School Committeeman Frank Parker received a unanimous vote, 8-0, to become the new chair of the School Committee, and former Chair Tom Abruzzese got a unanimous vote to be the vice chair – with both members essentially switching spots for 2021.
That, however, was fairly non-controversial, but Chair Parker quickly set the tone for 2021, saying the School Committee was going to defend its autonomy in what many on the Committee have felt is an attempted takeover by City Hall.
“We’ve heard over the last month that we at the School Committee are just another department,” he said. “We are not. We are far from just another department. We are not the Everett Public School Department. We are the Everett Public School District. We manage 10 buildings and are responsible for 7,200 kids and close to 900 employees. We represent 42 percent of the budget. With that comes autonomy – autonomy that’s been defined by the School Reform Act; autonomy that is spelled out in the Mass General Laws. That far exceeds the three bullet points in the Charter. We will protect that autonomy and advocate for every dollar we think we deserve whether we think it’s local, state or federal.”
For most School Committees, such a statement would be a fact of life, but in Everett at this moment, the fight for control over the schools has been raging for two months – whether it be the makeup of the Committee or the finances of the public schools. All of it began when Mayor DeMaria suddenly filed a Charter Change last fall to become a voting member of the Committee, and that has been followed by an epic battle over a $471,000 CARES Act reimbursement at all levels of local government.
Parker seemed to draw a line in the sand on Monday night after being voted in, calling on an agenda of four pillars – the last being autonomy.
“I think of this year looking at four pillars – that being equity, advocacy, accountability and autonomy,” he said.
Parker gained the role through a nomination from first-term Committeewoman Samantha Lambert.
“I wanted to put forth Frank as a candidate because he has a breadth of institutional and procedural knowledge while committing himself to continuous learning,” she said. “Over the first year on the School Committee for me, Frank has been an incredible mentor on procedure and how to use procedure to let new voices be heard and to contribute effectively to our scholars and families…”
The night, however, was also punctuated with great praise for outgoing Chair Tom Abruzzese, who was also chosen as the new vice chair. Abruzzese had been chair for two years, getting chosen two years ago in a huge surprise vote on the night of Inauguration. He has led the district through the most challenging years in decades – overseeing the fallout from the former superintendent leaving abruptly and being charged criminally for alleged misconduct, conducting a superintendent search, choosing a new superintendent and then guiding the Committee through a 10-month pandemic.
“One word I could define Mr. Abruzzese with is leadership,” said School Committeeman Marcony Almeida Barros in nominating Abruzzese for vice chair. “In his two years he has brought this Committee to not only a high level, but to an award winning level…His leadership in leading us through a very difficult transition from the previous superintendent to hiring in an honest and legal process the new superintendent we have now. He suffered many misinformation (campaigns) and lies and has stood up always to make sure this body was working hard to protect and bring our families we serve ahead of everything.”
Supt. Priya Tahiliani, who was an early favorite of Abruzzese when she interviewed for the job in 2019, said he had met every challenge decisively.
“He has led the School Committee through a very tumultuous period with both skill and decisiveness,” she said. “Under his leadership, the School Committee was awarded the All-State Award by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and that’s no small accomplishment. He really has been instrumental in enduring the endless challenges and obstacles that have been posed over the past year, especially by the pandemic.”
Abruzzese said he was honored by the accolade, and was happy to serve as vice chair in 2021.
“This was a surprise, but not as much a surprise as two years ago when I became chairman,” he said. “I look on these positions and I’m one and Mr. Parker is one of nine people. Cynical people could look at it and say it’s the same old. I prefer to look at it as – over the past two years – if it’s not broken, let’s not fix it. Over the past two years we’ve had great things occur. The best is yet to come. I look forward to serving you. I appreciate it and am honored.”