Opinion

Letter to the Editor: Lack of empathy, missteps mark custodian dismissals

Everyone in Saugus has an opinion on the recent firing of all school custodians, authorized by the School Committee. This plan was approved quietly without community input, despite a rising tsunami of public anger, and was followed by botched execution. The failure of this process has now landed back upon the fractured committee. 

Most residents of Saugus have never gone to a School Committee meeting and probably can’t name or recognize a single member. Video of every meeting is online, and while most are only viewed a handful of times, the June 20 meeting was viewed more than 2,000 times in the first 48 hours. It’s not every day the school committee shames all of Saugus with disgusting and juvenile behavior so egregious I could not watch it with my toddler in the room.

When young children approached the microphone to speak in support of their terminated school custodian, Chairman Jen Meredith could be heard calling their parents “disgusting” for “using” their children.  

Committeewoman Linda Gaieski insisted the children were “dragged before the committee,” and urged them to be silenced. When furious parents challenged her that their children made the choice to advocate for their custodian, Gaieski refused to apologize and continued to blame the parents. In a stunning display of tone-deafness, she stated she personally speaks for all children in the district.  

A Vietnam veteran without children or grandchildren in the school system criticized the decision to fire the custodians and was called “ridiculous” by Gaieski, who told the outspoken and overflowing audience, “I don’t care what you say,” and called them irrational for not understanding how difficult it was for her to terminate the custodians.

Turning on each other, committee members mocked one another personally in front of the audience, accusing their fellow members of lying, of having forked tongues, of employment sabotage, of financial malfeasance, of being puppets of the administration, and of dragging each other’s children into the fight. 

Gaieski furiously recalled that it was Committeewoman Liz Marchese who insisted the entire committee stick together when public backlash began, confirming they knew this decision would not be popular, and that it was Marchese who hadn’t kept her word. It didn’t seem to occur to Gaieski that participation in this pact was nothing to be proud of in the first place.

I’ve spoken to people since the meeting who can’t believe what they witnessed. Members had breakdowns under the stress, they say. This isn’t who they are. They’ve never seen them like this, or at least not this bad.  What the committee may fail to understand is that this was their introduction to many residents of Saugus who chose this moment to become involved, especially those of us with young children about to enter the system. They are defined by this meeting.

When town leaders overthink their mandate and ignore warning signs of collapsed support, doubling down has never worked. Respecting residents and being upfront every step of the way is the only thing that ever has. The superintendent handed the custodians badly-proofread termination notices which didn’t even thank them for their years of service, and minutes after the letters went public released a press release gloating about all the investments he would make in Saugus with the savings.  

This misstep and repeated lack of empathy has damaged the public trust. I fear the committee and school administration will double down again and state after a severance pay announcement that we need never speak of this again.  

I strongly urge them to note the warning signs, particularly a 34-2 vote by Town Meeting in support of the custodians, and reconsider their mandate.

They may not care what we say, but they may notice how we vote this fall.

Ryan Fisher

Saugus Town Meeting member

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