, Gloucester, MA

June 17, 2013

Editorial: Committee must be accountable for 'censure' promise

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The Gloucester School Committee’s formal censure of member Roger Garberg last week should close out what only be called an embarrassing episode for a committee that has some significant issues to address.

But the board’s own censure declaration — and Garberg’s own comments — have put the root cause of this arrogant escapade front and center as all parties try to move forward from his “satirical” insults to a parent who had the audacity to question an incoming school program. And that’s where it belongs.

In its censure statement – essentially a scolding slap on the wrist, yet the only real action the committee could take, given that Garberg, now in his second term, is elected, not appointed to his post — the committee noted that it “hereby reasserts its commitment as public officials to uphold respectful deliberation and communication in all aspects of its work, and regrets that Roger Garberg’s action led to public doubt about that commitment.”

Yet Garberg has hardly done that on his own — and that this was, as we noted previously, not an isolated incident. Let’s not forget that both he and Kathleen Clancy — the board member who was listed as the addressee in the condescending email that Garberg instead mistakenly sent to school parent Lisa Fornero — both voted against even holding a public hearing on a petition to beef up security in city schools.

And let’s keep in mind that this committee continues to push a new school building project for the West Parish district while resisting any referendum on that proposal or on the potential re-use of the Fuller School building as the site of a consolidated elementary school that a number of residents have suggested as an alternative.

Garberg — who protested the censure in the committee’s executive session, and said the next day he remained “disappointed” in it — said he knew that “some members felt that they would be viewed as having no interest in public input if they didn’t vote to censure me.” And he’s probably right.

That’s because — sometimes subtly, sometimes not — this committee has shown its disdain for taxpayer input, touting an online survey of the “school community,” for example, as a sign of support for continuing its fomat of five elementary schools in the face of declining enrollments, and openly and intentionally allowing the current Fuller building to fall into such a state of decay that it now cannot be reused as a school, nor can the current West Parish be renovated for extended use, according to a May consultant’s report.

Garberg’s dismissive response to Fornero’s very legitimate questions about a universal breakfast program has, in many ways, proven a damaging distraction for a committee that has tried to focus on its fiscal 2014 budget — with a potential increase in funding going before the City Council as part of its final budget approval Tuesday night — and on questions now raised about not only the universal breakfast program planned for Beeman Memorial and Veterans Memorial elementary schools thius fall, but over its impact on classroom instructional times. And those questions still need answers.

But, in some ways, Garberg may have done this School Committee a favor. His wayward email has has seemingly reminded all members that, while providing policy direction for Superintendent Richard Safier in leading the city’s schools forward, they are also accountable to the voters who put them in office, and, yes, the taxpayers who pay the bills.

Now, all say they welcome input from parents and the voting public.

That should mean, among other things, welcoming a referendum on any new school building proposal, and being open to questions and concerns expressed by parents and others.

Let’s hope that finally proves to be the case.