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Lowell’s School Board

November 19, 2018

is part of the problem

The Lowell School Committee’s action last Wednesday night to fire Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui was justified, but it didn’t go far enough.

The six elected committee members -- Jackie Doherty, Connie Martin, Dominik Lay, Gerry Nutter, Andre Descoteaux and Robert Hoey Jr. -- should have tendered their resignations to Mayor Bill Samaras.

They share the responsibility for the School Department’s financial and managerial descent into chaos.

Equally disturbing is how they’ve stood idly by and watched the physical condition of the city’s public schools deteriorate to Third World nation status -- leaky roofs, unworkable toilets, no heat, rodents running wild, unsecured or non-working safety doors, etc. The list goes on and on.

It’s telling that this petty bunch refuses to acknowledge -- as a unified whole -- that the School Department has a $2.6 million budget deficit even though it recently voted to repay that sum to the state for the administration’s misspending of school lunch program revenues.

While Khelfaoui’s fiscal management will be the subject of deep scrutiny in the days ahead -- an independent audit is due to land any day now -- it should be noted that this school board largely approved all the superintendent’s budget excesses and diversions.

Also, despite City Hall’s repeated warnings of fiscal concern, the board approved a 9-percent pay raise for the teachers union, as well as an unprecedented life insurance increase.

It is the School Committee’s job to supply oversight and in that duty members have failed miserably.

City Hall is holding its breath on the results of the independent audit of school finances. The deficit could rise to $5 million or $6 million, according to sources. The problem extends beyond the $2.6 million owed to the state. Sources say several workers who were no longer on the payroll continued to receive paychecks while some teachers received higher salary step increases to which they weren’t entitled.

If true, criminal charges should be filed by the city to recoup the funds.

The School Committee’s biggest dereliction of duty, however, is in neglecting the safety and welfare of students.

The board claims it was unaware of $14 million in state infrastructure grants available for Lowell’s school repairs. The administration missed out on applying. Now, City Hall is working to identify any available grant money so that taxpayers won’t have bear the brunt of the costs.

How much longer does Lowell tolerate such an ineffective School Committee which will soon be seeking its fourth superintendent in 12 years?

Spurred by a minority group’s federal election lawsuit filed against the city, Lowell political leaders and citizens have a chance to rectify this ongoing management of the school system. They should push to eliminate the elected school committee -- as other cities and towns have done -- and devise a new oversight board. Maybe it’s an enlarged City Council where certain members are delegated to serve on a school advisory board. Or maybe it’s an appointed school board. Here’s where vision is needed to infuse more collaboration and cooperation into city governance. We should not be splintered by interests. The interest should be one for the people and kids.

The path to the future would be greatly enhanced if the School Committee resigns en masse -- immediately.

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