Paying Attention! with Tom Duggan

Lawrence School Committee is All Talk, No Action

Tom Duggan (April, 2004)

Last month The Valley Patriot exposed an exclusive news story about former (and one current) Lawrence School Committee members misusing education dollars to feast at the most expensive restaurant in the area, One Mill Street.

Of course, there were the usual denials as some officials went running for political cover, but there was also the standard hand- wringing by current officials who were uninvolved.

Lawrence Mayor Mike Sullivan told The Patriot that School Committee members who billed the taxpayers for their lavish meals should be made to “pay the money back.” Three other board members said that the behavior of these former (and one current) school board members was unacceptable and one even recommended that the ethics commission be notified.

All four of these current board members said that if an item was placed on the School Committee agenda (by someone else, of course), they would support sending a bill to Suzanne Piscitello, Nancy Kennedy, Pedro Arce, Jorge Gonzalez and Noah Shannon for their share of the $1,200 food bill.

Only Jimmy Vittorioso, with some prodding, agreed to actually place the item on the agenda. But when the agenda came out this week, his agenda item was missing. Vittorioso says either the Mayor or the superintendent removed his agenda item. And it didn’t seem to concern him at all.   Vittorioso shrugged his shoulders and said he had no intention of fighting for the agenda item saying “…it isn’t going to happen again and that’s what we all wanted. We scored a win here! It’s all over.”

Actually, Jimmy, “we” didn’t score a win at all. Just a bill for $1,200. The People of Lawrence received education dollars from the state and federal government to be used for the children of our city. Some of that money was misused by elected School Committee members for their own personal benefit, feasting on veal, steak, scallops, shrimp, etc., in violation of their own policies.

And yet, a full month after this is made public, an agenda item is removed by “someone” and the guilty parties are still not being billed for the money they stole. What’s worse is that nobody seems to take this very seriously. At least not seriously enough to actually DO something about it.   Let’s get one thing clear: when elected School Committee members misuse money to satisfy their own greed and fill their own bellies (while grandstanding about how much they care about the children), they must be held accountable.

Yet, not one member of the current School Committee is willing to do anything about this misuse of funds except complain. In my book, that makes the current board just as responsible as those who abused their position and ran up a $1,200 meal tab.

It is the duty of every single Lawrence School Committee member to guard our tax dollars and make sure the money is spent properly. When it is revealed that someone, even in a previous administration, misused that money they have an absolute duty to act on our behalf and try to recover that money.   Unfortunately, Mayor Sullivan doesn’t intend to hold anyone accountable, and the only School Committee member willing to place the item on the agenda for discussion doesn’t seem disturbed by the fact that “someone” removed his agenda item.

When we published this story last month it actually looked as though something was going to be done about gross misuse of public dollars. Today, it only looks as though the School Committee, mayor included, is all talk and no action.