EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 12, 2013

Editorial: Time to reinvent the Lawrence School Committee

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Suppose they gave an election and nobody cared.

We’re almost there in the case of the Lawrence School Committee.

As Keith Eddings reported last week, the neutering of the School Committee by the state takeover of the city’s public schools has depressed interest in running for the committee in this year’s election.

So far, only five people have taken out nomination papers to run for six seats on the committee. Of the five, only one is a newcomer.

Four incumbents are seeking re-election. Two others are not.

Grizzled School Committeeman James Vittorioso, who won’t be running for re-election after 12 years on the board, had it right when he said it would be pointless to seek a seventh two-year term.

“We were elected by the people, but the state says we’re only — I don’t know what word to use,” Vittorioso told Eddings. “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.”

All the shots are now called by the state-appointed superintendent, Jeff Riley, after a takeover forced by the failure of the schools to do their basic job of educating Lawrence’s children.

Even the ex-officio chairman of the School Committee, Mayor William Lantigua, has no say.

You have to laugh when a spokesman says overseer Riley still values the input of the committee even though it has no vote.

But let’s be honest. The reason the School Committee is powerless today is that when it did have some power it did nothing to prevent the schools from sliding into utter incompetence, forcing the state takeover.

Lawrence voters don’t get off the hook. Years of apathy and low voter turnout led to a succession of self-interested incompetents serving on a board responsible for overseeing an operation with a budget topping $100 million.

District F incumbent James Blatchford, who is seeking another term, summed it up well: “The state takeover emphasized how much people don’t care that much about Lawrence Public Schools and how there’s no emphasis on the schools in they eyes of people in Lawrence.”

Not one member of the committee has a child in the public school system it runs.

Nor does the government escape blame.

The disintegration of the School Committee and the school system accelerated in the early 2000’s when the U.S. Justice Department came to town to “fix” what it thought was wrong.

It pressured the city into electing committee members by district rather than at-large. The idea was to elect more Hispanics. It was a pointless exercise since Hispanics at the time already represented the majority of residents and voters citywide.

Carving up the city into districts only served to suppress the competition for School Committee seats, further depressing voter turnout and helping elect more incompetents to the committee.

The state cited the dysfunctional nature of the School Committee as one of the reasons for overriding the normal democratic process and stepping in to run the schools.

The point of the state school takeover is to reinvent the school system in Lawrence so that it better serves the city’s children and their parents, something that was badly needed.

The School Committee also needs to be reinvented so that it is relevant again and answers to the needs of those it is supposed to serve.

In the meantime, is it any wonder no one cares to run?