Tuesday, January 5, 2016

State legislators Fattman, Durant weigh in on Southbridge schools takeover

State lawmakers from the area are taking notice of a possible takeover of the Southbridge school system. State education officials have described the system as being in disarray and a candidate for receivership.

Sen. Ryan C. Fattman, R-Webster, will meet Thursday at the Statehouse with Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester and other members of the Baker administration to discuss the troubled district. 

Mr. Chester said during the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's December meeting that he is contemplating a recommendation that Southbridge be deemed Level 5 and chronically underperforming. If the board agrees, the state would appoint a receiver to run the district. The receiver would have the broad authority of both the superintendent and School Committee.

Mr. Fattman said: "The reason why I want to meet with the commissioner is for him to spell out what he’s thinking in that process, before I endorse it 100 percent or reject it 100 percent.

"But I think you have to solve the problem, and what’s been happening, clearly, is unacceptable, and it’s been happening for over a decade."

Asked if he would be in favor of receivership, Mr. Fattman said, "I don’t view receivership with hostility; I see it as an antidote to a problem."

State Rep. Peter J. Durant, R-Spencer, has suggested that Level 5 for Southbridge "has some benefits."

Mr. Durant said, "If we look at the historical data from the schools, it may make some sense to talk seriously about letting the state step in and provide some leadership."

Mr. Durant said he spoke to Mr. Chester about Southbridge schools before Christmas.

"Look, we’re all concerned," Mr. Durant said. "We all want what’s best for kids in Southbridge."

Asked if he was hearing from parents and residents who embrace a state takeover, Mr. Durant said, "I think a lot of people do."

He said his office has been hearing from concerned parents who wonder if they should leave their children in Southbridge, or opt for school choice or private schools.

"To me, that’s a tough decision, one that a parent has to make." Mr. Durant said there are benefits to both staying and leaving.

"If you want to make your school better, stay there and work with everybody and take an active role," he said. "But I do recognize how incredibly difficult the situation is."

Lawrence, which was assigned a receiver in 2012, and Holyoke, assigned one last year, are the state's only Level 5 districts. Each has a turnaround plan under their respective receivers.

The turnaround plans are for three years, at a minimum, said Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis.

But it’s reasonable to assume it could take longer. Lawrence’s, for instance, was renewed recently, she said. In order to exit Level 5 status, the district needs to not only show progress but also demonstrate it is capable of sustaining and building upon that improvement.

Ms. Reis said there has never been an instance in which the commissioner recommended receivership, and the board, after the hearing process, voted against the commissioner's recommendation.

The DESE board meets later this month.

Southbridge has more than 2,200 students, with 72 percent of them classified as having high needs, and 165 teachers. Southbridge was declared an underperforming Level 4 district by the state in 2004. DESE has monitored and managed its accelerated improvement plan since 2012.

More than 10 percent of the district's students were suspended at least once last year, and 34 percent of students at the middle-high school last year failed at least one course, state studies have shown.

State officials say Southbridge's leadership is in disarray, with seven superintendents since 2011.

Town Council Chairman Esteban Carrasco Jr. said, "My view is that we are in need of a change; we are in need of help. Every day that goes by, our children are the ones that are going to feel the effect. Whether the state comes in and takes over, or whether our School Committee continues, all I can do is hope that the right decisions are made on a daily basis."

Mr. Carrasco said Southbridge teachers were giving "a 110-percent effort."

"It's a very difficult environment to teach in when you don’t have consistent leadership on top," he said.

Last year, the Town Council in an 8-1 vote issued a letter of no-confidence in the School Committee to the state. The council at the time cited the prolonged absence of a transparent and traditional search for a superintendent.

Mr. Carrasco initiated the action.

He said he doesn't regret that the letter was issued.

"Considering the circumstances that were before me at the time, I think it was needed," he said. "Unfortunately, we’re still in the position where we don’t have a superintendent."

Mr. Carrasco said he couldn't speak for the council concerning whether it still lacked confidence in the school board.

"There has been a greater level of communication between the School Committee and Town Council, and also our town manager and interim superintendent."

He continued: "I can say that moving forward, as a council, I’m going to vow to do whatever it takes to support our school district, to do what we can for our children, because while adults play these games, our children are suffering."


  1. A pair of fair weather friends. I wish the election were now.


  2. I hate to brake it to Mr. Carasco but the teachers at the HS are not working at 110%. My son at the high school RARELY gets homework (in ALL of his class, even AP!)...he is in no way ready for the rigor/challenges of college. Heck, there is even a teacher there that takes off early/calls in because he has a second job he has to go to. When he works late, he comes in like a bear and no work gets done. What about the teachers that leave mid-year? No commitment to our school and community! And guidance, forget about it. No help whatsoever for college planning and communication with students and parents (already did not submit all that was required with application!). I pray to God the State takes over! Too late for my son but I wish future students a more successful student career. Not to mention this Town will NEVER improve or attract businesses until that school is better performing. Time to wake up!

    1. Painfully DisappointedJanuary 7, 2016 at 3:12 AM

      Carasco's support of Melissa Earls was paid back in spades by her announcement to go back to Springfield at the end of this year.

      It really bothers me to say this but what has Peter Durant done for Southbridge? He has moved on to other surrounding Towns like Charlton and Dudley who supported him more than Southbridge did.
      Given the letter to Governor Baker (circulated on this blog) I'm betting that the Charlton Dudley school system is in a full blown panic over the idea of all Southbridge highschool kids going there and not just the creme of the crop school choice kids.
      It only stands to reason that Peter Durants interests in DESE Commissioner Mitchell thoughts are in protecting Charlton -Dudley and not Southbridge.
      Unless he steps up for Southbridge and proves me wrong here I'm saying his 11th hour involvement is all for the Charlton -Dudley school district and not really for the Southbridge district at all.

    2. To Painfully Disappointed:
      I must agree with you on all of your points but one.
      How do you justify your comments that Mr. Carrasco supported Melissa Earls? If I recall Mr. Carrasco's argument to the restructuring plan was that it was going to affect the whole district and the way it was presented was that staff were going to be eliminated and moved at the elementary levels. Let's be fair with our comments and really pull out the truth in the matter.
      Your other comments are well taken and our legislators both State Rep and State Senator need to provide and do something for our community. Showing up for events is not simply enough.

    3. Painfully DisappointedJanuary 7, 2016 at 2:30 PM

      Lets be fair - seriously?
      since the whole restructuring thing was a red herring for protecting Melissa Earls and Carasco and others did and said NOTHING when the current school committee restructured the highschool anyways, LETS BE FAIR.

    4. If I recall the only time Councilor Carrasco spoke at a school committee meeting was the nite of the vote and he mentioned the restructuring at the elementary schools not what was being done at the high school. His concern was the elementary schools not the high school.
      The restructuring that this school committee did at the high school did not affect the elementary schools because they did not lose the student support staff (liaison)
      If others protected her than that is on them but his statements reflected the concern for the younger kids not Earls.

    5. Painfully DisappointedJanuary 7, 2016 at 6:38 PM

      this posting says : Last year, the Town Council in an 8-1 vote issued a letter of no-confidence in the School Committee to the state. The council at the time cited the prolonged absence of a transparent and traditional search for a superintendent.

      Mr. Carrasco initiated the action.

      He said he doesn't regret that the letter was issued.

      "Considering the circumstances that were before me at the time, I think it was needed," he said. "Unfortunately, we’re still in the position where we don’t have a superintendent."

      The bigger local noise wasn't about the superintendent search it was about protecting Melissa Earls and her cronies.
      To be Fair Crasco wasn't alone. Moriarty was just as much to blame for not stopping one restructuring and not the other.


All comments subject to moderation. All commenters must use their own name or a screen name. No comments labelled as "Anonymous" will be published. To use your name or a screen name select "Name/URL" from the drop down menu. Insert you name in the "Name" space and leave the "URL" space blank.