Nevertheless, he said, Lawrence “caught lightning in a bottle” when the state put Boston educator Jeffrey Riley in charge of its schools.
With Riley in full control of educating the city's 13,000 public school students and spending the school department's $156 million budget, neither Lantigua or Rivera will have much to do as chairman of the School Committee. Rivera offered no grand plans and few specifics for improving the schools beyond providing new incentives to teachers and better engaging parents and students.
Rivera credited one of the administration's biggest successes — three multi-million-dollar budget surpluses in a row, after a string of deficits that left the city $24 million in debt — to Robert Nunes, the city's state appointed fiscal overseer, and to Mark Ianello, the budget director that Nunes helped bring to Lawrence from Springfield.
At the same time, Rivera also said the city relies too much on successive property tax increases and state and federal aid to provide basic services. He said the dependency deepened yesterday when Lantigua announced a $920,000 grant from the state to hire as many as five cops.
“If there's a problem tomorrow and the state can't give us that money, we can't keep those cops,” he said.
He said he would attract jobs and development by more aggressively marketing what Lawrence has to offer, which he said includes cheap water, an affordable labor force, access to transportation and the space already available in its empty mills. He said the cost of failing to latch onto an economy that's improving, if slowly, would be felt for decades. The city's unemployment is about 15 percent, down 2 percent since Lantigua took office four years ago.
“We're turning off kids coming home from college because there's no jobs and the sense of hopelessness here is tangible,” Rivera said. “We're a gateway city and we’re proud of it. But if we don’t get back onto the cycle where people can move up and out, and people can age out of their homes, it's Detroit. It's really Detroit. And that's a scary place to be. They're knocking down buildings so they can build farms.”