By: Tom Duggan – September 2005
LAWRENCE – Lawrence School Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy is increasingly coming under fire by candidates for both mayor and school committee, as the city elections in November draw near.
Embroiled in public scandal over the alleged assault on School Committeeman Amy McGovern, Laboy has become the subject of controversy on the campaign trail, as public sentiment seems to have turned against him
While public criticism of Laboy has been almost non-existent among office seekers in Lawrence in previous months, viable candidates for mayor and school committee are now expressing an interest in replacing Laboy if and, in some cases, when they take office in January.
Lawrence City Councilor Marcos Devers, a candidate for mayor, refused to comment on Laboy’s future when he held a press conference announcing his candidacy six months ago.
During his announcement at Daisey G’s restaurant last spring, Devers was asked if he would be willing to remove Laboy for his abuse of education money, including: free meals for himself and school committee members at One Mill Street, running boards for his city-owned SUV, a stay at the Park Plaza in Philadelphia, and a stay at Walt Disney World during an education conference.
“I don’t think I can comment on that right now. We are just kicking off the campaign,” Devers said at the time. “I think the superintendent has a lot positives and obviously some negatives, but I am not prepared to say I would be willing to fire him. That’s something I will have to look into over the coming months.”
What a difference a few months make.
Last week, however, amid the charges of assault and battery against Laboy, Devers began to speak out clearly and forcefully about what the city (and Laboy) can expect if he is elected mayor.
“I am very troubled by his behavior,” Devers told The Valley Patriot. “He needs to understand that he works for the school committee and not the other way around. If Wilfredo Laboy behaves under my administration the way he has behaved under the Sullivan administration, yes, I would fire him. I want to make it clear to the voters and the parents in Lawrence that I am not going to be manipulated by Wilfredo Laboy and I am not going to be intimidated by Willie Lantigua.”
Lawrence State Representative Willie Lantigua has been a strong ally of Laboy’s and was present last week to show his support for the superintendent when he was arraigned in court for allegedly assaulting Amy McGovern.
“Marcos Devers is a puppet for nobody,” Devers continued. “Mayor Sullivan has allowed the superintendent to get away with too much for too long and I will not tolerate that when I am the mayor.”
Devers repeated that sentiment on a local radio talk show a few days later.
Devers is not the only candidate expressing displeasure with Laboy or an interest in replacing him.
Mark Gray, who is challenging Amy McGovern in the District “E” school committee race, said unequivocally that he would fire Laboy if elected in November.
“Yes, I would fire him,” Gray said. “If you look at the numbers, he is certainly not getting the job done. He has brought shame onto the school system and he should be replaced as soon as possible.”
With six school committee seats up for grabs on November 8th, and only two incumbents seeking reelection (McGovern and Jim Vittorioso), at least four new school committee members will take office next January.
Greg Morris, who is assured a seat on the school committee because he is running unopposed in District “F” (South Lawrence East), said that he would “have no problem at all replacing Superintendent Laboy. I don’t think he is a good superintendent and I am shocked at the way Amy McGovern has been treated as an elected member of that board.”
For her part, School Committeeman Amy McGovern (who is facing criminal charges herself) said that she was unsure if she would be able to take a vote on the fate of Laboy, citing the possibility of a conflict of interest with the criminal charges pending.
“I would have to consult with my lawyer, of course,” McGovern said. “I’m not sure with everything going on, that I should be involved in a vote to remove the superintendent if it were to come to that.”
If Devers, Morris and either McGovern or Gray were to win their respective races in November, Laboy could find himself one vote away from being removed, thanks to a provision written into his contract by former school committee member Michael Sweeney.
During contract negotiations two years ago, Sweeney agreed to extend the superintendent’s contract, but added a provision giving the school committee the flexibility to remove Laboy for any act bringing embarrassment onto the Lawrence Public Schools.
That provision would allow the school committee to escape the expense of having to buy out the remainder of his contract.
But Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan says he has no intention of firing Laboy if reelected. “As mayor, I do not have the power to fire the superintendent; that is not within my purview under the city charter.”
After being reminded that, as chairman of the school committee, he would have a vote on whether or not to fire Laboy, Sullivan said he believed Laboy is good for the schools and reiterated his “hands off” approach to the school system.
“Wilfredo Laboy is doing a good job,” Sullivan said.
“There are a lot of good things happening in the classrooms in Lawrence and he deserves a lot of credit for that. I am not even thinking about firing the superintendent. I think it is premature to be considering that, given that he has not been convicted of anything.”