fairest way to raise meaningful new revenue, about $2 billion annually, to be used for transportation and education.”

In a wide ranging interview with The Item’s editorial board Tuesday, Gonzalez, 45, said he’s running to unseat Gov. Charlie Baker because the Republican’s no new taxes pledge is unacceptable.

“Our governor’s core operating principle is no new taxes and we’re going to make it work with what we have,” he said. “I don’t think he’s being honest with people about the fact that it won’t work. We starved the MBTA for way too long and the condition of our roads and bridges is one of the worst in the country and getting worse under this administration.”

Gonzalez, who served as the budget secretary for former Gov. Deval Patrick and resigned last year as president and CEO of CeltiCare Health, could face competition from Democratic Mayor Setti Warren of Newton.

In March, Warren set up a finance committee to explore a run for governor. The panel includes former Treasurer Steven Grossman, former Gov. Michael Dukakis, former Democratic Party chair Phil Johnston, former Boston City Councilor Michael Ross and is chaired by Josh Boger, the former Vertex Pharmaceuticals executive.

Whoever takes on Baker, won’t have it easy. In a WBUR survey earlier this year, Baker was more popular than liberal Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Only 44 percent said Warren deserves reelection, while 51 percent view her favorably.

A taxing decision for Lynn council

In contrast, Baker’s favorability rating is 59 percent — 8 points better than Warren. Even more striking is that only 29 percent of poll respondents think someone else should get a chance at the governor’s office, the survey said.

But Gonzalez dismissed the suggestion that Baker will be hard to beat.

“I’m less concerned with the polls and more concerned with what I’m hearing from people around the state that they are very concerned about issues that are holding them back,” he said. “I think it’s very easy to be popular when you don’t do anything, when you don’t take stands on big issues, when your entire approach to the job is about political caution instead of political courage.”

One of the core issues in his run for governor is support for the so-called millionaires’ tax. If approved by voters next year, it would amend the state constitution by imposing a 4 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million. The money would be designated for schools and transportation.

About 20,000 or 0.5 percent of households in the state would be hit by the new tax and it would raise $1.9 billion annually, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Gonzalez said he’s running because he cares about people and wants to make a difference.

“Government plays a really important role in moving us forward to improve people’s lives,” he said. “I think Gov. Baker sees the job differently. He’s been way too satisfied with the status quo, too often sitting on the sidelines when we need him. I’ve been frustrated by how little he’s accomplished, but I’ve been more frustrated by how little he’s even tried.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com. Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

 

A taxing decision for Lynn council

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Five surrounding communities have raised nearly $20 million since 2009 by adopting the local option meals tax and the City Council wants a share of it to keep layoffs at bay.

Some restaurant owners say they favor the tax because it will fund services at a time when the city is cash-strapped, while others are not so sure and some won’t say.

In a lopsided 10-1 vote last week, the panel opted to impose a .0075 percent tax on top of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax on meals. The new levy would add 75 cents to a $100 dinner bill, about 19 cents to a $25 meal and raise $700,000 annually for the city.

In 2009, the Legislature authorized communities to add the new fee on meals. While the sales tax goes to the general fund, the local option is given to the community to spend as it wishes. About half of the state’s cities and towns have adopted the change and have raised nearly $652 million.

Like other Massachusetts cities, Lynn has struggled to pay for schools and public safety. The Council said the time has come for the small increase that could do so much good.

“We are hurting financially, this will bring in some good revenue and the measure is long overdue,” said City Councilor-at-Large Buzzy Barton. “If I have breakfast at Brothers’ Deli, my $10 meal will only cost me another 8 cents.”

Robert Stilian, owner of the Old Tyme Italian Cuisine, said while no one is wild about a new tax, the amount is so small that it shouldn’t discourage anyone from eating out.

“At first I was quite upset, but I don’t think most people will even notice and I doubt it will have much of an impact on people’s decision to dine out,” he said.

Stilian noted that many other communities have adopted the tax.

“If it’s something that will benefit the city I understand why they’ve proposed it,” he said.  “For restaurant owners, unfortunately we have to pass on the cost to customers.”

Meals tax could set table for a Planner

Taso Nikolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood and a candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council, said he’s for it.

“Given the city’s financial crisis, I favor it,” he said.

George Markos, owner of Brothers’ Deli, said if the city adopts the new tax, he hopes they will use the money for public safety and schools.

“I will contribute to anything that is good for the city,” he said.  “But I would rather see the money spent on police, fire and schools because nothing is more important than safety and education.”

Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said the added revenue will reduce the chances of layoffs among city employees amid a budget crunch. He said Lynn is the only city in Essex County that has not opted to impose the additional tax.

Ward 6 Councilor Peter Capano said he favors the hike, and the sooner the better, as a way to restore cuts to the police and fire departments.

“We heard testimony from public safety officials at the last meeting of the necessity to fund police and fire,” he said. “I favor this.”

Councilor-at-Large Daniel Cahill said Lynn residents are already paying the tax when they eat out of town.

“Every other surrounding community has levied this tax upon us and we are just catching up,” he said. “We are under significant time constraints to implement this program to stave off layoffs in our police and fire departments.”

Blueprint could help close ‘achievement gap’

But Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is expected to veto the plan, setting the stage for an override.

“I can’t in good conscience agree to impose a new tax on Lynn residents less than two months after voters resoundingly rejected a proposed tax increase for two new schools,” she said.  “I heard them loud and clear. To approve it is being tone deaf and not listening to what the voters clearly told us.”

Kennedy is not moved by the fact that the amount of the increase is so small.

“A tax is a tax,” she said. “We have to show the people of Lynn we are trying to live within our means as much as possible,”

Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi agreed and was the sole vote against the new tax.

“I am not inclined to support any tax,” he said. “In this instance, I was willing to support it if they designated the money towards public safety. But the city said they can’t do that and I can’t support it.

James Roumeliotis, owner of Superior Roast Beef, agrees. He  said while the city may be hurting for cash, he’s not sure diners should be asked to pay more.

“I’d rather not have it, people are already being taxed enough,” he said.

Not everyone was willing to discuss the possible change. Thomas Dill, owner of the Lazy Dog Sports Bar, did not return a call seeking comment. Chris Rossetti of the Rossetti Restaurant declined comment and chef Matt O’Neil of the Blue Ox did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


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

 

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.

Swampscott rail trail on track

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
From left, Camden Alexander, Finn Conner, Lucas Gunther and Brody Laker show their support for the rail trail.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Town Meeting members approved allocating funds to allow officials to move forward with plans for a proposed rail trail on Monday night.

After much debate, Town Meeting members voted 210-56 to approve a warrant article, requesting $850,000 for the design and engineering of the trail location within the National Grid corridor, as well as the legal fees and costs for acquisition of the easement rights.

The two-plus mile, 10-foot wide trail would run from the Swampscott Train Station to the Marblehead line at Seaview Avenue, connecting with the Marblehead rail trail, which also links to trails in Salem.

Officials have said $240,000 of the requested Town Meeting funds would be used to hire professionals for design and engineering costs. About $610,000 would be for acquisition of easement rights, where the town would work with the property owners (National Grid and/or other parties) to secure the rights. This may be done through eminent domain, or by donation/gift of the land.

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The Town Meeting funds allocated are not for construction of the trail, which will be paid with donations, grants, and private funds, officials said.

Peter Kane, director of community development, said that the utility corridor is made up of 11 parcels of property. National Grid pays property taxes for all 11 parcels, but doesn’t hold clear title on all of them. Through a title process, numerous owners have been identified, which could include abutters.

Town Meeting members approved a $66.63 million town budget, which includes $28,197,500 allocated to the schools.

Voters also approved Fire Chief Kevin Breen’s request for a $645,000 replacement of a Engine 22, a 1997 Emergency One Hurricane Cab, which serves as a reserve piece. The replacement was among other capital project funding requests that passed.

With the funds allocated, Engine 21, a 2009 Spartan that serves as the frontline piece, would become the reserve piece and the new vehicle would become the frontline piece.

Town Meeting will reconvene Tuesday at 7 p.m., where the rest of the articles on the warrant will be taken up.


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

Mother says daughters punished for hairstyles

By STEVE FREKER

Update: Jennifer Rosenberg of Howell Communications, an agency representing Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, responded Monday with the policy outlined in the 2016-2017 student-parent handbook. She said hair extensions are prohibited, but braids are not. The school’s hair / makeup policy reads below:

“Students must keep their hair neat and out of their eyes. Students may not wear drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved lines or shaved sides or have a hairstyle that could be distracting to other students (extra-long hair or hair more than 2 inch in thickness or height is not allowed). This means no coloring, dying, lightening (sun-in) or streaking of any sort. Hair extensions are not allowed. Hair elastics must be worn in the hair and not on the wrist. No make-up of any sort is allowed. Nail polish or artificial nails are not allowed. Tattoos are not allowed. Students are not allowed to write or draw on themselves. Bandanas or hats are not allowed during school hours. Headbands may be worn, but must be functional in nature and not worn over the forehead. Facial hair is not allowed. Unshaven young men will receive a warning in the first instance and detentions thereafter.”

MALDEN — The mother of twin 15-year-old African-American girls says officials at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School lack sensitivity to diversity after she claims her daughters were punished for wearing braids and hair extensions.

Colleen Cook has filed complaints with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Massachusetts Anti-Defamation League, according to televised reports. Her daughters are named Deanna and Mya.

Other African-American and biracial students who have worn braided hair have been punished with before- and after-school detention for refusing to remove the braids or extensions as well, reports say.

In response, the following prepared statement was released by a representative on behalf of Mystic Valley Interim Director Alex Dan.

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“The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School serves a diverse student population from surrounding communities that include Everett, Medford and Malden, among other cities. The school consistently ranks among the top schools in Massachusetts in MCAS testing, SAT testing and college admissions.  

“We send students from all walks of life, including those of color and those from limited means, to the best colleges and universities in the nation.  One important reason for our students’ success is that we purposefully promote equity by focusing on what unites our students and reducing visible gaps between those of different means.  

“Our policies, including those governing student appearance and attire, foster a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism.  Our policy on hair extensions, which tend to be very expensive, is consistent with, and a part of, the educational environment that we believe is so important to our students’ success,” the statement said.

School officials were not able to be reached for further comment.

 

Push for 2nd charter school renewed in Lynn

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Frank DeVito still has to raise about $250,000 for the school to launch.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — The prospect of the city’s second charter school gained traction this week thanks to funding from some big name donors.

While the Equity Lab Charter School has yet to receive state approval, the proposed alternative school received a $215,000 grant from the NewSchools Venture Fund. The California-based foundation boasts a group of wealthy benefactors, including Bill and Melinda Gates, known for Microsoft Corp., and Facebook’s Mark and Chan Zuckerberg, who vowed to fund educators who launch innovative public schools.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Frank DeVito, the school’s founder. “The money will make a huge difference in making this a full time effort, and help pay for staff and consultants to get the school up and running next year.”

The 5-12 school, which would start with 160 fifth and sixth graders, will eventually have 640 students. So far, there’s a waiting list of more than 150 families, DeVito said.

DeVito is a member of Waltham-based Education Development Center’s National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools team, where he develops, implements and tests new ways to boost effective practices in high schools.

Last year, DeVito and his 22-member team of local educators was one of 50 finalists to win $10 million toward opening the new school in the XQ: Super School Project. Emerson Collective, chaired by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs, sponsored the $50 million competition.

While DeVito and Equity were chosen among 700 teams from 45 states that submitted applications for new or redesigned high schools, the Lynn proposal lost.

But that hasn’t slowed DeVito. He said the NewSchools cash revitalized the effort to bring another charter school to the city.

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DeVito, a 52-year-old Lynn homeowner and father of two, said he is focused on finding space for the school. He has looked at the former St. Michael’s Church, school and rectory on Summer Street, but can’t ink a deal until his school receives approval from the state Department of Education (DOE). A decision is expected to be made in February. If he gets the green light, the school is expected to open in the fall of 2018.

If his proposal for a new school is accepted by the state, they will provide $800 per student or $128,000 to lease or purchase space. In addition, they would receive $2.1 million from the state or $13,223 per student who switch from the Lynn Public Schools to the charter.

DeVito, a former teacher at Chelsea High School, said he would still have to raise about $250,000 for the school to launch.

“The state really wants the school to open in Lynn,” he said. “They have been very supportive and have offered coaching in order for us to succeed.”

If it does get the go-ahead from DOE, there will be no welcome mat from the city.

While Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and the City Council have sparred over a number of issues this year, they are united in their fight against any new charter schools. They argue such schools take much needed cash from the public schools.

While proponents insist charter schools are public schools, Lynn’s elected officials say they don’t like the formula for funding because it takes more than $1 million from the regular school budget.

If Equity Lab wins approval, they will face competition from the only other charter school in the city, KIPP Academy.


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

 

Getting a jump on jobs at Lynn Tech

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Carmen Arins, Lizabeth Acevedo and Yuleidy Pimenetel gather information about the Gregg Neighborhood House.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Emily Blaney won’t graduate high school until next year, but the 16-year-old already has a career plan.

“I work with special ed kids and I’ve noticed I’m very good at comforting them,” she said. “I’ve decided to be a kindergarten teacher or open a daycare center.”

The Lynn Vocational Technical Institute junior spoke with representatives from the region’s colleges Thursday at the school’s Career Fair about furthering her education. Tech offers a childcare program that provides her with hands-on classroom training with kids.

Blaney was one of more than 100 students who packed the school’s lobby to talk with recruiters from schools, companies, retailers, hospitals, nonprofits, the military and city departments, including police and fire.

School Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said she was wowed by the number of employers gathered to consider Tech graduates.

“It’s so wonderful for our students to have such a diverse collection of opportunities all in one place,” she said. “Many of these organizations have taken on our students as part of the district’s co-op program.”

Amado and Cristian Roman, 17-year-old twins, said they are seeking opportunities to do an internship at a newspaper where they can use their video production skills.

“I already have lots of hands-on experience recording and editing videos,” said Amado. “I think I have a lot to offer a newspaper.”

Students get a taste of the Real World

His brother, Cristian, said they are considering programs at Emerson College and Fitchburg State University to enhance their skills.

Mary Zwiercan, human resources director at the North Shore Medical Center (NSMC), one of two dozen employers who had a booth at the fair, said the Salem-based hospital has more than 200 jobs available from cafeteria workers, security, radiation technicians and nurses.

“We have an aging workforce and we are hiring, that’s why I’m here,” she said.  

NSCM operates a co-op program at Tech in health sciences where juniors can earn their certified nursing assistant certification. Seniors can enroll in the co-op program which puts students in healthcare settings every other week for 30 hours at $12 per hour.

“They are my future certified nursing assistants and maybe future nurses and doctors,” Zwiercan said.  

Christopher Menjivar said he’s not sure what he’ll do following graduation next year. For now, the 17-year-old junior is founder of Eagles Handyman & Construction Co., a seven-person firm that does home remodeling.

“I’m considering UMass-Boston,” he said. “All things are possible.”


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

 

Students get a taste of the Real World

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Danielle Coughlin and Devin Lofton register to vote.

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Students from the Peabody Community High School are getting a taste of the real world this week.

Nearly two dozen students from the school met with Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. in his corner officer at City Hall Thursday morning to hear about the challenges and successes of running the city.

“I’ve been mayor now for about five years; it’s a wonderful job but it can be very difficult,” said Bettencourt. “I know things haven’t always been easy for you, you’ve had some challenges. I’m very happy to talk to you about what we do in the city and my responsibilities and what I do on a daily basis.”

The Peabody Community High School educates students with social emotional disabilities in a public day school, and each year, the school holds a Real World Week, according to Craig Macarelli, the program administrator. There are currently 27 students in grades 9 through 12 in the program.

“We set up a week where we talk about life transitions into adulthood, from financial literacy to even car maintenance,” said Macarelli. This week, the students even went into Boston to learn about local history.

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At City Hall, the focus was on civic responsibility and what it takes to effectively run a municipality with a $170 million budget and 1,400 employees.

“My job as the mayor is to try to move the city forward to make it a better place for everyone, and there are a lot of different parts to that,” said Bettencourt. “My job as the mayor is to be the CEO. I oversee all the different departments, and of course, the biggest one is the schools.”

Bettencourt talked about several current projects in the city, including the revitalization of the downtown and the dredging of Crystal Lake. He also answered several questions from students and teachers about those projects, as well as why he wanted to run for mayor.

“With this job, you can really make things happen, and not all jobs can give you that good feeling that you are contributing,” Bettencourt said.

Community high school student Bryanna Burgess said she looks forward to the Real World Week every year, adding that this year was the first time they have visited the mayor. She said she especially appreciates the opportunity to get out of the classroom and into the community.

 

Getting the lead out in Malden

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — City Councilors have approved spending plans for federal grant money allocated to the city, but are worried about Trump administration cuts decimating the important grant source.

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) helps fund service programs, most of which involve housing and fighting poverty in low to moderate income communities.

Councilors want some of this year’s block grant money spent on addressing reports of raised lead levels in some of the city’s schools.

Ward Six Councilor Neil Kinnon’s proposal to put a 50 percent cap on the annual increase on individual CDBG funding grants led to a 7-2 council vote to institute the cap and reallocate approximately $40,000 of CDBG funds to replace water bubblers at the Forestdale K-8 School and Malden High School. Both were listed as having elevated lead levels in the drinking water according to a recently-released state survey.

“If (the pipes were) pre-World War II, they’re lead and they’re bringing lead into the drinking water of our schools. We have to address this problem now,” Kinnon said.

Kinnon also stressed lead in drinking water affects youngsters faster and worse than it would affect an adult. He said recent lead level tests were taken at respective schools’ water fountains. “Most of our schools were built in the past 20 years or 1999 or 2000, so there are only two reasons why there is lead in the water: Either the pipes at the water fountains are lead — which they’re not — or the lines coming in from the street are lead pipes. Here is a way we can start generating funds to address this. We have no choice. These are our schoolchildren,” he said.

This was the second move made to create funding for the lead pipe issue. Last week in the finance committee discussion, Ward Three Councilor John Matheson successfully moved to reallocate $200,000 in block grant money to the Malden Redevelopment Authority’s housing rehabilitation loan program, which provides residents in need with a way to replace lead water lines on their own property.

Getting a jump on jobs at Lynn Tech

Matheson also proposed reallocating $180,000 earmarked for improvements at Anderson Park Little League field in Ward Seven and two covered, handicapped accessible dugouts at Callahan Park softball field on Pearl Street (Ward Two).

“We have spent over $20 million on parks either replacing or improving them in our city since 2010. That’s a lot of funding and we have great parks,” Matheson said. “But we also have other pressing needs in our city.”  

The Ward Three Councilor proposed putting the $180,000 to the housing rehabilitation program and suggested a grant from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could be applied for to cover the park improvements.

At present there is just a preventive fence and benches at the park, which is the home of Malden High girls softball and is used by Malden Youth Softball and other citywide groups. The shift in block grant money from parks to housing raised protests.

“This park (Callahan) is one of the most heavily-used parks in the city, it’s not just a Ward Two park. We have to continue to make progress in all areas of the budget and not go after funds allocated in other wards,” said Ward Two Councilor Paul Condon.

Matheson’s move to reallocate the $180,000 for park improvements failed by a 7-2 vote with himself and Councilor at large David D’Arcangelo voting in favor.

Ward Seven Councilor Neal Anderson, who was sitting as temporary Council President in place of Council President Peg Crowe, echoed Condon’s remarks: “These funds were allocated for specific projects in these wards. Other ward councilors should not be looking to recoup these funds for other purposes.”

Council President Crowe had recused herself for all of the nearly 90-minute Council meeting discussion of the CDBG grant since she is employed by one of the groups receiving funding through the program.

   

LaPierre launching re-election campaign

COURTESY PHOTO
Brian LaPierre is seeking re-election.

LYNN — City Councilor at-large Brian LaPierre  launches his re-election campaign Wednesday, May 17 at the Knights of Columbus in Lynn from 5-8 p.m.

LaPierre, a 43-year-old father of two, said he has carved out a spot on the council as a problem solver and an effective voice for the city over the past two years.

“I feel like I have been an outspoken and effective advocate for anyone who requests city services and will continue to work with my colleagues in city government to keep Lynn moving in a positive direction,” he said.

He said Lynn “is in a unique position to really accelerate over the next two years.

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“I am asking Lynn residents to join my family and I on this journey again so we can reach new heights as a community,” LaPierre said.

LaPierre lists as his council accomplishments: Responding to more than 1,000 constituent requests; making Lynn a more pro-business friendly city; creating new sources of revenue with medical marijuana dispensaries; combating the opioid crisis with Narcan-equipped emergency vehicles, and fighting to solve the net school spending crisis that still looms over both the city and school budgets.

“I look forward to building on the success of our first campaign two years ago, as I continue to meet new residents and reconnect with long-time Lynners, I am honored and privileged to serve the city I love so much,” said LaPierre.

 

Saugus promotes new vision for schools

By THOR JOURGENSEN

SAUGUS — Town officials are organizing a June election in which residents will be asked “to support and invest” in a sweeping local school reorganization featuring a middle-high school district-wide facility.  

The plan, tentatively discussed to date with town educators and parents, proposes several significant changes. A grade 6-12 middle-high school is at the center of the plan.  Belmonte Middle School would be established as an “upper elementary school” for grades 3, 4 and 5, and Veterans Memorial Elementary School would become a “lower elementary school” for pre-kindergarten to grade 2.

“This is a real opportunity for the Town of Saugus to meet the goals of its educational plan,” said Town Manager Scott Crabtree. “Challenging our students to reach their full potential necessitates that our schools have the resources and facilities to meet the academic needs of all students and prepare them for success should they pursue higher education or compete in today’s workforce.”  

The proposed middle-high school complex will total 270,000 total square feet including a 12,000 square-foot gymnasium and capacity for 1,360 students in grades 6-12. There will be state-of-the-art science labs and technology classrooms, fine and performing arts classrooms and a 750-seat auditorium.

In addition, the proposal includes a new sports complex and outdoor track, walking paths, outdoor classrooms, and student gardens. Veterans Memorial Elementary School and Belmonte Middle School will also receive construction updates.

A town statement outlining the proposed school changes emphasized their potential to move the Saugus public school system’s status under state education rankings from from a Level 3 to a Level 1 school district.

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The statement says the proposed reconfiguration is also intended to provide fair and equal access to all students enabling them to reach their highest potential and to continue to prioritize education.

The proposal’s school building improvements are also intended to maintain accreditation with New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and address address health and safety issues including identified deficiencies in fire protection, sprinkler systems, and disability access compliance.

“Providing our students and staff with resources and facilities that achieves the vision of our Town’s educational plan is critical,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi. “This solution will facilitate a shift from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction, and an emphasis on the critical thinking, communication and technology skills needed to enhance 21st century skills our students need to be successful.”

The proposal’s additional elements include new science labs that meet state educational and safety standards. Building designs include work spaces for student collaboration and project-based learning in all subject areas; and shared instructional resources and opportunities for increased teacher collaboration.  

The town statement lists no specific June date for bringing the proposal before voters.

“This middle-high school district-wide solution is critical for the residents of Saugus because it will enhance our children’s education and change the way education is valued and delivered in the community,” said Jeanette Meredith, School Committee chairwoman and Saugus High School Project Building Committee.

A new approach to fighting opioids

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN The city and Medford will fight opioid addiction with a pair of first-in-the-nation financial settlements engineered by state Attorney General Maura Healey.

Medford Public Schools this week announced they would be using their $18,000 grant for an opioid education program designed as a curriculum addition in the schools. Malden officials are still formulating plans for use of the $21,000 grant they received through the program.

Medford Public Schools and the Malden Public Schools are two of 40 school systems or public service agencies receiving grants to fund two-year programs in conjunction with the attorney general’s newly-formed Youth Opioid Prevention (YOP) program.

Healey announced the formation of the program shorty after a  landmark $1.4 million settlement with CVS in November 2016 over opioid dispensing policies.

At that time Healey said $500,000 of the settlement funds would be seed money for the YOP program. Two months later, a second first-in-the-U.S. agreement on a $200,000 settlement with Walgreens was announced. All of those funds were designated for the YOP program, Healey said.

“Supporting youth opioid education and prevention programs is a top priority for my office and we are seeing an incredible unmet need for funding across the state,” Healey said. “That’s why we decided to structure these settlements to put as many resources into local communities as possible. This won’t allow us to fund every great proposal, but it’s an important step toward beating this epidemic.”

A representative from Healey’s office said the successful Malden and Medford grant applications were among 125 applicants who sought close to $4 million to fund proposals to educate youth on the dangers and consequences of opioid use and addiction.

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Medford Public Schools plan to implement a multi-step program called The Michigan Model.

A report prepared  by the Medford High Health and Physical Education Department and Director Rachel Perry, is a “nationally-recognized comprehensive and skills-based health curriculum that is aligned to national health education standards” that has “consistently  shown effectiveness … including declining numbers in alcohol and drug use, unhealthy eating and other risky feelings such as anger and stress.”   

Medford School Superintendent Roy Belson noted the adoption of The Michigan Model system is intended to fortify opioid education from the ground up, not just at the high school level, on a schoolwide basis.

“Making good decisions is at the heart of any viable effort to prevent addiction … Our goal is to build resiliency and coping skills in our elementary and middle school students by providing them with strategies for healthy decision making,” Belson stated in a recent report to the Medford School Committee as it announced acceptance of the grant.

Malden city officials also welcomed the funding. “We are very pleased to receive this grant and it will be used to enhance our ongoing effort to educate our youth in our community,” Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said.

One of the most recent initiatives announced recently by activist group Malden Overcoming Addiction (MOA) and President Paul Hammersley, parallels Medford’s anti-addiction strategy by initiating an educational model on opioid addiction at the earliest levels in the school system.

“We will never get control of this epidemic until prevention becomes a priority,” Healey said in a statement. “With these grants, we will partner with schools and community organizations to empower young people and protect the next generation from falling victim to this public health crisis. But, these grants are only a start, we must continue to address this unmet need.”

 

Math changes add up in Malden

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — The Malden School Committee has approved sweeping changes in how Malden High School students will be taught mathematics and science.

First-year Malden High School principal Ted Lombardi proposed the major change in mathematics curriculum, forecasting potential improvements in Malden’s performance on state assessment tests.

Instead of taking the three traditional math classes of Algebra, Geometry and Algebra 2 in that order in Grades 9,10 and 11, Malden High students will next year be taught a mix of the three separate subjects in courses called Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3.  

Lombardi, who came to Malden High after serving several years as principal at Lawrence High School, told the School Committee that he oversaw institution of similar curriculum changes at that school “and the (MCAS) scores went up.”

A renewed focus on improving state assessment test scores at Malden High School has been embraced by the school board. An example is its recent hire of a new superintendent of schools, John Oteri, who was questioned extensively in the interview process on his role in the dramatic improvement from a Level Three school system in Somerville to a Level One state rating. MCAS scores play a key part in this state assessment of school systems.

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Lombardi said Malden would be joining “many districts (that have) moved to this curriculum,”  which involves joining together of math topics as opposed to learning one specific area or subject such as Algebra or Geometry.

In an effort to improve MCAS science test scores, the School Committee also approved a change in science curriculum proposed by Lombardi. Instead of freshmen students taking college preparatory classes in Biology, they would now be offered an Environmental Science class in ninth grade and would take Biology their sophomore year.

The Malden High principal said it made more sense for this change in the science curriculum since sophomores take the MCAS science test and it would give them a better chance at attaining higher scores.

In addition, Lombardi said exploratory classes in business and technical education would be offered to ninth graders in subjects such as woodshop, engineering and others.

“These changes will better suit our students and give them a better chance to succeed,” Lombardi said.

House passes balanced FY18 budget

By THOMAS GRILLO

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a $40 billion 2018 budget which provides investments in local aid, early education, substance abuse, homelessness, job training, and economic development.

“Our budget reflects a strong commitment to our cities and towns by funding local aid and education at historic levels,” Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) said in a statement. “These along with funds for key local programs will go a long way to improving our neighborhoods, schools, economy, and quality of life in our community.”

The Lynn delegation, which also includes Reps. Lori Ehrlich, Donald Wong, and Daniel Cahill collaborated to secure funding for a number of local programs including:

  • $100,000 for Red Rock Park maintenance
  • $50,000 to support algae removal from Lynn Beach
  • $40,000 for Lynn Fire Department equipment
  • $20,000 for arts and cultural programs

“We were pleased to have the support of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey in securing critical funding for public safety, arts and culture, economic development, and our local environment in Lynn,” said Cahill in a statement. 

Moulton rips ‘terrible’ health care bill

Recognizing that municipalities have unique and diverse needs, the House continued to fund local aid at historic levels. The fiscal 2108 budget increases so-called unrestricted aid by $40 million and local education aid by $106 million.

The increase to Chapter 70 guarantees every school district will receive a minimum of $30 per pupil next year. The budget also provides school employee health benefits through a $31 million investment. It also adds $4 million to the special education and increases our investment in regional school transportation by $1 million.

“As we all know, we are in a deficit, and no one wants more taxes,” said Wong in a statement. “But we are hopeful that we will generate more revenue to do more for our cities and towns.”

Ehrlich said the algae funding is crucial to combatting the longstanding problem for beachgoers because of the annual buildup and the noxious odor it releases.

The budget will now go to the Senate for consideration.


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

 

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.

Spring cleaning in Nahant

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.

Push to name baby giraffe ‘Gio’ falls short

COURTESY PHOTO
Giovanni “Gio” Maggiore died at age 6 of a congenital heart problem.

By STEVE FREKER

MEDFORD — The bid by hundreds of schoolchildren and others across the city of Medford united in a push to memorialize a lovable 6-year-old local boy has fallen short.

The family of the late Giovanni “Gio” Maggiore led a local and regional voting drive to name a baby boy giraffe with the moniker, “Gio”. The baby giraffe was born to April the giraffe at the popular Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York, shortly after the Brooks School first-grader died from a serious congenital heart problem.

Students at the Brooks School got behind the voting drive and it swiftly spread around most of the other Medford schools. “Gio” made the top 10 in the voting finals, which ended Sunday, April 30.

Animal Adventure Park officials announced Monday that the newborn giraffe will be called “Tajiri,” the name that topped the voting list.

Tradition comes to a ‘head

April, the mother giraffe, was the subject of a record-breaking internet live-stream as she endured what seemed to be an never-ending labor. She finally gave birth over Easter weekend, around the same time Gio was laid to rest.

Gio was a friendly, outgoing boy who embraced the positives in life and just loved giraffes, according to his mother, Maya, who is a teacher at the Columbus School in Medford.

“It was his favorite Halloween costume and even his first pacifier had a giraffe printed on it,” she said.

Tradition comes to a ‘head

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — The town clerk position will remain elected, as Town Meeting rejected a proposal to change the position to an appointed one on Monday night.

Town Meeting was dominated by the citizens petition centered around the town clerk position, and was relatively routine before the proposal was up for debate.

The petition was defeated 389-166, keeping the position elected, but the matter wasn’t easily resolved.

A petition from 12 voters before Town Meeting requesting that the vote be conducted by secret ballot was honored, meaning that hundreds of members voted individually by paper ballot, which then had to be counted.

Town Clerk Robin Michaud was against the proposed change, which if approved, would have then went on the town election ballot as a referendum in May 2018. It would have gone into effect in May 2019, if it had passed Town Meeting and a ballot initiative.

Michaud also spoke against the article at Town Meeting, saying that if the position was appointed by the Board of Selectmen, the clerk would be pressured to do what they want in order to keep his or her job.

She had previously argued that the position is the chief election official for the town, and should stay independent. Michaud said previously that elected town clerks have served Marblehead and towns through the Commonwealth for hundreds of years, and in a town full of tradition, “we should keep this tradition too,” one that has stood the test of time because it works.

Several Town Meeting members spoke against the proposal, with one urging a “no” vote in order to preserve the history and tradition.

Charles Gessner, the sponsor for the petition, said he thought the change would improve the efficiency of the town clerk’s office.

Saugus Town Meeting is at play

Without any discussion, Town Meeting members approved an $89.2 million budget, including a $36.5 million figure for the schools.

Three other citizens’ petitions had also garnered some attention leading up to Town Meeting.

Voters gave their approval to accepting Tioga Way as a town or public road. Only public ways are eligible for state Chapter 90 funds to repair and resurface local roads, Town Administrator John McGinn said previously.

Another petition requesting funds for holiday donations was indefinitely postponed, after the sponsors withdrew their motion, citing the recent approval by the Board of Selectmen to create a donation fund, upon the request of the Chamber of Commerce. With the fund, people can make freewill donations payable to the town of Marblehead, which would go into that fund and be available for the purchase of holiday decorations.

A fourth citizens’ petition passed, which was asking the town to support a resolution supporting state and federal legislation that provides greater transparency in political donations and limits the influence of money in politics, and requests state and federal representatives to pass such legislation.

The effort is part of a larger movement by Represent.Us, a grassroots campaign based in Florence, that is aimed at stopping political bribery, ending secret money and fixing broken elections.

Bonnie Grenier, one of the sponsors of the petition, said previously the resolution is nonbinding and doesn’t become law, but would represent the voice of the people, and would strongly encourage elected officials at the state and local level.

Speaking in favor of the article on Monday, she said it would enhance transparency in political fundraising and campaign spending, and is aimed at restoring government that truly represents, we the people. If there’s going to be change, she said it falls to the people to act.


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

Lynn lays down the law for students

ITEM PHOTO BY THOR JOURGENSEN
Juvenile Court Chief Justice Amy L. Nechtem welcomes more than 50 students and educators.

By THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — Students from three Lynn schools got a detailed look at the judicial system Monday during annual Law Day events held in several locations.

Founded nationally by President Eisenhower in 1958 and marked annually in Lynn Juvenile Court for 15 years, Law Day shows students how the courts work and engages them in discussions on the law and what it means in their lives.

“Hopefully, they walk out of Juvenile Court saying, ‘This is somewhere I might want to work,’” said Associate Justice Garrett J. McManus.

Juvenile Court Chief Justice Amy L. Nechtem welcomed students from three local high schools — English, St. Mary’s and Fecteau-Leary — to the Essex County Juvenile Court session on Sutton Street and urged them to contemplate the liberties protected by laws in the United States.

“These liberties must be guarded,” Nechtem reminded the students.

Law Day’s value

Retired Chief Justice Michael F. Edgerton focused his remarks on Law Day 2017’s topic — The 14th Amendment and how it transformed American democracy.

With its roots in post-Civil War years, the amendment laid out legal standards of due process and equal protection that became the battleground for landmark cases initially institutionalizing and, later, striking down segregation and laws upholding separate but equal racial barriers.

“The Supreme Court has relied on the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. It provides tangible protection against state and local laws that discriminate,” Edgerton said.

Lectures on the law were only part of Law Day. Students submitted essays and Fecteau-Leary students presented Law Day organizers with the seventh Law Day mural they created featuring a three-dimensional design.

Law Day participants, including Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, state Sen. Thomas M. McGee, state Rep. Dan Cahill and School Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham,  participated in other Law Day events Monday scheduled at Classical High School and Connery Elementary School.

No sign of woman believed behind threats

PHOTO FROM THE BURLINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT
Pictured is Sarah Curran, the woman believed to have made internet threats.

PEABODY Local police are searching for a woman who allegedly made internet threats to shoot a random person.

Sarah Curran was reportedly driving a gray Jeep Cherokee with Massachusetts plates 491VE1. Anyone who sees the vehicle should call 911 immediately.

Burlington schools were placed on lockdown early Monday afternoon after Merrimack, N.H. police contacted them about a potential online threat by Curran.

The lockdown was lifted shortly afterward, according to Burlington police, when it was determined she was not in the area.

A further ping of Curran’s phone indicated that she may have been in Peabody, but according to Peabody scanner reports, the area was checked and the information was unfounded.

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.

 

Classical High is career driven

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Students look at different tables set up for the career day.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Brandon Von isn’t sure what he’ll do after he graduates.

But the Classical High School senior couldn’t miss the two U.S. Marines dressed in uniform who manned a booth at the school’s Career Fair Thursday.

“The Marines have a band and I want to perform musically,” said Von, a clarinet player. “They told me it’s very competitive, but if I got accepted I’d play for the president.”      

Von was one of more than 700 seniors who crowded the school’s gym for the annual career event. In addition to all divisions of the military, a dozen schools and nonprofits were represented.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Aaron Smith, 20, who is stationed in Okinawa, Japan, made the pitch to a handful of students, including Von, who approached.

“I came out of high school, joined the Marines and it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Smith, a Gloucester resident.  “It’s an opportunity to travel, get a free college education and experience the world before you step out into it.”

On the possibility of seeing combat?

“Whatever happens, happens,” he said.

Dr. Bryan Cousin, a Lynn dentist who operates a dental assistant school that offers a certificate program, said the entry-level job is a way into the field. They offer two courses totaling $3,850.

“Some Classical students may not go to college and this is an alternative,” he said. “We have 2,000 graduates who earn between $15 to $20 per hour.”

Senior James DeOliveira talked with Cousin, but it’s unclear how serious he is about becoming a dental assistant.

“I need to floss more, but I keep forgetting,” he said. “If I was a dental assistant, it would be more of a reminder.”

Two heads better than one in Swampscott

Amy Lee, the admissions director at Southern Maine Community College, said the South Portland school is an excellent option for students who want the college experience at a community college price.

“We offer housing and programs for students who want to do trades like automotive, construction or machine work and live away from home,” she said.

Tuition for full room and board is about $9,000 annually for the two-year program.

The most popular booth was manned by the Catherine Hinds Institute of Esthetics. The Woburn school offers skincare and spa training programs. Tuition ranges from $6,000 to $16,500, depending on the program.

Student Esthefania Martinez said she is intrigued by the possibility of an esthetics career.

“I would like to learn how to do makeup for a career. Since I was little, I’ve done my own makeup and practiced on my friends,” she said. “So, I think this might be the right career for me.”

Gene Constantino, Classical’s principal, said the fair provides students with a variety of career opportunities to consider.

“Many of us had no idea what we would do after high school,” he said. “I was trained as a social worker and never worked a day in that job. For 40 years, I’ve been an educator.”


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

 

Family Engagement Fair at Marshall Middle

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — On Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Lynn Public Schools will host a free Family Engagement Fair at Marshall Middle School on Brookline Street.

“The goal is to provide encouragement to our families and this important work that they do as parents,” said Tina Hoofnagle, family and community engagement program specialist. “In the past, we’ve had a lot of emphasis on family involvement having parents come in and learn  but family engagement is more trying to work so that families and the schools work together to support the children’s education.”

“This comes from a desire and a dream of (Superintendent) Dr. (Catherine) Latham to think in terms of the Lynn Public Schools hosting a parent university,” she said. “But we don’t have the capacity to do that at this point.”

2 incumbents out in Swampscott

The event is designed to support and encourage parents of elementary-aged students in their parenting role. It will begin with a pancake breakfast and a greeting from Latham.

The program will include several workshops including yoga and relaxation classes, an informational class about keeping children smart on social media, athletic opportunities for Lynn children, how to raise a reader, information about pediatric asthma and prevention, a couponing course, how to shop healthy and save money, and how to protect your child from substance abuse.

Parents will hear from motivational speakers who focus on strengthening partnerships between schools and families.

The event is free to parents of elementary-aged students. Free childcare will be available with activities including yoga, the Northeastern Marine touch tank, and viewing a display from the Friends of Lynn & Nahant Beach.


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

Students share at poetry slam

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Student judges Felicia Reppucci and Connor Gagne raise scores during the poetry slam.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — A piece about a girl who lost her father to his heroin addiction took first place in the seventh grade age category of Belmonte Middle School’s poetry slam Wednesday night.

Performed by Aiva Brusgulis, the poem’s persona talks about her father’s demons and how they eventually became her own.

“How could you be so blind to not see that I needed you here with me?”

Brusgulis ended the night with a score of 29.9 out of 30.

Sixth grader Yessenia Guevara, with 30 points, and eighth grader  Olivia Tamanga, with 29.7 points, also took first place.

A poetry slam is a competition during which artists read or recite an original piece of work — either alone or in teams — before an audience, according to Poets.org. The work is judged on both the manner and enthusiasm of its performance and the content or style. A panel of two teachers and three students judged the work.

The competition structure stems from poet and construction worker Marc Smith, who performed at a Chicago jazz club in 1986.

Love live in Lynn

There were two dozen students going head to head and English Language Arts teacher Terrie Bater said this year’s competition is the first to be held school-wide.

“Last year, I coordinated a smaller version, which was held for just students on one of the seventh grade teams,” Bater said. “The students really enjoyed creating poetry and presenting it in the slam format so this year, the event was opened up to the entire school.”

Lauren Robinson earned an honorable mention for her poem about Syrian refugees; also Ruby Mower for her poem “The Absence of You,” which judges said had the most powerful imagery; and Brennan Donahue for having the bravery to share his poem about the aftermath of suicide.

Giorgia Fiore recited her poem “Dancing with the Ribbon,” which is about her grandmother and two uncles’ battle with cancer.

“It gets tied around you and sometimes it doesn’t unravel,” she said.

Prizes were donated by Banana Splits and Barnes and Noble and awarded to the top poet in each grade.


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

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.

 

Police and fire chiefs ask for more resources

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN —  The city’s police and fire chiefs sounded the alarm Tuesday night about the budget crunch that is impacting public safety.

“The police and fire departments have been ignored money-wise for years,” said Fire Chief James McDonald.

“The schools are not the only city department experiencing growth, what about us? We are doing what we can with less, but it’s not safe.”

Police Chief Michael Mageary said his department is operating with 181 officers, down from the peak of about 193 in 2010. Based on next’s year’s budget that include contractual obligations for raises, he said they will continue to move in that direction.

“We’ve already had to absorb $1 million worth of cuts, reduced many of our preventive programs, cut our investigative services to the bone and reduced patrol officers to maintain our budget,” he said. “There’s no money to be found. Given retirements coming up this year, we could be down 24 officers and that’s significant.”

The chiefs appeared before the City Council’s Public Safety and Public Health Committee.

McDonald said the cuts are not just impacting firefighters. He said Lynn’s eight fire stations need work and some must be replaced. The most recent fire station was built in 1968 and the oldest was constructed in 1898, he said.

“Any repairs or improvements that have been made in the stations, like fixing leaky roofs, have been done by the firefighters on their own dime,” he said.

Mother to mayor: Your comment was hurtful

McDonald said he has sent letters to Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, about the state of the fire stations, and has not received a response.  

“It’s time for them to get off their ass and do the right thing,” McDonald said. “Someone has to say we can’t fix the city’s financial troubles by taking from public safety.”

In response, Kennedy said she has been urging lawmakers to change the rules on Beacon Hill about school spending to allow more money to go to police and fire.

“Every department head in the city has know for years that I have been asking for support to put an effort together to get the net school spending formula changes because it’s inequitable in the way it impacts cities like Lynn that have a growing school population,” she said. “This year, I am required by law to commit another $3.4 million to the schools. I can’t spend it on any other department. It is beyond my ability to give more money to public safety.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com

 

Election fight looms in Lynn’s Ward 1

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Ward 1 City Councilor Wayne Lozzi.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Wayne Lozzi, the seven-term city councilor from Ward 1, has a race on his hands.

Courtesy photo

Pictured is attorney William O’Shea.

Two opponents have pulled papers. William O’Shea, an attorney, and Jesse Warren Jr. have set their sights on the post.

“Now that my children are grown and coaching youth sports is in the past, I have a lot of time on my hands,” said O’Shea, 53. One the things that puzzles O’Shea is why KIPP Academy, the city’s charter school, can build a new high school to serve 450 students for $20 million, while the plan defeated by voters last month called for construction of two middle schools for $188.5 million.

In March, voters rejected a 652-student school on Parkland Avenue and a second facility for 1,008 students on McManus Field.

“The city wanted to build one public school for nearly $90 million while a charter school can build it for one fourth the cost,” he said.

O’Shea also wonders why the city’s tax rate rises annually and yet there’s a budget shortfall.

In addition, O’Shea questioned why the city has a methadone clinic on the Lynnway and a homeless shelter downtown.

“We can’t attract new businesses or residents with those things in the middle of downtown,” he said.

Still, he is not sure how to solve that issue.

“I don’t have the particular answers, but as an attorney, I find solutions,” he said.  

Lozzi, 60, who has served on the council since 2004, said he is seeking re-election because he loves the job, and is proud of the work he’s done.

“I’ve accomplished quite a bit as the ward councilor,” he said.  Among his proudest projects, he said, is reconstruction of the city’s parks.

“When I first ran, Gowdy,  Flax Pond and Magnolia parks were in deplorable condition,” Lozzi said.  “Now, we have a new Flax Pond playground, Gowdy was mostly done with private funds at no cost to taxpayers, Magnolia has a fairly new tennis court and Lynn Woods Park playground has been remodeled.”

Lozzi noted that the council’s initiative to move the high tension wires off the waterfront and a zoning change for the Lynnway are key to modernizing the city and spurring development.

North Shore Community Promise: free tuition

While Lozzi acknowledges the city’s financial picture is grim today, he said it’s short term.

“Historically, the city has gone through these phases where we are up and down,” he said. “I don’t want to assign blame, we need to look forward and continue to provide good services to the residents despite these difficulties.”

While the city needs new sources of revenue, Lozzi said he opposed to the imposition of a local option meals tax that would raise about $600,000 annually.

“Raising taxes is a last resort and I’m not sure I would support it,” he said.

Still, Lozzi supported the plan to build two new middle schools by raising taxes.

“I voted yes because I felt strongly that we need a new Pickering Middle School,” he said.

On the question of whether the city will need to lay off city workers to balance the budget, Lozzi said the jury is still out.

“I hope we can avoid them,” he said. “If there is any question about layoffs, that falls onto the mayor’s desk and she has to answer those questions and inform the council and residents.”

Warren could not be reached for comment.


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

 

An ocean of fun in Saugus

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Kids touch sea stars as the New England Aquarium comes to the Saugus Public Library.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS About 90 children dove into the adventures of The New England Aquarium without having to travel to Boston.

A $500 grant from the Saugus Cultural Council funded a three-hour presentation by the aquarium’s traveling education outreach program at the Saugus Public Library.

“We just want to support the children’s curiosity,” said Children’s Librarian Amy Melton. “It’s great that they’re learning about the natural world around us, especially with our location being so close to the ocean.”

The program teaches children about local marine life and habitats and encourages them to develop a stronger connection to science. The tide pools program specifically focuses on ocean science. It’s split up into separate segments for different age groups to cater the lesson so the children get the most out of the experience.

Program educator Danny Trigone, a marine biologist, teaches multiple hour-long classes, 5 to 6 days each week.

“My goal is really to give them a sense that these animals are local and build a future generation of ocean stewards at an early age,” said Trigone. “We also teach them that they have the power to protect these animals.”

Malden weighing growth versus green

The toddler level provides sensory exploration with a story-time style lesson with flash cards and photos followed by hands-on activities with the sea creatures they just learned about. The six through eight age group deepens the context of what elementary school students are learning in school about habitats and adaptations. The children investigate and touch tanks that represent three New England coastal habitats.

In a third session, the students learn about how coastal animals have adapted to life in their environment and interact with the animals they live with.

“It was weird that on the hermit crab the skeleton was on the outside and on the starfish, he had lots of eyes,” said 4-year-old Mackenzie Rafferty.

Adriana Mazin, 5, said she found it odd that the starfish had eyes on its legs, rather than above its mouth, which she also believed was in a strange place at the center of its body. Five-year-old Connor Gaudet was concerned the spider crab may have been dead, but then remembered that he learned that the creature tries to blend in with its environment on The Octonauts, a show on Disney Channel.

“I’m really happy the library offered this program it’s a benefit to the town to have things like this,” said parent Talisa Rafferty.


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

We need more police on the streets, Ford says

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Rick Ford is running for city councilor at large.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  — Rick Ford, the former city councilor who gave up his seat two years ago, wants back in.

“I miss being involved,” he said. “I got three calls from constituents during the last snow storm who don’t even know I’m out.”

Ford, who served as the Ward 7 councilor from 1998 to 2016, chose not to seek re-election following a foot injury. On Tuesday, he pulled papers from City Hall to run for councilor-at-large.

The 60-year-old is co-owner of the Little River Inn, the popular diner on Boston Street where the McNulty sandwich a fried egg with bacon, ham or sausage, topped with cheese on an English muffin is a customer favorite.

He joins a field that includes incumbents Buzzy Barton, Brian LaPierre and Hong Net. Daniel Cahill chose not to seek re-election, leaving one at-large seat open.

Additional candidates include Taso Nikolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood, Jaime Figueroa, a 28-year-old Suffolk University student, Brian Field, who works at Solimine Funeral Homes, and John Ladd, president of Precision Property Brokers.

Revere taking aim at opioids

The top issues facing the city, Ford said, are police protection, building new schools, and development of the city’s waterfront.

“I’d like to help police,” he said. “We don’t have enough officers on the street and anything I can do, like finding grant money would be good. The waterfront development is key to the city’s economic growth.”

On last month’s school election, Ford said he voted for the controversial $188.5 million project to build a pair of middle schools. But the measure failed by a lopsided margin.

“My son is a teacher at the Thurgood Marshall Middle School,” he said.

Ford’s proudest accomplishments as councilor, he said, included constituent work helping to get homes built on the former Lynn Convalescent Home site on Boston Street, supporting construction of a new Washington Street police station, keeping the Ward 7 fire stations open, and ensuring environmental cleanups at the former Empire Laundry and Carr Leather sites.


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

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.

Incentive for ratings boost at Malden schools

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — Newly-hired Malden School Superintendent John Oteri will get a $5,000-10,000 salary bonus if he can push the public schools up the state’s performance ranking scale.

Oteri signed a three-year contract paying him a base salary of $180,000; this makes him the highest-paid city employee. He takes over the job from interim Superintendent Dr. Charles Grandson IV at the close of the school year.

Oteri was selected over four other finalists April 3 in a search by the Malden School Committee. A formal agreement on a contract was reached last week.

One of the accomplishments school committee members noted when interviewing Oteri was the ascent of Somerville High School from a Level 3 to Level 1 designation for academic performance under his watch as headmaster.

“We are very pleased to have John Oteri aboard as superintendent of the Malden Public Schools and we know that he can’t wait to get started,” Mayor Gary Christenson said.

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Malden High School and the Malden Public Schools, overall, remain at Level 3 status under the state Department of Secondary and Elementary Education rating system.

The mayor and school committee members said during the search and interviews that boosting ratings was a priority.

If Malden rises from Level 3 to Level 2 during his tenure, Oteri will receive a bonus of $5,000. A rise to Level 1 means a salary bonus of $10,000 under the terms of his contract.

During his interview, Oteri spoke of his love of Malden. It’s his hometown and he is a 1982 graduate of Malden High.

  

$82K for Chromebooks among Saugus requests

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — Chromebooks for students, pump station repairs, and a new fire truck dominate warrants for the May 1 Annual Town Meeting and a Special Town Meeting.

The Board of Selectmen closed warrants for the meetings. The purpose is to close the special Town Meeting sooner, rather than waiting for the annual meeting to close, which could be as late as June 30, said Town Manager Scott Crabtree.

When the meetings end with unfinished business, they resume to the following Monday until all decisions are made.

The School Committee submitted a request for $82,000 for the one-time purchase of Chromebooks for Saugus Public Schools, which are necessary to comply with statewide computer-based testing, such as MCAS.

Crabtree also included a request to fund Chromebooks, citing confusion about whether the School Department had already requested the money.

“They haven’t identified a source of funding,” Crabtree said. “It’s kind of difficult when you don’t have a conversation with the Town Manager. I also have heard discussions that they may have money within their budget to pay for the Chromebooks.”

Ruggiero put her best foot forward

Town Meeting members will first take up articles that include appropriating money to repair and maintain parks and playgrounds; to design, construct, repair and replace parks and playgrounds and parks; and to make capital improvements to the Lincoln Avenue Pumping Station.

Crabtree said the pumping station, which hasn’t seen major improvements in more than a decade, is in need of repairs and upgrades. He said the existing station is worth about $100 million but is in need of a new bypass. He called the issue a time sensitive priority.

Crabtree is also asking to add money to the town’s stabilization fund. He said he hopes to increase the town’s bond rating to Triple A, so they can pay less interest when borrowing and allow the town’s tax dollars to go further.

“These articles that I’m asking for sort of stay in line with what our priorities are,” said Crabtree. “We’re continuing to take action to build the town’s financial health and stability, improve parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields, and (make) town-wide improvements for our infrastructure.”

The Annual Special Town Meeting articles will follow.

Several articles from Crabtree include a request to purchase a new fire engine for the Fire Department, and to appropriate money for a Post-Employment Benefits Liability Trust. He also wants members to reauthorize revolving funds for supporting recreational programs, and for activities at the senior center.


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

Ruggiero put her best foot forward

She didn’t get picked to be Peabody’s next school superintendent, but Harrington School Principal Debra Ruggiero’s bid for the job reflected brilliantly on her and on Lynn public schools.

Ruggiero is a smart, committed, tough and ambitious educator who brought talent and experience to Peabody’s quest for a new school leader. She was the last candidate standing when the Peabody School Committee voted Wednesday to scrap its current superintendent search and keep Interim Superintendent Herb Levine on for another year.

Levine is an experienced superintendent with a steady hand and people in the know anticipate he will mentor an experienced veteran educator now working in the Peabody school system to become a superintendent candidate once a search resumes.

Committee members said they wanted candidates with collective bargaining and budget-building experience. At least one member pointed out the challenges of overseeing a school system with more than 6,000 students, 1,000 employees and a $72 million annual budget.

The Lynn public school’s enrollment, staff size and budget dwarfs the Peabody schools and Ruggiero is well-versed in the school system’s operations. She has literally sat in the front row at Lynn School Committee meetings and listened carefully as committee members and Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham discuss school spending, personnel needs, enrollment and dozens of other topics.

Ruggiero denied Peabody superintendent post

As Harrington School principal, Ruggiero and fellow educators have made the big Art Deco school on Friend Street a place where pride dwells. Ruggiero has fostered a strong sense of school spirit during her tenure. She has supported an annual reading initiative and she takes a no-nonsense approach to education that puts a priority on kids and learning.

She is a strong, maybe the strongest, example of a Lynn principal embracing a principal’s responsibilities as defined by state law. She is clearly in charge at the Harrington and the school’s state assessment test scores speak to Ruggiero’s accomplishments and her ability to expect the best from her colleagues.

Peabody committee members made the safe choice in passing on Ruggiero in favor of continuing with Levine until a superintendent research can resume again in late 2018. Picking Ruggiero would have been a bolder move on the committee’s part. It would have also been a smart one.

Ruggiero has a strong connection to Peabody. She has hands-on leadership experience and it would be hard to find Lynn educators who do not think Ruggiero is a quick study when it comes to learning and mastering skills.

It will be interesting to see if Peabody’s next search for a superintendent yields a strong candidate crop. One or two candidates with superintendent experience are sure to be a perfect fit for Peabody. An associate or deputy superintendent will probably apply and bring strong budget and bargaining skills. Then again, a strong principal like Ruggiero will apply and seek an opportunity to show off his or her leadership skills.

 

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Donna Coppola, left, and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy have a word during Kennedy’s re-election kickoff.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy kicked off her campaign for a third term Wednesday night at a crowded fundraiser in the Porthole Restaurant.

Kennedy, a Republican, will face state Sen. Thomas McGee in what is expected to be a hotly contested race.  Last month the Lynn Democrat, who has served in the state Senate since 2002, announced his intention to seek the corner office.  

In mentioning McGee in her remarks, Kennedy said the two of them have been in public life for more than two decades and each of them have records that should be scrutinized.

“I hope all of you will base your vote in this election, not on personalities, not on political parties, not on family connections, but on who has done the most to bring improvements to our great city,” she said.

Kennedy became mayor in 2009 when she beat Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy by 27 votes of the more than 16,000 ballots cast. In 2013, she bested Timothy Phelan by a 59 to 41 percent margin.

The mayor reminded the crowd what Lynn was like in 2010, the year she took office. She said Sluice, Flax and Goldfish ponds were infested with invasive weeds, several parks lacked lights for night games, there were few options for seniors to save on their real estate taxes, the General Electric Factory of the Future site had been vacant for more than 10 years, the Thurgood Marshall Middle School was in need of replacing, the Lynn Auditorium had just three shows a year, the downtown was filled with litter, and if teens wanted a summer job, they needed help from an elected official.

“Today, the ponds are clean, Barry Park and Wyoma Baseball Field have lights, there’s a nightly street sweeping schedule in the downtown, we implemented a way for income-eligible seniors to work off $600 from their property tax bills, there’s a lottery for summer jobs, the Lynn Auditorium is air conditioned and booked, the Factory of the Future is the new home for Market Basket, and we built a new middle school,” she said. “I ask for your support as we continue this progress for the next four years.”

I think I can make a difference, McGee says

The event attracted many of the city’s elected officials and candidates for office, as well as supporters.

Elaine Letowski, an insurance writer who moved to Lynn in 2003, said she attended the event because she strongly backs Kennedy.

“She’s good for our city, she says no when you have to say no,” she said. “We don’t have enough money for everything. She’s working on the budget, makes good decisions, keeps our taxes down, and is making Lynn a better place to live.”

Eileen Spencer, a real estate broker at Annmarie Jonah Realtors, said Kennedy has helped revitalize the downtown.

“Judy has done a phenomenal job for the city,” she said. “What I like most of all is what’s she’s done to improve the Lynn Auditorium and that is bringing business to the downtown.”

The mayor’s fundraiser comes one day after a team of consultants told officials that without corrective action, the city’s budget is projected to have an $8.6 million deficit in 2017 and in each of the next five years.

The PFM Group, based out of Philadelphia, provided a grim prescription to City Hall: No raises for city employees, freeze hiring, contract EMS services to a private company, and eliminate 35 city jobs.

Kennedy did not ignore the city’s financial troubles in her speech.

“I want to be real, not everything is rosy and, of course, we have some difficulties, such as balancing the budget,” she said. “But I’ve been quietly looking to officials at the federal level … and I expect to return to Washington in the coming months to meet with the new Trump administration to see what I can do for my city.”


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

 

Higgins named principal at South School

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY – A familiar face is returning to the South School as its new principal.

Mark Higgins, a former South School assistant principal who has been principal at the Witchcraft Heights Elementary School in Salem for the past decade, has been named to replace Monique Nappi at the South School.

Nappi is retiring effective June 30, and Higgins will take the reins on July 1.

“Dr. Higgins brings a wealth of educational and leadership experience to this position, as he has been a very successful principal in Salem for the past 13 years and recently earned his doctoral degree as well,” interim superintendent Herb Levine stated in a letter to the school committee. “I know Dr. Higgins to be a wonderful human being, someone who loves kids and has superb interpersonal skills as well. I am certain that Dr. Higgins will be a great fit for the terrific South School community.”

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Levine said Higgins was the one finalist moved forward by a screening committee of parents, teachers, and school administrators and community members. Levine said he and Higgins were able to quickly agree on a contract.

Higgins is a Peabody resident, and said he is happy to be coming back to the community where he lives and his three children go to school.

“It’s nice to come back and to not be a stranger,” said Higgins. He said that while he does know a number of people in Peabody, he is looking forward to meeting the new students and families of the South School community.

While Higgins said he is happy to return to Peabody, he appreciated the years he spent in Salem.

“I went to Salem 13 years ago from the South School,” he said. “I loved my time there, and Salem was my hometown, so it worked out great.”

There will be a meet and greet with Higgins for members of the South School community at the school on Tuesday, May 16 at 6:30 p.m.

“I hope that as many of the South School community as possible will be able to join us in welcoming Dr. Higgins to the Peabody Public Schools,” Levine said.

 

A day for optimism

PHOTO BY SCOTT EISEN
Lynn District Fire Chief Stephen Archer talks with student Gabby Graham.

If it’s spring it must be Student Government Day, with bright-eyed young men and women from Lynn high schools filling the City Council Chamber on Tuesday to hear speeches about how they can make a difference in the world.

Student Government Day serves the admirable dual purpose of highlighting young people who want to aim high with their aspirations and celebrating the best and most noble aspects of city government.

City department heads, City Councilors and school officials step back from their jobs for a few hours and pair up with student councilors, student fire chiefs, a student mayor, and a student school superintendent.

Student Government Day is partly an opportunity to reward some of the city’s best students with a glimpse at careers in government. It is also an opportunity for public service employees to provide insights into how government at the local level works.

There is value in giving young people an understanding of why a career in public service is a goal worth pursuing. People who work in government are consistent targets for critics who claim public servants are underworked, overpaid, and less than honest. These attacks have probably been around for as long as human beings have organized governments.

‘Welcome to Student Government Day’

The people who start Student Government Day off by talking about their jobs are, in many cases, familiar to the students sitting in the Council Chamber and listening. They are neighbors, parents of friends, couches and scouting leaders.

Some of them are city leaders only slightly older than the students. State Reps. Brendan Crighton and Dan Cahill have stood in the Council Chamber and told students about how they pursued public careers to make a difference and improve life for their neighbors.

Part of Student Government Day is dedicated to giving student councilors the opportunity to debate topics they consider important to their peers. In past years these debates centered around school topics such as giving students more latitude in leaving school grounds. Sometimes the debates center on topics that hit close to home for young people, including violence and addiction.

The mock debates are typically five minute-long exchanges bearing no resemblance to the Lincoln-Douglas debates. But they may provide a student interested in civic life with an opportunity to speak out loud about a topic of interest in a place where important city business is debated and decided.

The greatest part of Student Government Day is the way, if only for a day, optimism in government replaces cynicism and people who only see possibility and potential stand at center stage and talk about the future.

Opposition mounts to Munroe school site

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
KIPP Massachusetts has agreed to purchase this lot on Munroe Street for a 450-student high school.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Opposition to a new school in the downtown is mounting.

City Councilors Dianna Chakoutis and Peter Capano met with officials from KIPP Massachusetts, which operates the Academy Lynn Public Charter School, Thursday and let them know Munroe Street is the wrong place for their proposed $20 million high school.

“It’s not the right spot for a school,” said Capano. “It makes more sense to put something there that’s integrated into the downtown, such as a commercial or residential use.”

KIPP has signed an agreement to purchase a former parking lot on Munroe Street that has been used as a community garden. The grades 9 through 12 school would house 450 students.

The parcel is assessed at $211,000 and owned by Munroe Partners LLC, operated by Gordon Hall, president of The Hall Co.

Capano said Munroe Street gets congested at times and a school would exacerbate traffic problems.

“I know space is at a premium in Lynn, but they need to find an alternative,” he said.  “I will work with them.”

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Chakoutis said she organized the meeting with KIPP after receiving a handful of phone calls from constituents who wanted to know why workers were doing soil testing on the site.

“I just don’t think a school fits in the city’s arts and cultural district,” she said. “We will sit down with them again and hopefully there are some options they will consider.”

Clint Muche, the city’s deputy building commissioner who also attended the session, said the informal meeting was called to discuss plans for the 29,000-square-foot lot.  KIPP could build the school as a matter of right, he said.

“They wanted to explain how they would locate a school there that would not completely disrupt traffic,” he said.

Before anything moves forward, KIPP would be required to submit a formal plan to the Site Plan Review Committee.

While they did not present written plans, KIPP has commissioned a traffic study and discussed a scheme that would have students dropped off at the nearby MBTA garage where faculty would park.

“I wouldn’t prejudge anything,” Muche said.  “When they have plan, we will take a look.”

Caleb Dolan, the school’s executive director, could not be reached for comment.


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

 

Time for adult conversations

ITEM PHOTO BY JIM WILSON
State sens. Michael Rodrigues and Thomas McGee speak during a meeting with The Item.

State Sen. Michael Rodrigues delivered one of the all-time classic understatements on Thursday during an interview with fellow Sen. Thomas M. McGee and The Item editorial board.

“It’s very difficult to have an adult conversation about taxes,” said the Westport Democrat.

Truer words were never spoken.

A minority of Lynn voters went to the polls on March 21 and rammed a plan to build new public schools into the ground with the force of a piledriver. The argument against the schools revolved around protecting open space and cemetery land. But voters saw red when they were asked to approve a property tax debt exclusion to pay for new schools.

On the other extreme, statewide gambling proponents promised to open the floodgates and pour new tax money into Massachusetts. They pointed to tax revenue from two casinos and a slot parlor as a solution to everything from beefing up police forces to boosting the state’s economy.

Rodrigues and McGee have been crisscrossing Massachusetts with fellow senators as part of Commonwealth Connections. Billed as a listening tour, the series of forums, including one planned next Tuesday in Lynn and another scheduled for that night in Peabody, are aimed principally at collecting and prioritizing ideas for fixing Massachusetts’ transportation infrastructure.

Opposition mounts to Munroe school site

As chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, McGee has repeatedly pointed out how the state’s infrastructure is deteriorating. He has urged legislators, businesspeople, and fellow Lynn residents; as well as people statewide, to talk about how to pay for billions of dollars worth of needed transportation improvements.

He pointed out how tax discussion degenerate into “divisive” debates over prioritizing public spending. Echoing McGee’s point, Rodrigues observed how “everyone is dug into their own box” when it comes to protecting state-approved tax credits lessening the burden on a specific population or business sector.

McGee can’t be blamed for sometimes thinking he is whistling past the graveyard when he points out how improving transportation is a universal challenge everyone has to think about in dollars and cents. He points to the deteriorating General Edwards Bridge — a gateway to the city — as an example of a major expense that cannot be ignored.

Put in simpler terms, McGee is urging a statewide conversation on how to pay for transportation improvements that not only benefit Massachusetts’ economy but prevent disaster and loss of life.

He is not encouraged about the possibility of federal money flooding into the state for infrastructure repairs. But McGee isn’t giving up on the notion that Commonwealth Connections can inspire people across Massachusetts to focus on transportation improvement ideas and ways to pay for them.

It’s time for the adults in the room to start talking.  

A week to celebrate the library in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Prisila Gomez and Amanda Chavez share some time in the Children’s Room at the Lynn Public Library.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — The Lynn Public Library will offer special programming throughout April in recognition of National Library Week and school vacation week.

National Library Week will be observed April 9-15. Children’s librarian Susan Cronin said beginning Monday, a banner will be laid out in the Children’s Room for youths to decorate with comments about what the library means to them. Cronin will also facilitate spring-themed crafts every day after school except Friday.

“It’s a week to celebrate the library and the system,” she said. “I don’t think people realize how important the library is. They don’t know what’s available to them. The landscape of the library is ever changing. We have computers, ESL materials, DVDs, CDs, and of course books. It’s free and accessible to all.”

Storyteller Mark Binder will visit the library to tell silly stories on Wednesday, April 12 at 3 p.m.

During April vacation week, April 17-21, the younger children can enjoy board games, coloring pages, and puzzles will be on hand each day. The QuaranTEEN Tech Room, which houses an Xbox, and iPads, will be open Tuesday, April 18 and Thursday, April 20 for grades 6 through 12.

“It’s really a space where teens can use the technology how they would like,” said Young Adult librarian Katelyn Cole. “The computers have different programs and games. They can be used for photo editing or video editing. The iPads have a ton of apps they can use, including Minecraft. There are Xbox games they can play with friends.”

Kennedy expected to announce third run

Maker Time will be Wednesday April 19 from 1 to 4 p.m.. Teens can use 3D pens; Sphero and Ollie robots, which are easily programmable with an iPad; make jewelry and key chains using thread and beads, build with Legos, and other activities.

“(Sphero and Ollie) are really a good introduction for teens to robots without it being too intimidating,” Cole said.

Protect-Preserve needs to produce

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Don Castle motions at the “no-vote” victory party in this March file photo.

The founder of the “no new schools” movement pledged following the March 21 referendum vote to reach out and work with school officials.

Almost three weeks have passed and that conversation between Donald Castle and the officials he wants to speak with has yet to take place.

Mr. Castle and his Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove campaign defeated the city’s request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a middle school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field.

Give Mr. Castle credit; he tapped into voter anger over taxes and tallied a 64 percent to 36 percent win.

He told The Item’s editorial board before the March 21 special election that he opposed construction of the Parkland Avenue school because the city’s forefathers wanted the 44-acre site to be reserved to expand the Pine Grove Cemetery.

He argued that the parcel is too close to Breeds Pond Reservoir, the buildings were too expensive, and the process failed to be inclusive.

Insisting his group is not anti-education or anti-new schools, Mr. Castle said he would reach out to city officials after the school vote and say, “We want to work with you.”

He kept up that refrain the day after the election, saying, “I extended an olive branch to the mayor and the committee to pick another site.”

Schools out in Lynn

Mr. Castle and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, a school construction supporter, each say they made post-election efforts to reach out and meet, but missed each other’s post-election calls. Castle got a chance to state his case last week during the Pickering Middle School Building Committee meeting. Kennedy made a motion to suspend the rules and allow Mr. Castle to speak.

He declined.

“It was a bag job,” he said following the meeting, “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.”

Sorry, Mr. Castle, you can’t have it both ways. Protect-Preserve won a stunning election victory. But the middle-school enrollment tidal wave threat still looms.

Maybe Mr. Castle wants to hold on to that no new-schools anger and see if it converts into a possible City Council bid.

Maybe he got tongue tied when the opportunity came to actually present city decision makers with his school construction suggestions.

Or maybe it’s time for Mr. Castle and Protect-Preserve to make good on his pre-election statement and offer specific and positive ideas for solving the city’s school space crunch.

Unless they never had any ideas to begin with.

School spending ‘thorn in our side,’ mayor says

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Five months after the state threatened to withhold millions in school funds, the city is on the hook again as they face a spending shortfall, The Item has learned.

On Thursday, the Department of Education is expected to tell Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy that following a review of the city’s finances, school spending is off by about $826,000. As a result, the state may withhold that amount from Lynn’s $11 million monthly allocation of Chapter 70 school payments in June.

Peter Caron, Lynn’s chief financial officer, said the city is again working to get school spending back on track.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “We are trying to guess how much money we will spend on schools, but the state doesn’t do the accounting until six months after the fiscal year is over. It all goes back to the health insurance; we don’t know in May how much we will spend on it. It’s a crap shoot.”

Kennedy said she expects the school spending issue to be resolved, but she’s not sure how.

“Overall, net school spending has been a thorn in our side for a number of years,” she said. “When you increase the number of students in the schools by nearly 20 percent over the last six years, it causes problems on how to pay for it.”

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Lynn is the fifth largest district in the Bay State with more than 16,000 students.

“Until we can slow the increase in school population or look to possible federal assistance, we will not be able to meet the threshold spending for the foreseeable future,” she said.

The city’s finances came into focus last year when the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told the mayor that the city’s contribution to school funding was short by $7.5 million and the state threatened to withhold its $11 million November payment in school funds until City Hall came up with more cash.

Since then, the school deficit has been reduced to less than $1 million and the state money was released to the city.

John J. Sullivan, DOE’s associate commissioner, declined to comment until the letter is issued to the mayor.


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

 

Malden’s decision resonates in Peabody

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — In a swift deliberation with a dearth of discussion, the Malden School Committee on Monday night voted 6-3 to offer the position of Superintendent of Schools to Somerville High School headmaster John Oteri, who also was in contention for the same job in Peabody.

Two candidates from a field of five finalists received all nine votes from the nine-member committee, with Oteri receiving six votes and former 13-year Malden High School principal Dana Brown getting three votes, including one from the chairman of the school board, Mayor Gary Christenson.

Immediately following the vote to offer the position to Oteri, the School Committee went into executive session to discuss a contract offer. After a lengthy period lasting just over two hours, the executive session adjourned without reaching an agreement on an offer. Christenson said negotiations in closed session would continue at another time and if an agreement was reached between the School Committee and Oteri, a contract would be voted on in a public meeting.

Oteri was also one of two finalists for the position of Peabody superintendent with Debra Ruggiero, principal of E.J. Harrington Elementary School in Lynn.  In Peabody, second interviews with each of the two finalists, Oteri and Ruggiero, were planned for Thursday night.

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt, the chairman of the Peabody School Committee, said last week a decision and offer could be made following Thursday’s interviews, or perhaps at the next scheduled School Committee meeting next Tuesday, April 11.

Peabody School Committeewoman Beverley Griffin Dunne said it’s impossible to say what will happen next in the process until the board has a chance to meet and take a vote in response. If Oteri enters into a contract with Malden, the board could decide to open up the search to new candidates, or to confirm Ruggiero as the final choice.  

“The biggest challenge about this process is scheduling the interviews and the meetings,” said Dunne, who added there is a critical shortage of qualified superintendent candidates, making for a highly competitive search.

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Oteri was not present at last night’s meeting and could not be reached for comment on the status of the Malden offer versus the situation and status in Peabody.

School Committee member Leonard Iovino made the first  motion to back Oteri’s candidacy. “John Oteri had stood above the other finalists in his interview session,” Iovino said.  Fellow member Jerry Leone seconded the motion.

Mayor Christenson spoke in favor of Brown, as did Committee members Catherine Bordonaro and Tara Beardsley.  “He (Brown) he had done so much for the city of Malden. He knows this city,” the mayor said.

Christenson, Beardsley and Bordonaro all voted Brown.  Iovino, Leone, Silverman, Emmanuel Marsh, Michael Drummey and John Froio all voted for Oteri.


Leah Dearborn of the Item staff contributed to this report.