LAWRENCE — The fight for union votes in a city that was a cradle of the nation’s labor movement split down the middle last week, when Mayor William Lantigua won the endorsement of the firefighters while challenger Daniel Rivera got a backslap from the teachers.
Teachers union president Frank McLaughlin said Friday that several hundred teachers and school nurses attended a closed-door meeting at the Relief’s In to vote their endorsement on Wednesday, but was not more specific about the number.
He said they voted unanimously for Rivera, a two-term city councilor, because Lantigua has failed for four years to negotiate a contract with the teachers and has otherwise paid little attention to the schools and their 13,000 students.
“He abandoned the school system,” McLaughlin said. “He hasn’t shown up to chair a School Committee meeting since we went into receivership.”
Lantigua attended seven of 15 School Committee meetings between January 2012, when the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took over Lawrence schools, and May, the last month for which attendance records were immediately available. The 47 percent attendance record was the worst of the committee’s seven members.
The teachers’ vote for Rivera was a second rebuke of Lantigua’s leadership of the city’s public schools, which all but ended last year when the state took them over, citing their chronic underachievement and blaming, at least in part, what it said was Lantigua’s inept oversight as chairman of the School Committee. A 75-page assessment of the school system issued by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said that under Lantigua’s chairmanship, the School Committee focused on “unproductive activities” while failing to perform its core missions, including hiring a superintendent.
The takeover means that whoever is elected mayor on Nov. 5 will have little say over how Lawrence students are educated. Jeff Riley, the state-appointed receiver, has full control over the system, including curriculum, budgeting and staffing. Riley said he does not expect the state will return control of the schools to the city for at least five years, and possibly eight.