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Pepe announces campaign for re-election

Date: 6/1/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD - Incumbent School Committee member Antonette Pepe's campaign manager and friend, former Springfield Acting School Superintendent Dr. Terry Regina, told the audience at her re-election announcement a story about an elementary school student who asked his mother to contact Pepe to settle an issue he had at school.

Regina said when asked why Pepe, the boy replied, "She has a big mouth and she gets things done."

No one laughed more heartily at the story than Pepe herself who has become known over the past five years for speaking her mind.

She kicked off her campaign for re-election last week with a fundraising event at the John Boyle O'Reilly Club.

Pepe is running for one of the at-large seats on the newly re-configured School Committee that will feature, like the City Council, ward representation. Prior to the rally, Pepe spoke to Reminder Publications about running for re-election as well as her latest concerns on School Department spending.

Pepe is asking for an explanation for the $1.1 million the city is contracted to pay Guru Designs Consultant Services through June 2011 for the creation of the boundary program. The boundary program re-established the concept of neighborhood schools and determines which elementary school a student should attend.

Former School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke established the contract. To date the design service has charged the city $686,770.24 for its services and Pepe is challenging just what the firm is doing for the city. A breakdown of charges contains fees for programs or services that are not explained and are unfamiliar, she said.

She also questioned why the company is involved with the city after the plan was created. Essentially the plan mapped out the city, its neighborhoods and schools providing school officials with the information to give parents about which school to send their children.

"What is so hard about that is beyond my imagination," she said.

Pepe is questioning whether or not the city can break the contract in order to stop the payments.

"Why can't we break the contract? I don't understand the logic in it," she asked.

While she said that School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram has held school administrators more accountable and required them to take on more work, she believes he should be cutting "fat."

When asked why she wants to continue her time on the School Committee, Pepe explained that because of family issues, Springfield has many students who rely on the schools to give them a positive structure.

"They thrive on it," she said. "The kids are being punished for the family's sins. Without education, they don't have a chance."

Pepe believes her successful fight to institute school uniforms has resulted in a decrease in truancy and an increase in good behavior and morale. She is now pushing for less testing and more time devoted to activities during recess and after-school sports. Students are not responding well to sitting in the classroom hour after hour, she asserted.

"Put yourself in their seat and see if you'd like it," she said.

Pepe called for greater accountability of the School Committee and the school administration and believes the public doesn't ask for enough responsibility from either group.

She said is "sick and tired" about hearing calls for increased budgets and said, "We need to cut the fat."

That "fat" includes three school improvement officers whose salaries total $334,000 annually. Pepe believes the positions are redundant and the money could be better spent on equipment for students such as laptops.

She realized that statements such as this one are politically dangerous.

"Of course I just made three more enemies," she said. She added there is nothing personal in her assessment of the positions.

"I'm trying to make the lives of some of these kids better," she said.