Looking at the School Committee’s Responsibility to Vote on Day School, Laura Lee School and possibly LHS Site!

City of Lowell Charter Section 51.

Mass General Law

I’ve been frustrated by the lack of questioning and leadership by this School Committee, they don’t seem to ask questions and seem to let the Supt. or Mayor drive

If I criticize them for not asking questions then I would be just as bad to not ask one that I have. Is this School Committee and the CITY following THE CITY CHARTER AND MA GENERAL LAW, when it come to voting on the proposed Day School, the Laura Lee School and the site selection of the High School?

I posted my concern at not seeing a vote to issue or approve an RFP for a proposed Day School to be run by the City but housed in Methuen.

I was looking at the City Charter and MA State law after the City voted Tuesday night to declare an open school as surplus property. It bothered me because I don’t believe past practice and policy was followed.

According to the School Dept. website: The Laura Lee Therapeutic Day School provides a safe and respectful environment, where students can thrive academically and socially. Students will be taught coping skills in order to build independence and self-esteem. Staff at the Laura Lee will nurture, lead, and support students toward reaching their individual potential.

Ironic we are closing a school that Sara Foster a Teacher at the Laura Lee was a finalist for the State Teacher of the year and the SUN has a story that says:

The Laura Lee Therapeutic Day School takes in the students whose behavioral diagnoses, PTSD, challenging home lives, or all of the above make it difficult for them to attend traditional schools, and Foster’s class of five often feels much larger than it is.

What I have always seen happen is that a school committee takes a position that a building is no longer needed for educational purposes. At that point the city/municipality then determines if it’s surplus or suitable for another purpose, and/or disposal. Some school systems have resisted turning back properties to municipalities and started to rent them to collaboratives and other uses. In Dracut, their committee held onto The Parker School and rented it to CTI.

I understand from the Manager’s speech the other night that the idea is to sell the Laura Lee to buy the Elks on Old Ferry Road to open a Day school here in the city but shouldn’t we follow the law to accomplish this?

In Lowell when the School Dept. Closed the Rogers School and a Charter School was interested in purchasing it the Sun had a story – City draws $10M offer for Rogers which helps me make my point on the way things have been done.

The Lowell School Committee voted last month to close the 575-student Rogers School, with the intent of moving the School Department’s central offices from the Bon Marché building on Merrimack Street, as well as housing the Family Literacy Center and Lowell Adult Education.

The city owns the building. City Manager Bernie Lynch said to sell it, the School Department would have to declare it as surplus. Additionally, it would have to be put out to bid before any offers are entertained.

Superintendent of Schools Chris Scott said she would inform the School Committee of the offer, but not recommend selling the school.

“We need the building,” she said. “It is not surplus.”

and later in the same story:

Scott added that the city is still receiving annual reimbursement payments from the state for renovations done to the Rogers School in 1994. Selling the school would result in the loss of $900,000 annually through 2014.

“We would owe money and have no building, which doesn’t make sense,” Scott said, adding that if enrollment in the Lowell schools were to increase in the future, it would cost $35 million to $40 million to build a new school.

“If they are interested, the city has the Varnum School to sell,” Scott added.

The School Department closed the Varnum School in the city’s Centralville neighborhood in June 2008 as a cost-saving measure. It has since been turned over to the city.

The School Committee has to vote before it is turned over to the City, they have to declare it surplus or not needed for educational purposes. Smartly Supt. Scott knew to hang on to the Rogers and after the School Dept. turned the Varnum over to the City, the City sold it to build veterans housing.

I have searched every School Committee Agenda on-Line since this current School Committee started in January 2016 through last night’s meeting and then went back to September 2015 and find NO Vote taken or proposed to the School Committee declaring the Laura Lee site SURPLUS and giving it back to the City. My belief is it would have had to be done in a public meeting and posted not in a subcommittee and would require the entire School Committee to vote.

Which makes me question why the City rushed to declare it surplus and if they even have that right until the School Committee does it first?

In doing my research I found In the City of Lowell Charter Section 51 and MA state law Chapter 43 and to me this shows that the School Committee has a voice and vote in the the Day School, the Laura Lee site and I think probably the High School site.

I haven’t seen them take a vote on any of those.

The City Charter and MA. State Law seems to be pretty clear so I’m wondering why the School Committee is so silent?

Even the MSBA in their statements on closing the current school makes it clear it is the School District in charge of the building NOT the City Administration.

Which leads me to this question: Based on the City Charter and on MA General Law “Shouldn’t the School Committee have the final vote on the site for the High School?” with the councilor’s voting on the financing?

These 3 issues shows the lack of leadership by this current School Committee and makes me ask, shouldn’t they and the City know the Charter and the Law?

Maybe the City Administration can and will show that my interpretation of BOTH the City Charter and MA State Law is incorrect and provide me with the back up showing that. When I look at the MSBA guidelines, they refer largely to City town and regional school districts.

If I am reading the City Charter and State Law correctly, the vote and marathon City Council session Tuesday may all be for not. The Charter and MA State Law indicate to me that it is the School Committee who is required to vote on the location NOT the City Council. If that is the case…

WHY ARE WE NOT FOLLOWING THE CHARTER AND MA GENERAL LAW?

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One thought on “Looking at the School Committee’s Responsibility to Vote on Day School, Laura Lee School and possibly LHS Site!

  1. Helen Littlefield

    You are making some excellent points. I, too, was wondering why the Laura Lee was being closed and why there had been nothing in the Sun about its closing, unlike the situation with the Rogers School. As you noted, it has been the school department that has decided whether a school building was still needed.

    I also am surprised that the school committee has not had much to say about the location of the high school. The only way the public is learning of their opinions is through the Chris Scott interviews for the Sun. So far, two have supported Cawley and one has supported downtown.

    Reply

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