Recently a week does not pass that the overcrowding in the Everett public schools has not been heard by a city board, and this week proved no exception.
City Councilors at Monday night’s meeting heard from Assistant Superintendent of Schools Charles Obremski, who requested the bonding of $765,000 to finance work for additional smaller classroom space, to be created out of present storage areas, at Everett High School, the Keverian School, and the Lafayette School.
“We need immediate relief for next year,” Obremski told the council.
However, because the City Council lacked the eight members necessary to approve the borrowing, the order was postponed until the next meeting on May 23. Also appearing before the council on this matter was the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Eric Demas.
Obremski outlined the pressing need for extra smaller classroom space that the three projects would create.
“These three items need to be funded immediately since the faster they are approved, the faster the projects get done,” Obremski said.
Councilor Stephanie Martins asked Demas why the expense should be bonded. Demas explained that when dealing with buildings that have a long life span, it is a better financial decision to bond the projects.
Councilor Stephanie Smith asked about the storage areas that will be lost and where the materials that are in there now will go.
Obremski noted that a lot of the school material that is in these storage closets are either old textbooks that are no longer used in the current curriculum or supplies that also are no longer used.
Councilor Alfred Lattanzi asked why there is a need to create smaller classrooms. Obremski noted that some of the students who fell behind grade level because of COVID-19 need extra attention and smaller classrooms of 8-10 students are better for learning.
“Students in these programs work best in smaller classrooms,” Obremski said.
Councilor Michael Marchese rhetorically asked if there was a better way and pointed to using the old Pope John XXIII High School, which is owned by the city, to ease the overcrowding.
Obremski mentioned that school officials and city officials, including Mayor Carlo DeMaria, have met and are having ongoing conversations about the need to create more classroom space. The Pope John site and the old Everett High School are being discussed as possible solutions, as are other potential options.
Obremski outlined the plans as follows:
— The storage areas at the high school are targeted to create smaller classroom space and the old print shop area will be reutilized for storage and computer needs. This has an estimated cost of $400,000;
— The health center space at the Keverian will be reutilized as smaller classroom space with an estimated cost of $300,000; and
— Part of the library at the Lafayette School will be reconfigured at a cost of $65,000.
Right now, Obremski said, classrooms that were built to hold 25-30 students are now being used to teach 8-10 students. By placing these smaller-sized classes into the proposed newly-created spaces, this will free up the larger classrooms to ease the overcrowding that exists in classroom space presently.
Obremski noted that many of these buildings, such as the Kerverian and Lafayette Schools, are more than 20 years old, while Everett High School is the newest school and was opened in 2007. He noted normal repairs such as roofs will need to be addressed as they are coming to the end of their predicted life and are included in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that the School Committee previously has approved.
The CIP includes renovations over the next several years at the Parlin Junior High, as well as at other schools such as the Madeline English.
At Monday’s night meeting, councilors tried to figure a better way to accommodate the increased need for public participation. Councilors Stephanie Smith, Jimmy Tri Le, and Michael Marchese suggested extending the allotted time for public participation from 10 minutes to 20 minutes.
When the 20 minute time limit has been reached, the council would return to the city business that many viewers at home want to hear and then at the end of the agenda for that meeting, to allow the rest of the speakers, if any, to address the council.
There was a test run on Monday night to see how it might go. With the 20-minute time limit exceeded, the councilors allowed the three remaining speakers to address their concerns afterward, bringing the total public participation time to under 30 minutes.
Among the speakers on Monday night were two former councilors.
Sal Sachetta, former Ward 6 Councilor, said, “I love this city,” and he then spoke of issues facing the city, including the longevity pay for the office of mayor. At the end of his remarks, he added, “Give credit for the parks, but tax dollars are being wasted.”
Former Ward 1 Councilor Fred Capone, who was a mayoral candidate in the recent city election, offered his thoughts on public participation. Capone suggested that the allotted time should be 30 minutes, saying to councilors, “The people do not work for you, you work for them.”
He also brought up what he termed the council’s “silence on racial slurs” and mentioned the issue of the longevity pay for the mayor, stating that in his opinion, Mayor Carlo DeMaria should return his longevity pay, which has been a source of contention in the city in recent months.
Local businessperson Sandy Juliano called on Councilor Anthony DiPierro to resign. DiPierro forwarded racist memes on his Instagram account, for which he has apologized.
“After nine meetings, nothing is resolved,” Juliano said, referring to the lack of formal action taken by the council on the controversial matter.
A resident of Ferry Street asked councilors to look into the nighttime construction hours and noted that a loose manhole cover makes it difficult to sleep. “There is a ‘bang-bang,’ 24 hours a day,” said the resident, and questioned how one will get billed for water usage as “the water is not running through the water meter.”
The last speaker was Martha Chason-Sokol from the Everett Cultural Council who invited residents to attend the picnic at Swan Street Park on Saturday from 11:30 am to 3 pm.