Sunday, December 13, 2015

Southbridge Schools: What Next?

Ken O'Brien

The Worcester Telegram has described the recently issued report on the Southbridge school district as “scathing”.

Anybody who read the report on this site two days in advance of the Telegram article didn’t need to be told that.

What we did get from the Telegram article was a repetition of the views of Southbridge School Committee Chairman Scott Lazo. He summed up his comments by saying, “…we are ready to correct a five-year mess.”

His comments have been echoed in the past by former Chairman of the Committee, Jack Jovan.

As the report makes eminently clear, the problems go back to 2004 when the district was first declared underperforming. Trying to limit it to the last five years is grossly unrealistic.

Mr. Lazo stated to the Telegram, “…once you label a district, it is hard to climb out of it. The state needs to help us come up with a plan and stop being big brother with a big stick playing ‘the boogieman is coming.”

This is also an unrealistic as well as unfair criticism. Over the last 11 years the State has invested almost $2 million above and beyond normal levels of Local Aid in its efforts to assist the town to emerge from its underperforming status.

Additionally, a number of the criticisms levelled in the report have occurred in the short time that the current School Committee has been in charge. They are already on their third Superintendent (if you count Ms. Stanton).  The report specifically addresses the misappropriation of funds which was overseen by this committee at its meeting of September 8. The report states, “A review of the September 8, 2015 school committee minutes indicated that the committee voted to use facilities revolving funds in order to operate the school store at the high school level and to pay for the School Store/Hall of Fame Associate position.”

In the past I have argued against a State takeover of the Southbridge school system.

I have concluded that it is time to change that position.

We went through a period of change with the election of a whole new group to the School Committee. That proved to be a disaster.

We have now come full circle with the reelection of individuals who were (for a large part) party to the initial problem.

DESE Commissioner Mitchell Chester was in Southbridge on Friday. He has stated publicly, “Southbridge has made limited progress and my level of concern is substantial.” It will be seen if he calls for action to put either the middle/high school or the entire district under state supervision. His opportunity will come at Tuesday’s meeting of the DESE’s Board of Directors.

For my part I believe that it is time to have the State put Southbridge into receivership. Let us see if, having done that, they can do any better.

There are only two likely outcomes. Either they will do better and things will finally show measurable signs of improvement. Or, things will continue as they have and illustrate that Southbridge’s problems are beyond any conventional means of correction. 

If the latter case obtains, then it will become necessary to consider methods outside of the current mainstream. 

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