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Competitive field already shaping up in race for Peabody School Committee seats

20 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Since giving voters multiple candidates to choose from is always a good thing, it was both distressing and disappointing two years ago when all three Peabody School Committee incumbents ran for re-election unopposed.

Incumbent Brandi Carpenter

Incumbent Brandi Carpenter

But now, with two of the three seats open on the November ballot, suddenly a large field of contenders is emerging. Long-time school committee member David McGeney is retiring, and Ed Charest’s decision to run for Ward 4 Councilor opens the two seats. Brandi Carpenter, meanwhile, is the only incumbent running for re-election.

Eight candidates have so far picked up their nomination papers to get the required 50 signatures to run. If all bring back their signed papers by August, there will be a primary in September to narrow the field to six.

The challenger field so far includes all men, many of whom have kids in the Peabody Public Schools, and have never run for office before. This could give Carpenter an edge when it comes to retaining her seat, not only because she is the lone incumbent, but because lone women candidates on a ballot traditionally do very well in Peabody elections where voters can make multiple choices.

The rest of the field, though, is fascinating for political junkies like myself to handicap. I’ve participated — either as a candidate, campaign worker or wiseass pundit – in dozens of Peabody campaigns the past 20 years, and this is the first time I don’t see any clear favorites beyond the one incumbent.

Right now, I see several challengers with legit shots to get one of the two remaining seats, and I can’t ever recall that being the case at this stage in any Peabody School Committee election. Although there are a number of candidates in this race with the “right stuff” to do the job well, none of them right now have much in the way of all-important name recognition.

All of that will change in the coming months, and whomever manages to run the best campaign is going to prevail. For now, you can’t tell the candidates without a scorecard, so maybe my take here will help:

Joe Amico has been out there working longer than anyone else in the field, having been one of the first to pull papers. He’s even already held a successful fundraiser, and has lawn signs out. He’s personable, a good family man, and has experience in the Revere Public Schools as an educator.

School committee Brian Addesa and family

School committee Brian Addesa and family

Brian Addesa is the newest candidate in the race. For the sake of full disclosure, I’m already helping Brian with his campaign, since I feel he has some great, commonsense ideas for improving Peabody’s schools, while also being mindful of the tax concerns of young families, empty-nesters and seniors. Brian decided to run after being a leader of the parents group that fought and won to preserve the For Kids Only (FKO) afterschool program. He’s not only a noteworthy family man and father, he’s also an educator.


John Olimpio

John Olimpio, is an attorney, CPA and family man from West Peabody, who has run before for school committee. I don’t know John well, but I hear positive things about his character, and will attempt to learn more about his ideas as the campaign unfolds.

Andrew Arnotis and Travis Wojcik are both college kids running for the first time. Neither has the professional or life experience of the previous three candidates, but I’m always encouraged and happy to see young people get involved.

The other two candidates who have pulled papers are Michael Bonbon and Neil Papamechail. Michael has been active in the Peabody Democratic City Committee. Other than the fact that he pulled papers last time to run and then didn’t bring them back, I don’t know much about Neil’s background.

More to come, but this should definitely be an interesting year when it comes to the school committee ballot.

School committee members made FKO issue all about them, and their hurt feelings

18 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Beverley Dunne should have asked herself last night:

Beverley Dunne should have asked herself last night: “What would Joyce Do?”

As the dust up clears on the FKO issue, we continue to get the feeling that – based on last night’s meeting – many members of Peabody’s School Committee still don’t get it.

Thanks to some off-line work by Mayor Ted Bettencourt, the afterschool program the parents wanted was saved for at least one more year. The Mayor gave school committee members an out, a chance at a do over, a mulligan to behold.

And what did some of them do?

They got all defensive while making comments “for the record,” and making it about their own hurt feelings.

As a taxpayer, it was distressing to watch, since – other than ego gratification – there seemed to be no good reason for them to play the role of victim. There was no crime committed here. There was nothing unethical, nor was there a need to explain themselves. Instead of getting defensive, they could have, should have simply said:

“We made a mistake when it came to communication. We underestimated how important this program was to the parents and their kids, and we’re here tonight to fix it.”

No need for defending themselves after that. Decent people are forgiving and know that no one’s perfect.

The decent people within those FKO families would have forgiven and forgotten had those school committee members simply asked for a mea culpa.

Instead, the school committee circled its wagons, made it a case of them against the world. They did everything except admit that they had made a mistake. They made it about themselves. They made it about their own pain.

By the way, memo to Ed Charest: Your years of service and accomplishments on the school committee, and your championing of all-day kindergarten, has nothing to do with the missteps here on the FKO issue. Also, although I admire you for defending your daughter, your visible anger and rant over some lout verbally attacking her, was completely out of place and inappropriate at this meeting. 

Memo to Dave McGeney: You were doing well lately, publicly admitting that the school committee screwed up when it came to communicating on this issue with the parents. But it was totally out-of-place and unnecessary last night for you to tell the world how this is the “best school committee” you’ve ever served with. Please, save that for a toast later at the AOH bar.

Memo to Beverley Dunne: The issue here for the parents is NOT the difficult FKO contract negotiation. They don’t care about that, nor should they. Also, Beverley, since I consider you a friend and have always supported you with my votes and my voice, I find it disappointing that you would essentially say that most of the FKO supporters were somehow doing the dirty work of that organization’s executive director. These people were there for one reason, Beverley … their kids.

A close political mentor has for years drilled into me that, when you’re a candidate or elected official, it’s important that you always and only make it about the people you represent. It was the major theme behind what made late State Rep Joyce Spilliotis Peabody’s greatest public servant.

That’s why I personally think it’s a shame that two of the late Rep’s political protégés, Ms. Dunne and Mr. Charest, didn’t ask themselves this question before speaking last night:

“What would Joyce do?”

Congrats FKO families: You stood up for your kids, and you won

18 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

kidsLet’s put the bruised egos of the “poor” elected officials aside here, and celebrate this morning a victory for our democratic process.  After all, we the people – especially those hundreds of parents who fought what they viewed as an injustice – prevailed last night.

Without going into all that transpired at last night’s special meeting of Peabody’s School Committee – including the comments by some members embarking on a campaign of damage control in this election year – we happily report today that the highly successful For Kids Only afterschool program will return.

At the start of the meeting — before FKO families at the Kiley School — Mayor Ted Bettencourt essentially gave parents the verdict when he announced that the Torigian Family YMCA was withdrawing its bid to replace the current afterschool program.

It was a good moment for the Mayor, who after watching school committee members make the wrong call a few weeks ago to replace FKO with the YMCA, stepped up and showed the type of leadership Peabody needs from its chief executive. The reason for the first ill-advised vote in the first place? School Committee members told us it was a “contract dispute.”

Memo to school committee members: Next time, please realize that this isn’t just like negotiating a bus contract. It’s just not cool to mess with the emotions of parents and their children, and then use a contract dispute as an excuse.

The meeting last night included the school committee passing motions that will allow FKO to stay in Peabody’s elementary schools for the 2015-16 school year, after which time the need for an afterschool program will be put out to bid.

Although there was more last night — including the “beep, beep, beep” of very defensive elected officials backing up on their previous vote — the important lesson here is that the parents prevailed.

It’s a great example, a perfect formula and case study for future residents out to remind Peabody’s politicians that – once elected – they are there to always and only be our public servants. The FKO families mobilized and made sure their voice was heard.

Great job, FKO families! Thank you for standing up for your kids, and for Peabody.

FKO parents try to TKO school committee vote: Meeting set to re-consider

11 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Following a week of intense public pressure, it looks like the Peabody School Committee members and Mayor Ted Bettencourt have blinked.

kidsWe’re getting confirmation at this hour that a special meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 17, 6:30 p.m. at the Kiley School to discuss the For Kids Only (FKO) afterschool program issue.

At that meeting, school committee members will have the opportunity to discuss why they voted to sack FKO, and replace it with an afterschool program run by the Torigian Family YMCA.

Member Jarrod Hochman wrote on the FKO Facebook page that a motion will be made that night to re-consider the vote. Hochman was the only school committee member two weeks ago to vote against removing FKO from Peabody’s six elementary schools.

We’re hearing some contradictory information as to who exactly got the meeting scheduled, and what the rules will be that evening. But the meeting definitely doesn’t necessarily mean that the decision to remove FKO will be reversed.

Another source, though, is telling me that Mayor Ted Bettencourt wants the committee to go along with a compromise that would allow FKO to remain in the Peabody schools for one more year, and after that put the afterschool program out for bid.

It’s become clear that this issue, coming on the heels of the controversial dismissal of Superintendent Joe Mastrocola, has caused a great deal of dissension on the board charged with overseeing policy for our public schools.

We’ve seen the ugly side of politics too.

On the positive side, we’ve seen a very organized group of concerned parents, who all along have been kept in the dark and given no answers as to why this successful program for their kids was being replaced with an unknown YMCA program. Showing that they were unwilling to go away, they deserve all of the credit for getting this meeting scheduled.

On the other side, we’ve seen sudden tension and a little dysfunction on the part of elected officials.

All of it has raised some interesting questions.

Is Hochman with the parents group because he truly believes that the FKO program needs to remain a vital service for Peabody’s families? Or, as fellow member Dave McGeney asserted, is he just “pandering” because he’s running for Ward 4 Councilor? Then again, we should point out that School committee member Ed Charest, who is running against Hochman in Ward 4, is a close friend and ally of Mr. McGeney.

Has the Mayor, who serves as Chair of the school committee, suddenly fallen out of favor with many of the members? “He took care of himself at the expense of everyone else, and aligned himself with Hochman,” one member said in a Facebook message to me earlier today, adding that “Teddy is done (with the school committee). Finished. He showed his true colors.”

A lot more to come on this, for sure.  For now, though, congrats to the parents, who took charge and let this school committee know that they are there to serve us. It’s not the other way around.

FKO firestorm will continue until school committee explains why it eliminated this popular program

11 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

kidsAs the fallout continues on the Peabody School Committee’s decision to drop the For Kids Only afterschool program from our six elementary schools, members of the board continue with the same behavior that brought the wrath of hundreds of impassioned parents.

School committee members, and their Chair, Mayor Ted Bettencourt, either still don’t get it, are deliberately hiding the reasons for killing this popular program, or … they are deaf.

We keep hearing members, including the retiring Dave McGeney, say how this issue has only turned into a firestorm because of poor communication. And McGeney, et all are absolutely correct.

But then, they continue to do nothing about that. Maybe the mayor and the committee are mum on releasing the facts because the director of the Salem-based FKO program is about to slap a lawsuit on the city for breach of contract. Both sides have definitely “lawyered up” at this stage.

Personally, I think they continue to not explain their decision because their position is simply indefensible.

I keep hearing in hushed conversations that the reason the FKO program was scrapped and replaced with an afterschool program that will be run by the Torigian Family YMCA, was because of a contract dispute.

But then, when I ask reliable sources what this contract is all about — and how much money is involved — I usually get this answer:

We’re talking “chump change.” And parents, for the most part, pay for their kids to participate. If that assessment is wrong, then the school committee needs to tell us that now.

We may even be talking nickels and dimes when it comes to the reason why the school committee evicted a program that has for nine years provided an incredibly valuable service to the city’s kids, many of them at-risk kids.

Yes, dear Alice, it is indeed getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

But alas, none of us really do know the reasons for this eviction, since – while Rome burns – seven elected officials continue to take a vow of silence.

Last night, on our “You Make The Call” show on Peabody Access Telecommunications, several FKO parents called to passionately tell those watching how valuable this program has been to the well-being of their kids.

We also got a call from one of the leaders of the FKO parents group, a very well-spoken gentleman named Brian Addesa. The bad judgment here by the school committee even motivated Mr. Addesa – who never considered being a politician before now – to pull nomination papers yesterday and run for school committee in the fall. Mr. Addesa helped organize the protest at Tuesday’s school committee meeting — and until they get more answers from the school committee  — he is asking FKO families to boycott upcoming information sessions being held on what the YMCA program will provide.

The parents eloquently stated their case on our show, and continued to ask two very fair questions: “Why didn’t the school committee involve parents in this decision? And, “Why does the school committee continue to not give parents any details on why they ousted the FKO program?”

The Peabody School Committee only has itself to blame here for this firestorm, and the longer those members don’t explain the reasons for the move, the more the firestorm rages out of control.

Confrontation between Peabody School Committee members caught on camera

10 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

While we await more information and facts to come out as to why the Peabody School Committee replaced the For Kinds Only after-school program with a program run by the Torigian Family YMCA, here’s an interesting scene.

Last night, during a school committee meeting in front of more than 100 parents upset over the board’s decision to scrap the FKO program, a heated argument broke out between school committee members David McGeney and Jarrod Hochman during one of the breaks. At one point, McGeney called Hochman a “frigging pandering bastard.” Yikes. Looks like the school committee isn’t “Team Harmony” after all.

In the scene, but not saying anything, is Ed Charest, Mr. Hochman’s opponent this fall for Ward 4 City Councilor.

School Committee shows that it’s not for ‘Kids Only’

9 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

When it comes to poor communication, the Peabody School Committee is having a banner week.

kidsFirst, they fired Superintendent Joe Mastrocola without explanation, and then the elected board charged with governing Peabody’s Public Schools found itself under siege tonight during its regularly scheduled meeting at the Kiley School.

Hundreds of parents packed the meeting to protest the school committee’s dark-of-night decision to pull the plug on a much-needed after-school program for elementary school kids. The program, called “For Kids Only” or FKO, has operated flawlessly in Peabody’s six elementary schools for the past nine years. But in the shadow of Memorial Day Weekend, the school committee mysteriously voted to eliminate the program within the individual schools, and instead have the Torigian Family YMCA create a similar program.

There was no communication with parents, especially those who count on this vital service, and school committee members gave no reason for allowing the Y to take over. “It was done with no input at all from parents. We were totally surprised and shocked when we heard,” one upset parent told me.

Now, keep in mind that the FKO program, which is run by a Salem-based non-profit, wasn’t costing the taxpayers of Peabody anything. Parents paid for their kids to attend. The program wasn’t eliminated because of budget cuts. It is indeed curious, and the reason why parents hammered school committee members tonight during a meeting that caused flop sweats for many members of the board.

Who knows why the program was cut and replaced by a YMCA program?

We are indeed curious too …

For now, though, thankfully parents are fighting back. Not only were they vocal at the school committee meeting, but they have organized into a Save Peabody FKO citizens’ group. They even have almost 400 likes on their Facebook page, which you can join here.

To say it was a rough week for the Peabody School Committee is somewhat of an under-statement. But then again … they deserved it.

School Committee firing Superintendent Mastrocola

9 Jun

JoeBy Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Just when we thought that it was safe to say that dysfunction was leaving the traditionally dysfunctional Peabody School Committee, along comes this news in what is a lame duck year for some of that board’s longer term members:

According to our sources, the School Committee is firing Superintendent Joe Mastrocola. Immediately, the Eye has learned.

Why? Well, it appears that the school chief wasn’t always willing to be a go along to get along with the mercurial members of the board. I mean, what a nerve! After all, who cares about all of the man’s degrees in education? Pastry chefs, salesmen and a pre-school babysitters know best.

Who cares that dropout rates are down and test scores are up since Mr. Mastocola took over the system? There are more important issues out there that he should focus on, like inconveniencing seniors by forcing voting to be moved from schools for no good reason, or forcing homeowners near schools to shovel their sidewalks to the Canadian border.

If there was a problem with Mr. Mastrocola’s performance, then why did this same group of elected officials  give this guy a raise last year? And now … we’re going to have to pay Mastrocola the remaining year of his contract.

Joe can sit by the pool and relax while he earns $83 an hour of taxpayer money through next June. Meanwhile, Peabody will have to pay a similar salary to hire an interim superintendent. Real great use of taxpayer money. And you want to look after our hard-earned tax dollars as a city councilor? More to come on this, I’m sure.

New voke school is the ‘gift’ that keeps on giving for Peabody taxpayers

17 Sep

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

It’s the “gift” that keeps on giving, and now there’s reason to believe that Peabody taxpayers might be further fleeced because of an oversight when it comes to the new, totally ostentatious North Shore Technical School.

taxesYou see, the genius political movers and shakers, who built this Palace of Versailles of voke schools, forgot about a “little” obligation owed to the retirees of Essex Aggie, which was merged with the new voke.

Turns out that no one figured into the already over-inflated cost of the new school an additional $375,000 owed annually to pensioners. What that means is that Peabody, which wasn’t even part of the old district that included Essex Aggie, might be on the hook for a big chunk this oversight.

Oops! Maybe State Rep Ted Speliotis, a champion of this over-priced  educational edifice should simply throw up his arms and say … “sorry, the dog ate my homework.”

The new school, which will serve fewer than 200 of Peabody’s 6,000 students, is already taking a $3 million bite out of Peabody’s budget. This year, it was the primary reason for Peabody being forced, for the 13 straight year, to raise taxes on homeowners.

The problem now is that no one wants to own this mistake when it comes to the pension obligation, and no one seems to know how or why the oversight happened in the first place. Of course, the answer is simple as to who will “own” it. It belongs to us, and the taxpayers of all of the other communities who joined in here.

It’s too bad, since I’m sure the movers and shakers behind this over-the-top luxurious school building could have easily swept it under the rug when it came to the overall budget. Heck, no one would have even noticed. Right?

But now, we likely own it, and the question is, how much of it will be the obligation of Peabody taxpayers, whose kids never milked one cow at the old Essex Aggie?

Follow Bob on Twitter @eyeonpeabody

Pulling voting from Peabody’s schools continues to be a silly, waste-of-time issue

14 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

As far back as anyone can remember, residents of Peabody have been voting in schools. And as far back as anyone can recall, student safety on Election Day has never been an issue.

VoteBut that can’t stop Brandi Carpenter from wasting more valuable Peabody School Committee time on an issue that just isn’t an issue at all. The School Committee member, after all, is on a quest, a crusade, a hunt for justice and enlightenment.

Since 2008, it has been her primary and defining issue as an elected official:  She wants to move some of the city’s polling places, currently and conveniently located in school gyms, to alternative locations. 

How about supermarkets?

Or the North Shore Mall?

Hey, I have an idea, maybe we can have people walk barefoot, five miles uphill in the snow just to vote. I mean, we have such wonderful voter turnout these days, so inconveniencing people on Election Day couldn’t possibly be a problem. Right?

This “Carpenter Crusade” surfaced again today in a Salem News article by John Castelluccio, who set out to write about the city’s need to temporarily move the Higgins Middle School’s Ward 4 polling place while the new middle school was constructed. But John ended up poking Ms. Carpenter again on one of the silliest issues in recent school committee memory.

“It’s a long uphill battle,” Carpenter told The News of her quest to take voting out of schools, again making us all wonder … when, exactly is another member of the school committee going to ask Ms. Carpenter to move on so they can focus on REAL issues concerning our schools?

Well, the fact is, according to Ms. Carpenter, she and her esteemed school committee colleagues are giving the city’s election commission a little time to work out the current Higgins polling issue, but then … watch out! We’re coming right back at you Peabody election officials on this bigger, more cataclysmic issue.  That’s right, Carpenter says the school committee — with member Beverley Dunne being the only responsible dissenter of the six —  will waste more time next year on trying to force the city to move polling locations to places such as Hannaford Supermarket.

I can just see the wording on the ballot now: Vote for three for school committee, and while you’re at it, make sure you pick up some apples. They’re on sale four for a dollar.

Of course, I am being a little silly about the apples, but then again, a silly issue deserves some silly commentary. And how ironic and silly is it that Ms. Carpenter has suggested that voting be moved from some public schools and into at least two churches and temples that have children onsite for their own preschool programs?

Look, in all seriousness, no one is against safe schools.  If there is a real safety issue in Peabody’s schools, then we should be addressing fixing that problem first and foremost. But if we’re going to say that voting in schools causes a danger, why don’t we just totally give up right now, and lock the little darlings in a bubble in their bedrooms? That’ll keep ’em safe.

There has never been a safety issue with people voting in Peabody schools, and the odds against there being one in the future are slim and none. And slim just left the building. You could actually argue that Election Day is the safest day of the year in Peabody’s public schools. After all, it’s the only day of the school year where there is at least one police officer onsite, on duty from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

If you have any common sense at all, you come to the quick, frightening  conclusion that those sick vermin who seek to hurt children are not going to wait until Election Day to do so. Early in this debate over taking voting out of Peabody’s schools, the tragedy of Sandy Hook was inappropriately evoked during one debate. Was it a scare tactic? Perhaps. More likely, though, it was an over-reaction by school committee members who need to focus on real issues.

Aren’t maniacs  less likely to strike on a day when there are police officers and lots of law-abiding adults around to potentially stop them?

Is there a true safety issue in our schools that we don’t know about? And if so, why don’t we address that instead of finding bad people amongst Peabody best citizens, who are only trying to conveniently exercise their ultimate right as Americans?

In these days when voter turnout continues to drop at an alarming rate, moving voting from our schools will only further confuse and inconvenience voters. The city’s election commission, including Peabody City Clerk Tim Spanos, is against uprooting voters, and so too are most of the city’s election officials.

It’s time for Ms. Carpenter to drop this silly crusade and move onto more important issues. Maybe the voters will even thank her come her own re-Election Day when they’re not inconvenienced by traffic trying to get to the mall to vote . 


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