EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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March 25, 2012

Laboy's legacy: School leader's tenure had tumultuous ups, downs

LAWRENCE — During nearly a decade with Wilfredo T. Laboy in charge, the Lawrence Public Schools experienced the best of times and the worst of times.

For much of his first eight years on the job, Laboy was one of the most respected school superintendents in the state — and he got paid like it, with annual raises boosting his salary to more than $200,000 by the summer of 2008.

That was his reward for being the leader who presided over a period of major accomplishments on the city's public education front: Lawrence High School regaining its accreditation, and the opening of a new $110-million, state-of-the art high school campus that features six smaller schools, each focusing on a different field of study.

Three new elementary schools for some 3,000 students also were built during Laboy's tenure at a cost of $90 million.

The city's first Latino school chief got considerable latitude in the fall of 2000 when he took over a school system mired in turmoil after the firing of its two previous superintendents in 1997 and 2000 for improper spending of school funds. Plummeting student test scores and academic failure also overlapped the scandals.

State and local officials were quick to embrace the white-maned and bearded educator hired from Brooklyn, N.Y. His controversial and outspoken ways offended teachers, whom he castigated as mediocre.

At the same time, Laboy's reputation as an innovative reformer in the ranks of urban school systems impressed his bosses, particularly a new governor, Republican Mitt Romney, who named Laboy to his transition team soon after his election in November 2002.

But being the best-paid municipal employee in the city — and one of the top-paid superintendents in the state — wasn't enough for Laboy, who last week was convicted by a Salem Superior Court jury on five counts of fraud and embezzlement for abusing public school resources for personal gain.

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