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High school student calls out School Committee

Date: 11/15/2011

Nov. 14, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — East Longmeadow senior class president Andres Mejia-Ramon took the East Longmeadow School Committee to task, accusing them of failing to put the students of the district first.

Speaking during the public comment portion of the committee’s Nov. 7 meeting, backed by more than 20 high school peers, Mejia-Ramon stated that it was his belief that the School Committee had done the students and the town a disservice through the entire track and athletic field improvement project process.

“Many of my peers, myself included, feel that the East Longmeadow School Committee as a whole has failed to follow the very first responsibility listed under the Massachusetts Association of School Committees’ (MASC) Code of Ethics: ‘Realize that his or her primary responsibility is to the children,’” he said.

Mejia-Ramon questioned the methods used by the School Committee’s Finance Sub-committee, stating that after transferring $106,200 for field improvements that were voted down at a town election as part of a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote, the subcommittee failed to report funding transfers as required by the School Committee’s budget transfer authority and it wasn’t until months later that the committee and the town learned of the transfer.

A new field surface, lined for football, soccer and field hockey, a track complete with a Plexitrac surface, new track and field equipment and a four-foot high fence surrounding the field were among the upgrades made as a result of transfers from budget items such as out-of-district tuition and Special Education funds, which were not used during the fiscal year 2011 budget cycle.

“In the School Committee meeting room, there is a banner that reads, ‘Accountability.’ Either the School Committee wasn’t aware of it or it is just there for decor,” he said. “As however pious the cause is, going around the backs of the students and the electorate is no responsible way of getting the job done in a school district, especially one whose pillars include ‘Accountability.’”

Mejia-Ramon went so far as to accuse the School Committee of ignoring more pressing needs in the district, such as learning materials and books and pursuing upgrades to the track and athletic field because such a visible project would “thrust them into the positive public limelight.”

“Books have been a problem in every school in the district,” he said, explaining that a geometry book used during his freshman year, published in the 1980s, is still being used while his advanced placement chemistry teacher has paid for books and supplies out of pocket. “In my opinion, since the turf is seen by more members of the community, the School Committee felt it necessary to tend to that to garner more votes for re-election.”

Mejia-Ramon also accused the committee of violating Massachusetts’ open meeting laws by attempting to conceal information regarding the funding transfer.

“Minutes were not filed until after School Committee member [Joseph] Cabrera requested them,” he said, adding that later two different copies of the minutes were released with conflicting information.

“The fact that the minutes were not given to the remaining member of the School Committee pursuant to the budget transfer authority also demonstrates the desire to hide information from not only the School Committee, but from the student body and the public,” he continued.

Mejia-Ramon also alleged that in pursuing the track and field improvements after town residents voted against them, the School Committee was violating the MASC’s Code of Ethics.

He specifically accused School Committee members Elizabeth Marsion-Boucher and William Fonseca of making statements at previous meetings stating they intended to find a way to circumvent residents’ input to fund the now-required lighting upgrades.

“Their — and other School Committee members’ — aversion to throwing funding to a vote shows an attitude of — this is not a quote — ‘I don’t care what the community wants. I want what I want now.’”

He also criticized the committee for the public shouting match that took place between School Committee Chair Gregory Thompson and Cabrera, which included an exchange during which Thompson questioned why Cabrera failed to respond to his emails and Cabrera responded, “Because you called me a liar and I don’t like you.”

Mejia-Ramon pointed out that the meeting was broadcast to the town on East Longmeadow Cable Access Television (ELCAT) and later a local news outlet posted a link to the video on its website and it received more hits than news regarding the death of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi.

“It is a shame to see that the one time East Longmeadow is put in the spotlight in the past few months, it is being ridiculed for a dysfunctional committee,” he said.

Members of the School Committee, including Thompson, Marsion-Boucher and Fonseca, who were named specifically in Mejia-Ramon’s statement, declined the opportunity to respond or comment on the high school senior’s allegations. Instead, Thompson thanked him for coming before the board and welcomed anyone to do so in the future.

The committee is not legally required to respond to public comments.

Speaking to the media after delivering his four-page statement, Mejia-Ramon said he was somewhat disappointed, but not surprised about the lack of response from the committee.

“I was hoping for some sort of response, but didn’t expect one,” he said. “The purpose of this was to make our complaints known not only to the committee, but to the public.”

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