The Worcester Telegram Editorial about the state takeover of Southbridge schools ended by noting, “While the state now has the power to do what’s necessary in running the schools, it can’t do this alone. Just as Southbridge’s problems didn’t occur in isolation, neither will its solutions. It’s up to the entire community, both in the schools and outside the schools, to collaborate in making this work.”
In thinking about this, I can’t help but recall the words of Lisa Rousseau, a Southbridge central office worker at the public hearing on making Southbridge a level 5 district. "We need a huge, huge change in the business office…a lot of our staff have been hired because of WHO THEY KNOW and not because they're qualified."
With that in mind, consider the following.
A precursor to the actions undertaken according to Achievement Gap Act of 2010 was the state takeover of the Chelsea school system. The Chelsea school committee approved a management contract in the summer of 1989, and the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill allowing Boston University to assume the duties of an elected school committee. Meanwhile, the city’s school committee was relegated to an advisory role.
In 1991, the state appointed a city receiver and abolished the mayor’s position after Chelsea couldn’t pay its bills.
According to The Boston Globe, two years later, a federal corruption probe into a bribery scandal ensnared four former Chelsea mayors, two of whom — Thomas Nolan and James Mitchell — served time in jail. Three Chelsea cops including Leo “Buddy” McHatton, the captain of the vice squad for the Chelsea police, also served jail sentences.
Since then, Chelsea has worked to clear away its reputation for corruption. Over the last 18 years, Ash, the city manager, said almost $1 billion of new development had occurred in Chelsea, including new Wyndham and Marriott hotels and the construction of about 2,000 market-rate residential units. During that time, both of its shopping centers were revamped with chains like Home Depot, Market Basket, and even Starbucks setting up shops. In addition, the FBI is set to break ground on a new regional headquarters in Chelsea this summer.
Though Chelsea still has serious problems, including poverty, gang violence and drug dealing, city leaders today are protective of its progress.
“In the ‘Old Chelsea’ it was easy to bribe your way through the system. Now, it’s not part of the culture and it’s purposely been made almost impossible because government is more of a transparent process,” said City Council President Matt Frank.
In January 2012 the state board appointed Jeff Riley as the receiver for Lawrence schools.
In March of 2012 Boston Magazine reported, “The mayor is under federal and state investigation for campaign-finance improprieties and other questionable behavior, while a state-appointed overseer is managing the city’s municipal budget. Lawrence’s public school system is in receivership — the former superintendent, Wilfredo Laboy, is under criminal indictment for fraud and embezzlement, and the high school dropout rate is more than 50 percent. Public-safety cuts have been drastic, and felony crimes have skyrocketed from 1,777 in 2009 to 2,597 during the first 11 months of 2011. Unemployment is as high as 18 percent, compared with the state average of less than 7 percent.”
In November 2013 Mayor Lantigua lost the election to councilor Dan Rivera. In April 2014 The Boston Globe reported, “A former top aide to the ex-mayor of Lawrence was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in jail for pressuring a city vendor to donate a garbage truck to a city in his boss’s native Dominican Republic, prosecutors said.
Leonard Degnan, 51, is the first ally of William Lantigua to be convicted in a criminal case. Two other associates face pending criminal charges.
“A jury convicted Degnan on Monday of bribery, conspiracy, soliciting a bribe, and unlawful use of his official position in an event that came just a month after Lantigua was elected in November 2009 as the first Latino mayor of a Massachusetts city….
“Prosecutors said Degnan requested a meeting with an executive manager from the city’s waste disposal contractor to pressure him to donate a garbage truck to Tenares, Lawrence’s “sister city” in the Dominican Republic. Allied Waste general manager Stanley Walczak testified that Degnan wanted him to know that Lawrence could void his company’s $6.4 million contract.
“Allied Waste handed over the truck, adorned with decals proclaiming it a donation from Lantigua, and the company’s contract was not canceled.”
In Holyoke the state just announced its takeover of that City’s schools in April. It may be too early for any associated shoe to drop.
It remains to be seen whether the problems with Holyoke's schools is confined only to that component of local government.
Soo, too, may be the case in Southbridge.
Soo, too, may be the case in Southbridge.