Tahiliani – $40 million; DeMaria – $76 million
Mayor prefers gold standard, Tahiliani pleased with that offer
By Josh Resnek
Last week’s City Council meeting featured the mayor and the school superintendent seated near to one another and their respective school construction consultants discussing two main options on the table, each of them intended to reduce the public schools serious overcrowding situation.
Approximately 1,500 students presently do not have proper space to conduct teaching and are packed into classes with more than 30 students throughout the district.
Music rooms and libraries, and even closets are being used as classrooms by school administrators and teachers to meet the challenge.
Some school corridors are employed as teaching spaces, according to school officials.
The mayor’s consultant suggested a $76 million full rehab for Pope John.
The school department’s consultant said the school could be up and running by spending
$40 million and the school could open earlier. The mayor made himself perfectly and unambiguously clear at the meeting about his preference.
“If it is the will of the council, I will do Pope John but it will be done first class,” he told the council and School Superintendent Priya Tahiliani.
The mayor said he wanted no part of Tahiliani’s construction consultant, Andrew Barr.
It was Barr’s contention that Pope John could open as early as January 2024 without using the “gold standard.”
The mayor, for his part, offered no short term immediate solution to the overcrowding plaguing the public schools.
He spoke at length about his vision of a new vocational high school and of the present high school turned into a junior high school.
“That’s a good ten years away,” said Councilor Mike Marchese.
“Let’s get the school ready and put the children in there…get the Pope John School up and running,” Marchese added. The mayor repeatedly expressed his mantra about Pope John being expensive to rehab, costly to taxpayers and that doing Pope John might sink the new high school plan that is his vision.
“I’d like to do it all but I can’t do it all,” the mayor explained. He said there is the need for a new police station, and for a Boys and Girls Club facility, and for affordable housing.
He reiterated he didn’t believe school overcrowding was any worse than when he attended the Everett public schools. He said all Gateway Cities are facing the same challenges.
He said he wasn’t to blame to the overcrowding. “Two years of COVID didn’t help the situation,” he added.
The mayor told the council he didn’t believe the school population had changed for ten to fifteen years, a statement which drew a quick, tart response from the superintendent.
Tahiliani revealed figures that showed school population rising with the expectation that it will continue to rise.
The mayor was left momentarily speechless by her statement.
Tahiliani was piqued about the mayor making long speeches.
When points are made that just aren’t true, “I’m going to speak back,” said Tahiliani.
The mayor appeared to question the school department’s hiring of its own construction consultant.
Tahiliani explained that she had received no reply from the mayor after repeated inquiries and took it upon herself to do so to get the ball rolling.
She also said a $9,000 bill the city should pick up for the school department has not been paid with regard to the cost for the consultant.
The mayor went into a bit about all the hostility he is now facing.
“I have never in my 30 years of city service seen how a small group of people can destroy a community.”
The mayor makes continued references to the dozens of public speakers now dominating city council discussions who cannot be quieted as troublemakers.
Nearly half of all those who voted in the last mayoral election did not cast a vote for the mayor.
He won by 210 votes.
His opponent, former Councilor Fred Capone, continues leading voters opposed to DeMaria. The mayor has included him as one of the small group of people who are trying to destroy the Everett community.
Tahiliani took umbrage to the mayor’s comments in general.
“There are two sides to this narrative. I will not sit back quietly when it is not the truth of the matter,” she said.
In the end, the city council voted to ask the administration to set aside $20 million of ARPA Funding (COVID dollars the city received from the federal government that stands at about $46 million according to Chief Financial Officer Eric Demas) for the Pope John School to be put toward the cost of rehabbing it as requested by Councilor Marchese. Also, at the request of Councilor Stephanie Smith, the council voted to ask the administration to write up an RFP to send out and to report back to the council at the first meeting in November as to where the RFP stood.
The measure passed unanimously.