After nearly two hours of discussion between Mayor Carlo DeMaria and the members of the School Committee about a change to the Charter that nearly went through last week without any notice to the Committee – the frank discussion seemed to come to wrap up with some better measure of understanding.
School Committee members felt left out by the mayor’s sudden and unannounced move – which had sought to make him a voting member of the Committee.
The mayor explained he didn’t intentionally try to sneak anything through, and he is only looking to get more involved in the School Department and set up a better City structure for the future.
Then Supt. Priya Tahiliani spoke.
To date, the new superintendent has been marked by smiles and congeniality. Her speech on Monday not only wrapped up the discussion, as she detailed her opposition to the proposal.
“This is a City that has been shrouded in some level of silence,” she said. “It has been mired in scandal. This is a City, and I think we’ve gotten past that as a School Department, where decisions haven’t been made with everybody’s best interest at heart. I feel like that’s what we’re not saying right now. I’m hearing a lot about how the people in this room feel and not enough about our students in this conversation and how they’re impacted by this. Many of us in this room are elected officials and are meant to give a voice to those that don’t have a voice. We know the elected officials aren’t always representative of the full community out there.
“I am worried about this and there is a reason only 29 of the 250 districts in the Commonwealth have their mayor on the School Committee,” she continued. “It is because of the need for checks and balances because we already go to the City to ask for funds…We ask for everything we do.”
She said the Council should make sure they’re voting for the right thing – the students – when they take the matter up, which could be next Monday.
Mayor Says He Wants to Be Involved
Prior to Supt. Tahiliani’s speech, Mayor Carlo DeMaria shared with members of the Committee about his intentions – noting that other City’s like Revere, Malden and Somerville have their mayor as a voting member of the School Committee.
He first clarified that he didn’t even know that matter was on the Council calendar last Monday with the other Charter Change – that one being for ward-only voting for councilors and School Committee members. That change was well-known, but the piece about the mayor becoming a voting member was a surprise to most – and the mayor said it was to him as well.
The mayor said he had the change written up two years ago when the School Blue Ribbon Task Force suggested it as a change that deserved community discussion in their final report. However the mayor said he never acted upon it until now. He says he believes the City’s outside law firm – KP Law – forwarded that change mistakenly to the Council with other changes.
He said he has always believed the mayor should have a vote on the Committee, and he viewed this change as only cleaning up mistakes of the past – mistakes attributed to the power of former Supt. Fred Foresteire.
“Many of the Charter Commission members who looked at this change years ago had family members working in the schools,” he said. “I won’t go any further in saying that. The past superintendent had a lot of power in the community. The mayor should have been made a member of the School Committee, and maybe the chair, like the rest of the communities around us…I don’t see how a mayor being on a School Committee of 10 would interfere or strongarm something in a negative way. It’s putting the CEO of the community on a board that is probably the most important Committee in the community…What bothers me is so many people are worried.”
He added that sitting there for four hours at a meeting as an ex-officio, listening to all the arguments – then not voting on anything – seems wrong.
“I’ve never been part of an elected body I went to and sat through meetings for four hours and I don’t get a vote,” he said.
Though he has been able to attend meetings as ex-officio, and has declined most all meetings, he said it’s because he didn’t have a vote.
“It’s like going to the gym and working out,” he said. “If your personal trainer is there, you’re going to go. If your trainer isn’t there, you’re probably going to blow it off.”
“Never had a personal trainer,” quipped Chair Tom Abruzzese.
“I’m not against it,” said School Committeeman Marcony Almeida Barros. “But a head’s up that the Charter is changing and the mayor will be a voting member with you goes a long way…It’s not a concern. It’s about respect.”
Said Member Samantha Lambert, “We dive deep into the weeds on issues. I worry that a current mayor or future mayor will not have the bandwidth to be in the weeds with these issues. Just to find out about this Tuesday that this could have been approved the night before – that was disappointing to me as a taxpayer.”
Added Member Frank Parker, “I’m feeling a little left out. The change to the Home Rule Petition we have not seen the language yet. I say that as a stakeholder. Up to this point, it’s been a lot of rumor and hyperbole.”
Another piece that the Committee took offense to is the frequent references to the past, which the Committee has worked hard to get beyond, they said.
“There was just something a little insulting about the way this was done,” said Abruzzese.
“It wasn’t done intentionally,” said the mayor.
“The last thing I want to say is we don’t talk about going in the past up here and particularly about a former superintendent,” Abruzzese replied. “I strongly suggest to you that maybe you’ve got to stop looking at us and the School Department in that same way. Get that outta’ your head and realize where we’re at here. What we’ve got going on here…in my humble opinion is exciting stuff with a great future for the kids of Everett. Every time we reach back and talk about that debacle of 2018, hey, have your Task Force take out the minutes of what I said about that. You know how I feel about it.”
Think about Your Vote
Tahiliani finished her speech at the end of the meeting by imploring that the Council think about what and who they’re voting for. She implored them to let it be voted on by the people next year on the state ballot. Otherwise, she said, they have to question who that vote is for – themselves or the children and families in the schools.
“I just ask when the Council makes this vote, that they consider who they are doing it for,” she said.