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Schools stuck in the web of typical Peabody politics

16 Nov

peabody

By Bob Croce. EOP Publisher

Since the Peabody School Committee coronated Cara Murtagh as our next superintendent of schools earlier this week, I’ve heard some people say how she’s worthy of the position because she’s an awesomely nice person, and a tremendously hard worker.

It appears that our next super is likeable and popular with the Carroll School crowd, and respected for her “niceness” from the Burke School to the Brown School. And . . . who am I to disagree?

I give. I believe you. I trust that you are correct that Cara Murtagh, who for the past five years has served the district as an assistant super, and before that as principal at the Carroll, is an educational version of Mary Poppins and Mother Teresa, and each day straps on her hard hat and gets to work!

Although those are all admirable traits, it still doesn’t make her qualified to lead a struggling 6,000-student district, where a high school is on the verge of being taken over by the state, and where teacher morale, in the words of JD Clampett, “is lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. Weeeee doggie!”

Since it’s sort of irrelevant at this point, I won’t go into specifics about the CVs of the other four candidates, but I will say that at least two had track records that were far more noteworthy. As we reported in this space back in April after the school committee botched the first search designed to replace the current Interim Superintendent for Life, any future search was going to be a total sham. Murtagh only needed to get a couple more certifications, leap over a few more state education department bureaucratic hurdles, and she was going to be your new superintendent of schools.

This most-recent search was sham, conducted at taxpayer expense. The old joke in politics is that, “after a nationwide search, we found this great candidate right here in our own backyard. Wink, wink.”

murtaghAnd indeed, the hiring of Ms. Murtagh is a living example of that old one-liner: She was born to the Peabody royal blue; daughter of a politically connected long-time (and somewhat legendary) Peabody educator; came up through the system, and along the way always showed her deference to the powers that be. A true, old-school, loyalist “Peeb,” whose family knew how to make the right campaign contributions. Blah, blah, blah, but good for her!

This, BTW, tends to always be the case in Peabody, where we have an insular aversion toward going outside of our fair little burg to find the best and the brightest. We see this behavior continuously across city departments: If you’re not on the “friends and family plan,” and they can’t trace your family’s roots back to your grandpa working the tack room at AC Lawrence, Peabody’s powerful don’t care that you have the right stuff.

Murtagh had the Peabody pedigree, and she played the game. So, “tell her what she’s won, Johnny” How about a taxpayer-funded salary of more than $200k a year after figuring in benefits?

Meanwhile, meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

The fact is that, even if a candidate with Maria Montessori’s resume applied, Cara Murtagh was still going to get the gig as grand poohbah of our $75M district.

And so, we interrupt this blog post at to evoke a statement that is an oldie but still a goodie. What was it that Einstein said was the definition of insanity?

Well, Peabody’s school committee is indeed doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Why? Because they wanted to replace their bosom buddy, Herbie Levine, with someone they can continue to control. However, Peabody we have a problem:

There are so many challenges for our school system right now that we can’t afford another “go along to get along” superintendent. We need someone to come in and make the administrators — instead of the teachers — uncomfortable for a change. We need a leader with vision, and not chip off the old Levine “yes man” block. It’s nice to be nice, but this is a time for some Belichickian discipline. After all, the problems in Peabody’s schools “are what they are,” and it might be time to start trading some administrators to Cleveland.

Look, at the end of the day, and even though I view this as a purely political hire, I truly do hope that Ms. Murtagh succeeds, and after years of mediocrity, Peabody’s schools are finally put back on track.

Selfishly, and although my kids are grown, and I have no direct rooting interest, I know that great schools are a tremendous boost to the value of my home. But I also agree with old George, the original Peeb, who said that education is “a debt due from present to future generations.

It’s only too bad that, in Peabody, our motto has become “the current people in power are more important than the fate of future generations.”

As expected, fix was in for Peabody schools super job

14 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Let me begin by saying that I don’t know Cara Murtagh, and she could very end up being such a great superintendent of schools that our fair burg will someday name new schools after her and erect a statue of her in the Square.

Then again, and in the immortal words of Wayne Campbell . . . “yeah, that might happen, and maybe monkeys might fly out of my butt.”

murtagh.jpg

Meet the new boss … same as the old boss?

In case you missed it, our “illustrious” school committee tonight voted unanimously to enter into contract negotiations with Ms. Murtagh to have her replace Interim Superintendent for Life, the double-dipper himself, Herbie Levine. After yet another bogus search process, the gang that can’t see straight on anything — who for years have done nothing while their buddy Herbie allowed our schools to fall into the same territory as Lawrence and Chelsea – are hiring the interim super’s protégé.

That’s right, and even though the recent search produced several noteworthy candidates, the assistant super — who has learned at the knee of a man responsible for the overall mediocrity of our schools, and for Peabody High being put on Level 3 status by the state (one level above the state coming in and taking over) — will get the more-than $200K a year gig.

All of this just happened, so I’m sure we’ll have more to come.

But as we predicted several months ago in this space, the “fix” was in.

And along with the “fix,” guess what?

We’re likely not totally done with Herbie. Rumor on the street is that the double-dipper could soon become a triple-dipper. Adding to two lucrative public sector pensions, the Herbster might be retained for one year at $80K to continue to teach Ms. Murtagh everything he knows. Wonder if she’ll learn the fine art of chewing gum like a madman, and telling hacky jokes at the St. Patrick’s Day hackfest at city hall. After all, that’s really all the Herbster was good at.

Well, this is what we get when we invite people to a city election and nobody comes. The elected officials don’t fear you, Peabody citizens. And why should they when less than 30% show up at the polls?

For a salary and benefits package of well over $200K, you get someone who has been part of the same gang that put our high school on the verge of state receivership, and has done nothing about a workplace bullying epidemic at that school.

Two years from now, maybe we’ll finally learn our lesson, and vote the bums out, including  the worst member of the school committee,  who tonight said she was “highly impressed with the resumes of all the candidates, they blew me away. But that said, Cara does have a little something extra.” Really? What would that something extra be? That she learned everything she knows from your pal, Herbie the Hack?

All I can say is . . . Level 4 status here we come.

Letter claims workplace bullying at Peabody High

5 Nov

We often get tips and info from our readership, and I’d like to continue to encourage people to do that as we keep our elected officials accountable with this blog. The following letter was mailed to me right before schools opened this year.

It involves a serious problem with workplace bullying of teachers and others at Peabody High, which has become a hostile workplace. This handwritten, very thoughtful letter below was written about a serious situation at the high school that is being ignored right now by those who make policy for our schools.

BTW, Peabody High has been put on Level 3 probationary status by the state, which is just one level above the status where the state is forced to take over and run a school or school system.

I hope it helps you make a decision on who to give your school committee votes to in Tuesday’s election.

Thanks for reading,

Bob

letter

letter2

That huge $ucking sound is coming from our schools

15 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

A financial crisis the likes of which Peabody probably hasn’t seen since the Great Depression may be looming, and much of it is the result of the mismanagement and shoddy leadership that has gone on in the department that eats up almost half of our municipal budget.

pvmhsHad to marvel the other day over reading how the Chairman of the School Committee, our Fearless Leader, our Mayor Ted Bettencourt asked that the proposed 2018 school budget be whacked by $2.7m. Interim Superintendent for Life Herbie Levine and the school committee had asked for a whopping $4m budget increase over FY2017, but the mayor said nyet, and instead said he would only allow for a $1.5m increase.

One wonders now if the Fiscally Conservative Teflon Ted is going to show up, and slash the friends and family plan he’s created with unnecessary salaries at City Hall. But, I digress . . .

Here it is Peabody, the major reason why your tax bill continues to go up, year after year for the past 14 years is because the school budget continues to go up year after year at an alarming rate.

Some of the recent annual increases can certainly be tied to the construction of the much-needed new Higgins Middle School. There’s also no avoiding the collectively bargained raises and increases in benefits due our teachers.

But a lot of the blame for these annual school budget increases fall on poor planning, poor decision making by our elected officials, and poor leadership.

Specifically, the biggest boondoggle Peabody has ever signed up for, also known as the Mega Voke, or more formally, Essex Tech, is a “gift” that keeps on giving for the Peabody Taxpayers.

Our assessment there is up a whopping $600,000 and closing in on $4m, and who’s to blame? Well, the Peabody City Councilors, of course, who created a large sucking sound in our city’s budget six years ago when they voted for this disaster with zero financial information or projections in front of them. All but three councilors at the time just said “yes,” because Rep Ted Speliotis came before them and started waving his arms and screaming how Peabody kids would be left behind, and how the school wouldn’t get done without the state being able to fleece Peabody’s taxpayers.

Now, and after thousands of construction lobbyist dollars have been poured into Slick Teddy S’s campaign coffers — rather than having our kids reap the benefits from what could have been a nifty and economical $10m renovation of our existing vocational facilities — we are choking on the Mega Voke annual bill. Meanwhile, we can’t service even half the number of Peabody kids who seek a vocational education.

We’ve also already had a major scandal involving a lying, cheating first superintendent at the voke, and who knows what future scandals are on the way following the possible payola that went on there in Middleton.

Put it this way, the school committee’s request for the $4m budget increase to 74.5m in 2018 roughly equals what our total assessment is for the Mega Voke.  And while some of the councilors who voted for this disaster have moved on, some are still there, which is why I remind you that this is an election year.

But the school budget bloat doesn’t stop there. Herbie is proposing two new administrative positions in the 2018 budget at $100K apiece. One of those jobs, Herbie says, is so they can trim the workload of Assistant Super Cara Murtagh. That’s right, let’s potentially cut teachers so the Superintendent in Waiting doesn’t have to work a few extra hours each week.

“Most of you know that I’d rather chew my arm off than lay off a teacher, but I had to give you something,” said Herbie, the crocodile tears no doubt rolling down his cheeks as he proposed the slashing of no fewer than five teacher jobs to help trim the school budget.

Yeah, how about giving back some of your bloated salary, which already pads your hefty pension? Instead of worrying that your sidekick is working too hard, how about paying attention to and solving the teacher morale crisis at our Level 3 status high school?

“We’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions,” Bettencourt told school committee members.

But what the Mayor should have said was: “It’s time to give until it hurts once again, Peabody taxpayers.”

Hand-picked candidate looms; Peabody Super search a sham?

14 Apr

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

It’s a theory now being pushed forward that is both believable and typical of certain politicians in our depressed little burg.

cara

Your next Superintendent of Schools!

You think that the Mayor and most members of Peabody’s School Committee are upset over the recent superintendent search ending in disaster when not a single, qualified candidate was put forth?

Well, think again.

I think the fix is in, and so do several political “spies” I’ve heard from in a covert op I’ll simply call “BiddyLeaks.”

Here’s what I’ll say: I don’t think that School Committee members Rossignol, Carpenter, Amico, and maybe others are upset at all that the recent superintendent search ended in disaster.

Why? Well, first off it gives their good buddy Herbie Levine, who we like to call Interim Super for Life (ISFL), the ability to cash in on another year of his giant salary while going through the motions of the job.

But … it also gives them another year to position Herbie’s protégé as his heir apparent.

That’s right, we hear that the Mayor would be thrilled if current Assistant Superintendent Cara Murtagh got the job in a year. In fact, one BiddyLeaks spy tells me the Mayor might even already have a little “unofficial,” wink, wink, nod, nod agreement here with Cara.

Now, I don’t know anything about Ms. Murtagh, and whether or not she has the right stuff to handle the complex nature of our school system and its $72m-plus budget, so I’m not about to impugn her at this time.

But you should know that this is one reason why the most-recent search for a new superintendent was a total sham. And if there are further searches going forward, they too will be sham exercises at taxpayer expense.

Wait it out a year is their mantra. That way, we can get our mediocre ISFL one more year of fat paychecks, and at the end we can say that he used his “scary great” superintendent talents to mentor Ms. Murtagh into the next generation of super supers.

Of course, in the end, it’s all likely to be a bunch of BS as the Mayor moves another super he can manipulate into the chair, and we all go on as before.

Yaaaay! Mediocre (or worse) schools R Us!

La-dee, freekin’ dah!

So, if you’re laying bets on who the next Peabody super will be … put a bunch on the ISFL’s protégé.

Definition of insanity? See Peabody School Committee

13 Apr

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

In a demented version of the TV show “Survivor,” the Gang that Can’t See Straight,” our “illustrious” Peabody School Committee, last night eliminated the only remaining candidate to be Superintendent of the dysfunctional 6,000-student school system.

That’s right, after hiring the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) to conduct a “nationwide search” for our next super, and after not liking any of the six and then three finalists the MASC brought before them, our elected school solons have finally come to a remarkable realization:

The one remaining candidate – a kindly looking principal of some Lynn elementary school – was not qualified to be CEO of a large, complex, and somewhat failing Peabody school system, and its $72m budget. Well … duh!

einsteinThe school committee members have seen their shadows, and it’ll be another 52 weeks of mediocrity under Interim Superintendent for Life Herbie Levine, who by now must be getting a cramp in his hand from writing out so many campaign contribution checks.

“Welcome back, it’s like you never left,” SC member Tom Rossignoll told Levine during last night’s meeting. Wonder if Tommy added later: “Oh, and by the way, my councilor at-large fundraiser is coming up. Hope you can make it.”

BTW, since becoming ISFL (Interim Super for Life), Herbie and wife have made 13 campaign contributions to the School Committee Chairman. For those keeping count, that’s almost $2K in less than 6 years. But the ISFL gives to other members of the board, too, and is often seen hobnobbing at their campaign events, and assorted reindeer games.

This is what our school committee hath wrought. Showing zero leadership, even by the Chairman, his honor the Mayor, we’ve allowed the MASC – a quasi-public, hackdom – to keep our school system stuck in neutral.

The Mensa candidates at the MASC screwed up the search. They brought us totally unqualified candidates, and now in another stroke of genius, our school committee will task this group with conducting another search – all at taxpayer expense, of course – to probably find us another group of unqualified candidates.

What was it that Einstein defined as insanity?

This school committee is indeed conducting the same madness, and expecting a different result.

For the sake of our kids, for the sake of the taxpayers, isn’t it time that someone stepped up here and led? Isn’t it time that we tell the MASC no thanks, we’ll conduct our own search?

Or … maybe it’s time we FINALLY found some qualified and responsible people to run for mayor and school committee. For those reading this, take note that it is an election year.

And, if you run, maybe you’ll even be graced with a check signed by Herbie, who right now we suspect will be the interim now well past his 90th birthday.

Another fumble: SC drops ball on superintendent finalists

24 Mar

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The Peabody School Committee has selected three finalists as contenders to be our next superintendent, which begs this question:

stooges

Why didn’t the Peabody School Committee pick these guys instead?

What? Where Larry, Moe and Curly not available?

OK, so no intended disrespect to the three fine school administrators who our “brilliant” school committee members chose here following a “Nation Wide Search.” The finalists have excellent public education credentials, and congrats to them on devoting their careers to teaching kids in Somerville, Lynn and Gloucester.

And let’s face it, I wouldn’t complain if someone made me a finalist for a job which — with all benefits included — paid me more than $200K a year of taxpayer money.

But let’s be real here. The majority of this School Committee continues to be the gang that can’t think straight. I mean, considering the importance of this position, considering what it pays, and considering our dire need to finally retire a free-loading, mediocre “Interim Superintendent for Life,” we couldn’t come up with a more noteworthy Final 3?

None of the three has ever been a superintendent before, and with the challenges we face in our schools, the last thing we can afford to do is take a chance on someone who might become rookie-of-the-year.

“They all had good qualities and good potential, but my reservation is that … I want an experienced superintendent, and none of the people before us have ever been a superintendent of schools, not even in a small district,” said SC member Beverley Dunne, who did the right thing by objecting to advancing the three candidates. “I believe that’s a necessity to deal with all the moving parts of a district of this size. I just don’t feel confident that the people we’re moving forward have the necessary experience.”

And she’s 100% correct when you consider the size of our district, and it’s $70M budget. Also correct is member Jarrod Hochman, who joined Dunne in dissenting. As for most of the others on this elected board?

Well, I’ll start with the dumbest statements made the night the vote was taken to advance these finalists. Members Tom Rossignoll (who’s now seeking to bring his scary great public service talents to the city council as an at-large candidate), and Brandi Carpenter tried to tell us how it’s actually a good thing that the three finalists selected lack experience when it comes to running a large, very complex school district.

“The benefit is you get someone new and hungry for the job. They can grow into the position and hopefully stay for a long period of time,” said Rossignoll, talking as if we we’re hiring a college intern instead of a high-level school department chief executive.

A $190K base salary for having no experience? Excellent gig if you can get it!

The fact here is that this school committee fumbled again. There were just six interview candidates overall, and none of them have ever been a superintendent. Not ever. Not anywhere. This is the group of candidates we got, too, after investing $10,000 of taxpayer money in a search consultant. Maybe we should have gone with Indeed.com instead?

Vote no on Question 2: Save Our Public Schools

4 Aug

 

By Bob Croce, Candidate for State Rep, 13th Essex District

 
For me, there is no gray area. Plain and simple, lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts is bad for our traditional public schools.

It’s bad for all of our local public school systems, and bad for an overwhelming majority of the children of the Commonwealth.

In November, voters across the state will get an opportunity to weigh in on Ballot Question 2, which would allow major expansion of charter schools in the state, schoolswhile draining billions of dollars from our traditional public schools.

I urge you to vote no.

Not because I am against the basic concept of specialized education, but because the system for charter school funding right now is broken. Any expansion would only further take away funding from traditional public schools across the Commonwealth, and place further financial hardship on public schools in Danvers, Peabody and Middleton. Our school systems will be hurt while major charter school companies—backed by Wall Street investors—reap the benefits.

Save Our Public Schools, a grassroots coalition of parents, educators and community groups opposes the ballot question, and I hope you will too.

The following points, made by Save Our Public Schools, are the heart of why I feel raising the cap would have a negative impact on public schools in Danvers, Peabody and Middleton:

Lost funding
This year alone, charters will divert more than $400 million from public schools. That’s money districts desperately need so they can offer more science, technology, arts and music classes, as well as preschool services and smaller class sizes. The money should be kept in the public schools for the benefit of all students.

No local accountability
Charter schools are not accountable to their local communities. The state often approves them over the united opposition of the communities where they will be located. That’s wrong. Local communities should have the final say on what kinds of schools they want.

For more information, please visit Save Our Public Schools at http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org.

 

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.

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.