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May 10, 2013

State education takeover dulls interest in running for School Committee

LAWRENCE — Beyond the longer school days and the promise of pay hikes for the best teachers, the state takeover of the city’s public schools has accomplished one thing more: appearing to dull interest in serving on the committee that ran the schools until the state relieved it of duty in 2011.

More than five weeks after nominating petitions became available for the six committee seats that will be on the ballot in November, just five people have picked them up. Four are incumbents and one is a challenger, meaning that just one contest has taken shape in longer than a month.

James Vittorioso, the committee’s longest serving member and a former teacher, is stepping down after six, two-year terms. He said serving another would be pointless because the committee has no power. Incumbent Francisco Surillo also is giving up after just one term to run for the City Council.

The impact of the state takeover was first felt on the School Committee only a few months after it happened, when Jennifer Cooper gave up her seat midway through her first term in August, citing frustration with the takeover.

Vittorioso echoed that sentiment Wednesday. He said the takeover has driven him to quit the committee and said other potential candidates have told him they won’t run while the state is in charge.

“We were elected by the people, but the state says we’re only — I don’t know what word to use,” Vittorioso said. “We have no power at all. I talked to several people who’d be good choices. They don’t want to get involved. The reason is, why run for office when you have no power? You have no power at all.”

The four incumbents running for new terms are Pavel Payano, who represents District C and is the committee’s vice chairman; James Blatchford, who represents District F; Milquicided Santos, who represents District B; and Patricia Mariano, who has represented District E since she was appointed to the seat Cooper quit in August.

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