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FCB decision pleases one School Committee member

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD The decision made last Thursday by the Finance Control Board (FCB) to take the search for a new school superintendent away from the School Committee pleased one committee member.

Antonette Pepe told Reminder Publications the decision to hire a specialty firm to conduct a search "made me the happiest I've been in five years."

Pepe, the only member of the School Committee to attend the FCB meeting, addressed the board in the speak-out period. Pepe was very concerned about a letter sent recently to Gov. Deval Patrick by members of the School Committee concerning the selection of a superintendent. Although her name was on the letter, she did not sign it and knew nothing about it.

She said that neither Mayor Charles Ryan, the chair of the School Committee, nor Mayor-elect Domenic Sarno was consulted about the letter.

Chris Collin's name was also listed on the letter as a member of the School Committee despite the fact that he has not yet been sworn in to start his term on the committee.

Both Ryan and Sarno have been critical of Burke's performance in the past. Burke's future was a major point in Sarno's campaign. Burke, who has applied for a number of positions during his time in Springfield, found out last week that he would not be considered for the state's top education job.

Pepe handed out copies of the letter from members of the School Committee to board members and said she called Patrick's office to make sure he understood that her name was added without her permission and that she didn't support this action.

Pepe added she told the governor's staff that all of the members of the School Committee have family members employed by the school district and the School Committee shouldn't be involved in the process due to conflict of interest. In-coming member Collins is the brother of Timothy Collins, the president of the Springfield Education Association.

The letter read in part: "The below signed members of the Springfield School Committee sincerely hope you take the time to consider the consider the critical issues that are going to be described in the following paragraphs. It is our collective feeling that monumental decisions that are forth coming in Springfield related to public education and that will affect the City of Springfield for years to come are to be made by the elected members of the School Committee and not solely by members of the state appointed Control Board. It is imperative that our voices be heard on behalf of the 27,000 students who comprise our district and the 150,000 residents who live in the city.

"Being considered locally by members of the Control Board is the issue of the superintendent of schools and whether or not to tender or extend a contract to him. The majority members of the School Committee feel very strongly that Dr. Joseph Burke's tenure has been a strong and progressive one, despite the hardships and uncertainties the city has faced during his years here.

"Since 2001, Springfield has made greater gains on MCAS scores than the state average during the same time frame. The City of Springfield has also made greater progress than the state average on closing the education achievement gap between white and non-white students."

"How dare they justify what has gone on in this system for so many years," Pepe told the board.

Pepe noted the letter didn't mention the thousands of city students who are truant and expressed indignation the letter would cite MCAS score levels as proof of Burke's effectiveness.

The FCB's decison to seek an outside committee had been urged by Springfield education activitst Lois Smith at several past meetings.

Smith told the FCB last week, "We must bring a new team of players into the school administration, starting at the top. We absolutely must apply techniques that are successful in areas with demographic similar to Springfield. It will take a huge effort to break down a top heavy adminsitration, teach and instill new techniques. A catastrophe is at hand."