Debate continues about Pope John as opposed to modular units to reduce overcrowding
By Josh Resnek
The mayor and the school superintendent sparred last night about who will be responsible for providing the specifications for the mayor’s demand that modular units be attached to five of the city’s public schools to reduce overcrowding by next year.
The mayor was insisting the superintendent should create the specs for the modular project.
The superintendent balked at taking on that responsibility because she apparently felt the mayor would reject literally any plan she came up with.
The superintendent said she deferred to the mayor, as it is the city that is responsible for school building programs under the law.
The mayor refused to acknowledge that he demanded that Pope John be rehabbed using the gold standard and promised to do the rehab if the school committee agreed last month.
The school committee agreed and the city council did the same.
The school committee and the superintendent had hoped to have the former Pope John school ready by spending $30-$40 million dollars.
The mayor insisted on a $76 million rehab and ridiculed the school department plans, basically throwing them out.
When the mayor announced he had changed his mind last week about rehabbing the Pope John facility, he said it would cost $100 million to get it in shape.
The mayor said he is depending on building a new high school, which is expected to take ten years to accomplish and $500 million.
He insists that Pope John is just not investment efficient.
At least eight out of ten public speakers, excoriated the mayor’s change of mind about Pope John at the start of the meeting, with several speakers claiming he lied and contradicted himself.
Peggy Serino asked the school committee how it felt being lied to about Pope John “by the guy in the corner office.”
“We were all lied to,” she added.
“Now he wants to spend millions on trailers.”
She said, “we need to get our priorities straight. The children are who count here, not the guy in the corner office.”
Two third grade teachers from the Parlin School, Marissa Steinberg and Ben Richter decried severely overcrowded classrooms.
“There are major challenges and inequities with class size and building space. I ask for immediate action to be taken to provide more equitable action for the students,” Steinberg said.
Richter told the school committee that modulars would be detrimental to both students and staff. He said the Parlin was overcrowded, that class sizes were not equitable across the district.
“That’s harmful to students and to staff,” he said.
Vincent Dixon, representing the NAACP pointed out that the US Attorney’s office investigation points to the need to explore equity more carefully.
“More teamwork would be helpful,” he added.
Maria Bussle said “modular units are not a fix.”
She described Everett city government today as a dictatorship.
Bussle is a city employee. She asked that she not be retaliated against for speaking out – a statement directed at the mayor.
Paula Steriti, city activist, city budget number cruncher and one of the most studious of the voices that have arisen during the past year to challenge the administration detailed how the mayor has missed 14 school committee meetings this year.
The mayor is seeking the chairmanship of the city council for 2023.
She said the mayor’s word is just a “lie.”
She claimed his actions were more like civil rights violations.
Steven Ianocco, a local builder, questioned where room would be found for the modular.
“Has the mayor done his homework as far as construction costs would go?” he asked.
Ben Murray, a teacher in the school system said “the idea of stuffing my child into a trailer is reprehensible. Real communities take care of real buildings.” He called Pope John a potential jewel in Everett’s crown.
“Do the right thing going forward. Fight for the kids,” he said.
Riley Avalar, the high school’s representative to the school committee set the record straight about last year’s protests against racism.
Several school committee members and administration members claimed the kids were put up to the protests by school personnel trying to foment racial difficulties.
“The walkout was created by the students and led by the students. We have voices and opinions we are not afraid to share. We saw something wrong, we spoke out and we acted. Some of you are more interested in how the walkout was planned instead of why the walkout took place. Please don’t undermine the efforts of my peers,” she told the school committee.