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Ethical questions arise over construction of new sports complex at regional voke school

16 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Following the publication of a comprehensive investigative report this morning by Paul Leighton of the Salem News, it might finally be time for the State Ethics Commission to investigate potential political shenanigans on the grandiose grounds of Essex Technical Regional High School.

The latest saga involving the $135 million “Mega-Voke” — which serves 40 communities, including Danvers, Peabody and Middleton — concerns a dubious deal for a new sports complex. Leighton reports that, in November 2013, Essex Tech Superintendent Dan O’Connell suggested – as required when it comes to public projects — that the school board issue a request for proposal (RFP), and put out for bid a plan to build a sports complex on school grounds in Middleton.

But now, two years later, as construction is about to begin on the $11 million facility — with its two ice-skating rinks, an indoor turf field, and an athlete training center — it has come to light that that no bidding process occurred. A developer called Edge Sports Group was simply handed the contract following some questionable maneuvers within the State Legislature.

Ted Speliotis

Ted Speliotis

Contrary to a “strong recommendation” from the State Inspector General that the deal be put out to bid in an effort to ensure “an open and fair deal” for taxpayers, State Rep. Ted Speliotis and Gloucester state Sen. Bruce Tarr sneaked a few lines into a large spending bill on Beacon Hill that gave the lease to Essex Sports.

Not necessarily illegal or unusual on Beacon Hill, but according to Leighton’s report, here are some things that make you go “hmmm” as a taxpayer:

  • According to Leighton, one of the key people behind the passage of the special legislation was Jack McGlynn, a Salem-based attorney and lobbyist who also works as outside counsel to Essex Tech. McGlynn played a significant role in guiding the legislation that created Essex Tech, Leighton writes, adding that, according to state records, the North Shore Regional Vocational School District paid McGlynn $217,000 as a lobbyist from 2005 to 2010 while the merger was being developed.
  • McGlynn, Leighton writes, has been paid approximately $24,000 over the last two years by Essex Tech for his advice on the sports complex and other issues, according to the school district.
  • In 2014, he landed another employer regarding the project – Edge Sports Developer Brian DeVellis. According to state records, Leighton writes, the company hired McGlynn on Feb. 14, 2014, to lobby for passage of the legislation that would specify Essex Sports (Edge) as the developer. Leighton adds that 10 days later, O’Connell and McGlynn hosted a meeting for local legislators at Essex Tech to introduce the DeVellis and Edge Sports Group.
  • McGlynn, Speliotis tells the Salem News, has also contributed to every fundraiser the Rep has held since he was elected in 1997.

Speliotis, meanwhile, told the Salem News that he was not concerned about going through a public bidding process because there were no other developers willing to build the sports facility. “The RFP process is to make sure you’re not giving a special deal to someone in a marketplace where someone else doesn’t have an opportunity,” he said. “There wasn’t any market for this. I’m confident today that if we could put it out to bid, we’re not going to get any bidders.”

Not a market for this? Does Edge Sports really have a “monopoly” on building sports complexes?

The other sweetheart part of this deal for the developer comes through the actual lease. Essex Sports has agreed to allow all of the voke’s teams to use the facility for its games and practices without paying a fee. But there’s also a catch: Essex Sports will deduct a per athlete user-fee from the rent it will pay to the school district. In other words, the developer will probably end up paying no rent at all.

Great job of reporting by Paul Leighton, and I’m sure he’ll have further details and follow up. Here’s hoping that members of the State Ethics Commission read the Salem News.

Time to stop blatant discrimination against homeschooled Peabody students

6 Oct

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

For months now, the dysfunction on Peabody’s School Committee has been talked about by angry and frustrated taxpayers from Russell Street to Lynn Street. There have been bad decisions when it comes to tax dollars, too much focusing on trivial issues, and constant bickering among members.

People have been calling these meetings the Tuesday Night Follies, and as a taxpayer, first you laugh, but then … you cry.

The latest episode of the Follies aired last week with some members of the committee displaying their desire to discriminate against a small group of students.

Simply put, parents of homeschoolers asked that their kids be allowed to have the same opportunities as any other student enrolled in Peabody’s schools. They asked the SC if their kids could be allowed to play sports and be in the band, or participate in any and all student activities. In other words, these parents are willing to pay the same outrageous extra-curricular fees as everyone else, and at no additional cost to the taxpayers.

Keep in mind that the homeschool program is monitored by the PEABODY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, and homeschoolers graduate too.

Keep in mind, too, that Peabody is one of only a handful of public school systems in the Commonwealth that relegates homeschoolers to the status of second-class students when it comes to not allowing full participation in extra curriculars.

But certain members of the school committee, especially Ed Charest and Beverley Dunne, continued to push back at last week’s meeting while spewing nonsensical reasons for not allowing homeschoolers their basic student rights. The silly reasons for not allowing homeschooled students equal rights revolved around such things as how unfair it is that non homeschooled kids had to get up early and catch the bus, and how there could be conflict on sports teams when homeschoolers win spots over non-homeschoolers.

Dunne even insinuated that parents of homeschoolers can game the system by inflating grades. Maybe it’s time that Beverley read the national data that shows how homeschoolers, on average, score 15% better on achievement tests than traditional public school students.

Then there was talk about how allowing homeschoolers to participate in student activities would cause more work for school administrators. OK, stop laughing now.

This foolishness caused angry outbursts from homeschooler parents attending the meeting, and who could blame them?

Member Brandi Carpenter, meanwhile — who is up for re-election on Nov. 3rd — took no position at all, telling the Salem News: “I’m looking for more information. I’m not sure how it’s all going to work out.” Hey Brandi, the voters are starting to notice how you’re trying to protect your political skin these days by not taking a stand on anything. Your “Sgt. Schulz” approach to being an elected official is really wearing thin.

Or, maybe Brandi is simply a fan of the old adage “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Perhaps Charest and Dunne should have taken Honest Abe’s advice too.

For the record, Mayor Ted Bettencourt is in favor of allowing homeschoolers their student rights. The Mayor, and rightfully so, sees this as a simple issue of fairness. So, too, does Jarod Hochman, who is running against Charest for Ward 4 Councilor on Nov. 3. Bettencourt and Hochman, like the rest of us, also don’t understand why this is such a big deal. Homeschoolers participating in student activities hurt no one.

Instead of deciding and voting on the issue last week, the school committee has assigned it to yet another useless ad-hoc subcommittee for further examination.

As for the rest of us, the Nov 3rd election can’t come fast enough.

No need for primary after Wojcik drops out of race for Peabody School Committee

28 Aug

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Travis Wojcik

Travis Wojcik

The only Republican in the Peabody School Committee race — who made fiscal responsibility one of his themes during the recent televised “You Make The Call” candidate forum — has saved the city money by dropping out of the scheduled Sept. 29th primary.

Travis Wojcik, 19, announced yesterday that he was ending his campaign for school committee.

That eliminates the need for a primary, which would have trimmed the field of candidates from seven to six. The primary would have cost the city roughly $25,000, according Peabody City Clerk Tim Spanos. Per city charter, it’s required that the final school committee ballot only have six candidates.

Candidates Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, Andrew Arnotis, Michel Bonbon, Brandi Carpenter and John Olimpio each automatically advance to the final election ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Levine hits the jackpot as Peabody’s interim schools superintendent

27 Aug

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

File this under the category of things that make you want to scream as a taxpayer.

It has come to light that Peabody’s School Committee – on top of the $100K-plus fully loaded settlement with deposed superintendent Joe Mastrocola – is paying Herb Levine $158,400 to serve as interim super for the 2015-16 school year.

Herb Levine:

Herb Levine: “Mr. Interim Superintendent”

Not a bad take for Mr. Levine, a Peabody resident who has made a very nice living lately as an interim super. But, alas … there’s more!

According to his new Peabody contract, Levine, 67, will also receive 30 days paid vacation, up to 20 sick days, and a free trip (I say it’s a free vacation) to the annual superintendents’ junket in Phoenix in February.

But it gets even better! “Tell him what else he’s won, Don Pardo.”

Well, Herbie, of course, also gets to keep collecting his $118K a year taxpayer-funded pension as a retired full-time super.

And, then there’s a nice big piece of “cake” for Herb’s buddy, Charles Chaurette, who served as Levine’s second-in-command during their days together in Salem.

On Levine’s insistence, Chaurette – who already receives a $115K a year taxpayer-funded pension – will work three days a week and be paid $50,000 for the school year as interim school department human resources director.

Let’s face it, as jobs for retirees go, this certainly beats Levine and Chaurette having to collect the shopping carts at Hannaford, or hand out smiley face stickers at Walmart.

If you’re keeping score on this, so far the school committee’s decision to not keep Mastrocola for the final year of his contract will cost Peabody taxpayers — with all benefits and Chaurette’s salary included — almost $200,000 extra for the 2015-16 school year. Think about that the next time your kid says that the teacher needs you to donate boxes of Kleenex for the classroom because there isn’t enough money in the school’s supplies budget.

So why are we fleecing the taxpayers by automatically handing the interim job to Levine, a man who clearly has no concept of the phrase “hometown discount?” Well, by now, if you don’t feel that something stinks here, then maybe you should have your nose checked.

Peabody advertised the interim superintendent’s job this summer on an education job site, posted the job internally, and received 18 applications. But after this “nationwide search,” they interviewed no one while making Levine one of the wealthiest men in Peabody. The vote to hire Levine was 6-0, but Jarrod Hochman was the only member to vote against the odious contract everyone’s favorite educational hired gun eventually received.

The School Committee then sent out retiring member David McGeney, who no longer risks political peril, to do the dirty work of telling the Salem News that the application process was simply “procedural.” Apparently, none of the 17 other applicants were even worth talking to, since we all know that Mr. Levine has scary brilliance that makes him an overwhelming, without question, choice for this big pay day for he and his buddy.

Wonder why member Brandi Carpenter didn’t speak for the committee on this “brilliant” decision, which will now cost taxpayers an extra almost $200K this year? Wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that she’s battling for her life right now in an election year, and wants to run for cover from this decision that will have taxpayers — especially those seniors on fixed incomes — screaming for her political demise?

Brandi needs to realize that more than 80% of those who vote in every election are over the age of 60, and no longer have kids in Peabody’s schools. They are also the ones who haven’t exactly been thrilled to have their property taxes go up each year for the past 15 years.

But the voters shouldn’t ONLY blame her. Current school committee member Ed Charest is asking to be elected Ward 4 Councilor this fall. Great, just the type of fiscal irresponsibly we need on the City Council too!

The only saving grace for the taxpayers at this point is that at least two new faces will be on that school board come January, since two members are leaving. Hopefully, we the taxpayers can make it a clean sweep with three.

Has the phrase “time for a change” ever had greater meaning in a Peabody election?

Not in this lifetime.

These 5 only candidates worthy of your school committee votes

20 Aug
School Committee candidates (from left) Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, John Olimpio, Andrew Arnotis and Travis Wojcik

For School Committee: Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, John Olimpio, Andrew Arnotis and Travis Wojcik

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Officially, there are seven candidates running this fall for one of three seats on Peabody’s School Committee.  But in my opinion, only the five shown here are worthy of one of your three votes.


Well, each of them came on the “You Make The Call” cable show last night, and made themselves accessible to the voters of Peabody. It’s an important point, considering that the current school committee members haven’t exactly earned high grades lately for their communication skills.

As for the two who didn’t show, and didn’t make themselves accessible to the voters, it was their loss. And it could be a very big one. One of the no shows was this race’s only incumbent, which made us all wonder whether she needs to develop a thicker skin. Thankfully, most of Peabody’s elected officials understand that part of the job includes maturely being able to deal with the slings and arrows of public comment.

The five who came on last night are an impressive group, maybe the most-impressive I’ve seen when it comes to being at ease with answering questions and handling themselves under the lights.

Each of the five was totally at ease, and I’d personally feel comfortable voting for any of them.

If you missed it and would like to see these guys in action, we’ll re-run the program next Wednesday (Aug. 26), 8-9 p.m. on PAT Channel 99.

There’ll be a primary election on Sept. 29th to trim the field from seven to five. Just my opinion after last night, but the only candidates you should consider that day for your three voters are Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, Andrew Arnotis, John Olimpio and Travis Wojcik.

Candidates for school committee vie for your vote tonight in TV forum

19 Aug

‘You Make The Call’ show will air at 8 p.m. on PAT Ch. 99

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Brian Addesa

Brian Addesa

After a decade, we’re finally on the verge of an era of new ideas and independent thinking.  The upcoming city election will ensure that change is inevitable for Peabody’s School Committee.

Joe Amico

Joe Amico

By January, we’re guaranteed to have two new members of that board, and maybe three should current member Jarod Hochman win his race for Ward 4 Councilor.

Travis Wojcik

Travis Wojcik

But don’t dismiss the possibility that we could change four of the six seats this year, as several very viable and competitive challengers seek to not only fill the two currently vacant seats, but also go after incumbent Brandi Carpenter this November.

Tonight, on our “You Make The Call” television show (8-9 p.m., PAT Ch. 99), co-host Dick Jarvis and I will introduce and quiz the challengers for school committee. Five of the seven candidates for the three seats this fall will appear, as you the voter get to hear from Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, Andrew Arnotis, John Olimpio and Travis Wojcik.

Andrew Arnotis

Andrew Arnotis

John Olimpio

John Olimpio

If you ask me, the above five gentlemen should be the only ones you consider worthy of your three votes. After all, each has enthusiastically accepted this opportunity to speak to you, the voter.

Meanwhile, Carpenter has declined to appear on the show, and challenger Michel Bonbon has neither accepted nor declined the invitation. Make of that what you will.

But we hope you can tune in to what will be an excellent opportunity to hear from candidates who will change – hopefully for the better – the way Peabody’s School Committee operates.

School Committee candidate forum on ‘You Make The Call’

17 Aug


The seven candidates for Peabody School Committee have been invited to appear Wednesday, 8-9 p.m., in a forum on the “You Make The Call” show on Peabody Access Telecommunications Channel 99.

The format will include each candidate briefly introducing themselves, followed by a Q&A from co-hosts Dick Jarvis and Bob Croce, and ending with each candidate presenting a closing statement.

The seven candidates, Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, Andrew Arnotis, Michel Bonbon, Brandi Carpenter, John Olimpio, and Travis Wojcik, will square off in a primary election on Tuesday, Sept. 29th.

The top six vote getters in the primary will meet in November’s final election, where they will vie for three seats on the board.

Update: So far, the only candidate to not reach out to say if he could make it on Wednesday is Mr. Bonbon. Meanwhile, Ms. Carpenter — the only incumbent in the race — has officially declined the invitation to come on the show to talk to the Peabody voters.

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.


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