By Mayor Carlo DeMaria
A proposal has been submitted to the City Council to amend the City’s Charter to make the Mayor a voting member of the Everett School Committee. Much of the recent commentary on this proposal has questioned the timing of it being offered and the opposition to the general idea of it. In order for there to be an informed dialogue about the proposal, it is important to examine the merits of it as well.
The proposed change is consistent with the role of mayor in the majority of cities in Massachusetts. The Commonwealth has a total of 351 cities and towns. Towns select a town manager. Cities elect a mayor. There are 59 cities in Massachusetts and 47 of them have a mayor. Out of the 47 mayors, 29 of them serve as either the Chair of their School Committee or are a voting member of the Committee. Put simply, almost 62% of all mayors in the Commonwealth serve as a School Committee member in a role other than an ex-officio capacity. The model of a mayor serving as a voting member of a school committee may be a new concept to Everett, but it’s not new in most other cities.
Just as a mayor serving as a voting member of a school committee is not a new governance model, it also is not a new concept in our community. The proposal to make the Mayor of Everett a voting member was presented to the Charter Commission in 2010. The change did not advance at that time. To answer the question as to why consider the proposal now, we instead should be asking the question, “Why not now?” If we have learned anything during the unprecedented events of this year, it is that we need to think differently about how we support the children and families in our community and this proposal presents such an opportunity.
In January 2018, an independent four-person School Finance Task Force was convened to offer an impartial assessment of the fiscal management and controls of the Everett Public Schools after a pattern of excess spending that was identified as a risk too big to city finances to have weak controls. Included in the Task Force recommendations was the recommendation that “[t]he School Committee should fully exercise its fiduciary responsibility beyond the development and approval of the budget, but also in the management of spending and position control in the budget.” The report also went on to state that the “development, approval and oversight of the annual School Department budget is one of the most important responsibilities of the School Committee and all members should be equally engaged.” As an ex-officio member, the Mayor does not have the same ability to serve in this fiduciary capacity or be as engaged as the voting members do. The proposal to make the Mayor a voting member is consistent with the Task Force’s recommendation.
While I support this proposal because I believe it is sound public policy, I also have personal reasons for supporting it. During my public service career, I have had the privilege to hold different positions; however, the role I am most proud of is that of “Dad.” As the father of three beautiful children, I understand the needs that children have while attending school. My youngest daughter currently attends the Everett Public Schools and I learn daily about her educational challenges and accomplishments. I also know how fortunate I am for the ways that I can support my daughter and know that other hard-working, loving parents and families currently don’t have those same opportunities available to them. As a parent and a leader, I owe it to those students and families to find as many meaningful ways that I can to support them because that is the right thing to do.
As Mayor, I have embraced the recent opportunities to improve the spirit of cooperation and communication with my colleagues in the Everett Public Schools. The proposal to make the Mayor a voting member of the School Committee presents the opportunity for an even greater collaborative relationship between the City’s education officials and the chief executive for the City. It is time that the office of the Mayor of Everett, today and in the future, has a meaningful opportunity to bring a voice and a perspective, combined with decision making abilities consistent with that of other members, to the School Committee to advocate for the interests of students and their families as part of the overall responsibilities that the Mayor has to serve all residents of Everett.
Carlo DeMaria is the Mayor of Everett.