Tag Archives: Peabody public schools

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.”

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.”

Peabody tax and water bills on rise as city tries to pay for new voke school boondoggle

19 Jun

Mayor calls for $5.4M budget increase; $3M assessed to pay for new voke school

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you supported those wasteful, big-spending elected officials – especially State Rep Ted Speliotis — who pushed for Peabody to join in the taxpayer screw job called the new North Shore Technical school, then please, bend over right now and scream out “thank you, sir! May I have another?!”

Call this horror show The MEGA VOKE that ate the Peabody Taxpayers!

Artists rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Artist rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Because of this opulent and overly ostentatious new voke school in Danvers – which will only serve around 150 of Peabody’s roughly 6,000 students – not only are your property taxes going up in 2015, but get ready for an increase in water and sewer rates too.

 

Mayor Ted Bettencourt submitted his FY2015 city budget to the City Council, and it’s calling for a $5.4 million increase, of which roughly $3 million will go to offset our share of next year’s piece of the North Shore Voke pork pie.

The mayor, in a letter to the city council obtained by The Eye, says that roughly means an average tax increase of $189 per homeowner, and a likely, yet to be determined increase in Peabody’s traditionally reasonable water and sewer rates. For those keeping score, that’s 13 straight years of property tax increases in Peabody.

And … this is just Year 1 of this Disaster in Danvers. This state of the art, $133 million school in Speliotis’ hometown, is the “gift” that will keep on giving for Peabody taxpayers now and forever.

Speliotis, who faces an election year challenge from Peabody Republican Tom Lyons, not only got this Taj Mahal of a school for his hometown of Danvers, but I’m sure he made big labor happy with the building’s bloated construction costs, which are already over budget.

Then there’s the hacks-at-the-trough process they’re using in hiring administrators. The new school’s superintendent, a guy named Daniel O’Connell, will make $197,000/year. That’s about $50K more a year than what we thought was a big contract for Peabody Schools Super Joe Mastrocola. Looks now  like Joe was a huge bargain when you consider that he manages a system with roughly 5,550 more students than will attend O’Connell’s school.

And, it gets ever worse. Not only will Peabody need to pony up millions more to send a handful of students to this new school, but because we’re transferring students from our system to this regional voke system, Peabody is set to lose $504K additional when it comes to state aid.

Next time you complain about the conditions in Peabody’s public schools, think about this: It’s only going to get worse while we as a city figure out a way to pay for a school that will service less than 3% of Peabody’s total student population. And we haven’t even talked about the costs associated with our own much-needed new Higgins Middle School, where huge construction bills are in the mail.

At this point, I should add a disclaimer for those screaming that I’m anti-vocational education. This space supports vocational education as much as the next blog, but we’re just not seeing the practicality or fairness of bilking the taxpayers in this particular situation.

Here are the facts, ladies and gentlemen: An estimated 200 Peabody kids, who we could have given a valuable vocational education had we only – for a lot less cost – re-vamped our on Peabody Vocational High School – are now going to watch helplessly as 150 of their classmates hit the lottery and are allowed to attend this educational palace on the hill in Danvers.

So, please bend over today, and thank Ted Speliotis, and those Peabody City Councilors who voted for this disastrous “gift” that will keep on giving for us the taxpayers.