LAWRENCE — With weeks remaining until they lose their authority to govern the district, School Committee members say they want to be used in an advisory role when the city enters receivership.
The Lawrence School Committee met for the first time since learning they will be stripped of their authority for the next few years as the state moves in to take over the chronically underperforming public school system.
Members differed on whether the scheduled takeover is the right move and what they see in their future under a state-appointed receiver.
James Vittorioso, who represents District A, spoke during public comment and gave a long-winded tirade against the takeover, lamenting the 1993 Education Reform Act which he said stripped school committees of their power. He told the incoming school committee members that they will go down in history.
"You may have the shortest terms on record in the history of the United States of America," Vittorioso said.
Mayor William Lantigua, the committee's chairman, pointed out how one moment during the meeting was emblematic of the committee's infighting. Mark Gray, of District E, argued against discussing school education plans. They were tabled after a drawn out discussion of parliamentary procedure, which required a ten-minute recess to contact the city's attorney.
"It's sort of a charged environment," Lantigua said, noting that he's received support for his Nov. 15 request for the state to take control of the schools. "But I stand by my decision and the state is going to be a great resource."
Incoming members James Blatchford, Jennifer Ann Cooper, Francisco Surillo, and Milquicided Santos will join a committee in January that has yet to have a clearly defined role.
"My hope would be that the commissioner would respect the voters of Lawrence enough to understand that blocking us out will be no good for him," said Blatchford, of District E, who believes the state made a mistake with the takeover. "I know he doesn't want us controlling the budget and controlling the hiring but we were elected so they can't ignore that."
Surillo, of District D, said he's disappointed by the takeover and hopes the state will leave the city in better shape than it is now.
"You know that you can do everything you can to move schools forward and it gets taken away from you before you get the chance," Surillo said.
Pavel Payano, of District C, said the members are in the best position to provide advice to the receiver and disseminate information because they have their ears closer to the residents.
"I see (receivership) as being one of the only options available to us and it's unfortunate that for the past several years that we've let it get to that point," Payano said.
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