EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 10, 2013

Editorial: Coach Rafferty returns but unanswered questions remain

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — John Rafferty has been rehired as the coach of the North Andover High football team and we’re sure that school officials would like that to be the end of the story.

But it isn’t.

Questions remain. Why was Rafferty told two weeks ago that he would not be rehired after 12 successful years as coach? Why were Principal Carla Scuzzarella and Athletic Director Jon Longley so secretive about his dismissal?

Scuzzarella, in her statement announcing Rafferty’s return, said that doing what was best for North Andover’s student athletes was paramount.

“Everything else is secondary in importance, and can be worked out between we three adults,” Scuzzarella wrote.

Really? If everything other than the students’ interest is secondary and can be worked out among adults, why was Rafferty let go in the first place?

There are rumors circulating around town — that Rafferty had disciplined the “wrong” students or that he was being shunted aside for a crony from the Beverly school system, where Scuzzarella and Longley have roots.

Let’s have the truth.

School officials seem to believe that claiming something is a “personnel” matter is a kind of magic incantation that absolves them from the responsibility of dealing honestly and truthfully with the public whose taxes pay their salaries. It does not.

The “personnel” exemption to public disclosure laws was meant to protect the privacy of public employees when it comes to deeply personal matters — medical and family records, for example. It does not protect information pertaining to the performance of a public employee’s duties. Taxpayers have a right to know if they are getting proper performance for their money.

As is always the case, the insistence on secrecy serves no one but the public officials who are trying to get away with something they’d rather not have exposed to the light of day.

If Scuzzarella and Longley truly want this matter behind them, they need to make a full and honest accounting of their decision to dismiss Rafferty.

That said, we must agree with Scuzzarella when she praises the “sincere, respectful manner” in which current and former North Andover football players communicated their disapproval of Rafferty’s dismissal. Players, all wearing dress shirts and ties, waited patiently at Monday night’s School Committee meeting for their chance to speak.

Indeed, all Rafferty supporters — parents, players and former players — made their case for the coach with dignity and respect.

Many of those who addressed the School Committee spoke of how Rafferty had rebuilt a team in disarray.

Patrick Turner, a 2003 graduate, cut short a vacation in Florida to attend Monday’s meeting and support his high school football coach. Turner said he learned more from Rafferty than any of his teachers.

“I think you made a terrible mistake,” he told school officials.

It is clear that they did.

The story of Rafferty’s dismissal and ultimate rehiring shows that people can speak up and have officials hear their demands. People saw an injustice and spoke out against it. Their respectful manner did them great credit; they made their views known forcefully yet politely.

That is something for which North Andover can be proud.