The tense relationship recently between Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Supt. Fred Foresteire got a little more heated on Monday when Foresteire filed a letter with the City Council saying the schools never requested an additional $500,000 – a request that was before the City Council Ways & Means Committee Monday night.
It’s a letter that DeMaria said on Monday night was not necessary, and a letter whose tone he didn’t appreciate. However, he and the Council agreed that now was the time to move on and put emotions aside.
The $500,000 request, which will allow students in band, chorus and STEM programs to travel to out-of-state competitions, was approved 3-0. The money will also prevent any further layoffs or shortfalls in the current School Budget.
Foresteire’s letter indicated that the $500,000 request, which DeMaria put forward last week, came only because DeMaria began to feel the pressure from parents and students who could no longer go on trips for band, STEM and chorus.
“I want to make it perfectly clear; the School Department and Administration of Everett Public Schools did not request this $500,000,” read the letter, which was in boldface. “The Mayor proposed this transfer of $500,000 due to the backlash that was caused when there was a very real threat of our students not being able to participate in various competitions. This concern arose as a result of the announcement made by the Mayor at the Council meeting of Feb. 12, 2018, that he was banning all out of state travel for the School Department, effective immediately.”
On Monday night, the mayor said the letter was an unnecessary attempt to embarrass him again.
“I don’t like the letter sent to you this evening,” he said. “I think it was unnecessary and I will sit with the superintendent and discuss it. I feel it was disappointing after everything we’ve done. I was told the $500,000 would make the schools whole for the rest of the year…That’s why it’s here before you tonight.”
DeMaria and Chief Financial Officer Eric Demos said that School Administrator Charlie Obremski had sat with them and discussed what the schools would need before the end of the year to keep from having layoffs or problems with student travel. They indicated he told them the $500,000 figure.
However, the letter from Foresteire explained that the mayor did mean to prevent students from traveling, and it would have prevented the band from going to represent Everett in the Washington, D.C., Memorial Day Parade.
“If that happened, our STEM team was not going to be able to compete in the National Championships in New York,” read the letter. “Our Percussion Ensemble and Chorus were not going to be able to compete in the New England Championships. Our award-winning band was in danger of not being able to represent the state of Massachusetts in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. These finances will guarantee the participation of our students. Also, it will enable the extra support for programs in place for our students.”
DeMaria told the Council on Monday that the whole idea he had prevented the kids from traveling to their competitions was ludicrous. He said his travel ban was simply a common measure put in place during budget problems and was meant for any administration or teachers planning to travel out of state.
“That was never meant to prevent the kids from going to the STEM in New York or the band from going to D.C., but that was more about not having members of the administration go to a conference,” he said.
“What happened was there was an opportunity to say the Mayor didn’t allow the kids to go to their trips,” he said.
Councilors pushed about the expenditure, but DeMaria said the schools never provided him a breakdown. He said Obremski just said they would need $500,000 to make them whole, and that was it.
“That’s something that they would probably have to come up here and explain,” said DeMaria.
Councilor Stephen Simonelli said, even though supporting the transfer, that the schools should have been satisfied with the $5 million transfer approved in February.
“The superintendent is putting the Mayor and City Council on the spot,” he said. “This is not our problem. We all thought the $5 million was enough and it should be enough.”
Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he was worried about the lack of control, and intimated that his one-fifth budget plan proposed at the February meeting would have worked better than the current plan.
He said the City has now given the schools about $5.9 million, and his plan was to give them $6 million in five installments, requiring them to come before the Council before each installment to explain their spending for the period.
“We don’t know if this is going to be the last of it and we have no idea what the breakdown is for the use of this money,” he said. “I think this just shows that my one-fifth budget plan, which my colleagues chose not to support, was the best way to go forward.”
Council President Peter Napolitano said he understood the tone of the letter, but felt that it was simply time to put feelings aside and begin working together again.
“I understand the tone of the letter, but I don’t think the letter should determine whether we give the money or do not,” he said. “We need to move in the right direction. I think this money is a good gesture on the mayor’s behalf. I can see how a general statement (about travel) can be taken to the extreme…Rather than beat the town to death, let’s move forward and take the steps we need to so we can move in a positive direction and not make more of this.”
DeMaria agreed, saying it’s time to put emotions aside and move forward in a positive fashion.
“I have thick skin,” he said. “I’ve been around a long time. I respect and support the School Department. I just want to get beyond this and work on a great budget for next year.