Though it was a surprise to many, Mayor Carlo DeMaria said this week he is calling for the beginning of a discussion about adding himself as a voting member of the School Committee – a change that was inserted recently to an unrelated charter change dealing with how ward councilors and School Committee members are voted.
The City Council and School Committee have been in discussions with City Clerk Sergio Cornelio about changing the City Charter to eliminate the practice of voting citywide for ward seats on the Council and School Committee. That has come under threat of a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit from a group of Civil Rights attorneys in Boston. However, in a rather sudden move, Mayor DeMaria asked that an accompanying Charter change be made to move him from a non-voting member of the School Committee to a voting member. That would give the Committee 10 members, and it’s something the mayor said he is doing for the future of the mayoral position.
“This is for the future of the position,” he said. “This isn’t for Carlo DeMaria. This is so things that happened in the past don’t happen again. Let’s not forget, we had to give the School Department $20 million in one calendar year because the former superintendent overspent the budget and hired 107 people outside the budget presented to the City Council. This has nothing to do with the current superintendent. This is checks and balances…
“It’s giving the City Council and the City buy in,” he continued. “We’re not separate. They are a department of the City like police, libraries and Human Resources. This isn’t two separate lanes here. We’re one group. One Everett. The mayor would be only one vote out of 10.”
Cornelio said the proposal on ward voting does now contain the change for the mayor to be a voting member of the School Committee. It is consistent, he said – and research shows, with other cities and towns around Everett. In Revere and Malden, the mayor is the permanent chair of the School Committee and a voting member too. In Medford and Somerville, the mayor is a voting member as well.
DeMaria added that it would be an extra set of eyes on the finances so things that happened under the former superintendent couldn’t happen again. This was pointed out in recommendations given by the Blue Ribbon Task Force in 2019 – with them recommending that the City begin a discussion about the mayor being a voting member on the School Committee.
Specifically, the Task Force was very clear that making the mayor a voting member was not a recommendation from them, but it “should be a decision made by the City at a later time after evaluating the results of the collaborative environment between the School Department and City Hall and the implementation of the recommendations made by the Task Force.”
For those on the School Committee, the move by Mayor DeMaria drew some skepticism as to the timing. Many had never heard of the idea being wrapped into the discussion of the Charter Change for ward voting, and even had a discussion with Cornelio at a School Committee meeting earlier this month where this plan wasn’t mentioned at all.
Member Marcony Almeida Barros said it came as quite a surprise to him when he heard about it via the City Council calendar – as it was to be considered at Monday night’s meeting, but the Council had technical issues and couldn’t get to that item.
“I was really surprised to learn that the Mayor wants to become a voting member of the School Committee – and I only found out by reading the city council agenda,” he said. “I’ve been on the Committee for almost three years, and despite all that’s happened during that time, I only recall seeing the Mayor attend our meetings twice, during the superintendent search process. Does he really need to become a voting member in order to participate? I know we work together well with City Hall, which is why this move raises questions at this time.”
The mayor is already the chair of the City Hall-based watchdog group, the School Finance Review Commission, and he also meets about twice a month with Supt. Priya Tahiliani and her leadership team.
Member Frank Parker said the move caught him off guard, especially after they had talked with Cornelio about the ward voting Charter change on Oct. 5.
“Here we are three weeks later and the rumors start going around on Monday of this week,” he said. “We don’t know when, where and who made the decision to incorporate this change to the School Committee with the ward race issue – which is being done because we are threatened with a lawsuit. No one is suing the School Committee to add members…I don’t know the concerns because I’m being kept in the dark, and the chair is being kept in the dark.”
Parker went on to say the School Committee has completely reformed its fiscal and financial situation. Last year, he said they returned $3 million to the City, and this year they will return about $900,000 to the City – meaning they haven’t overspent or had to ask for extra money in two years. He added that had the Council taken it up – and not had technical issues Monday – it could have passed without discussion.
“Sounds to me like we had a surprise coming,” he said. “The point is we’re trying to be collaborative and work in a transparent environment and this doesn’t jive with that.”
DeMaria said it is really less about surprising anyone and more about rectifying the past. He said the Charter Reform Committee many years ago wanted to make this change – to come in line with other cities around Everett – but former Supt. Fred Foresteire had too much power and blocked it from happening in order to consolidate power. He said his only “play” on the matter is to rectify that, have the mayor be more involved in the schools, and participate in meetings twice a month.
“There’s no ‘play’ here,” he said, noting that he fully trusts Supt. Tahiliani and her team. “It’s something I thought should have happened a long time ago and should have happened regarding former Supt. Foresteire when he overspent the budget. I’m not saying the mayor should appoint the School Committee like Boston. That’s not needed…It’s simply about the future of the mayoral position.”
Any Charter change would have to pass the City Council, and then would have to go to the State Legislature for a Home Rule Petition vote. Cornelio said he expected that could be done by the end of the calendar year, and the measure could be put in place by January – if approved. The Council is slated to take up the matter on Nov. 9, and it might appear on the School Committee agenda next week.