Published in the February 25, 2021 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — A slim majority of the School Committee does not want to wait until after Town Election to decide the fate of the Wakefield Warrior logo. A non-binding question asking the voters’ opinion on the use of Native American imagery in the logo will appear on the April 27 election ballot.
In another 4-3 split vote this week, the School Committee decided that it would not wait to see the result of that vote before making its decision on the logo.
A public forum is set for tonight over Zoom to gather input from the public on the logo issue. The School Committee has also scheduled a panel of Native American speakers for an “educational” event on March 17.
A survey will also be sent out to the community by the School Department. Members of the School Committee want the survey to go out only after the Native American panel has taken place.
School Committee member Greg Liakos reported that he has contacted an organization in western Massachusetts that deals with Native American issues and confirmed they are willing to send representatives to participate on the panel. The panel discussion would run about two hours, Liakos said.
School Committee member Mike Boudreau asked about the distribution of viewpoints on the proposed Native American panel. Liakos said that he presumed that most would be opposed to the use of Native American imagery in logos.
Liakos said that he also assumed that, at its next meeting following the Native American panel, the School Committee would deliberate and decide if they want to vote on the logo issue.
But School Committee Chair Aimee Purcell made a motion to delay any vote on the logo until after the voters weigh in at the Town Election on April 27.
School Committee member Thomas Markham was opposed to waiting until after the election.
“We have an obligation to take a vote and let people know what we think ahead of time,” he insisted. He proposed taking an “advocacy vote” before the election and then voting again after the election.
Purcell disagreed with that approach. She said that the ballot question would provide a huge portion of the input that the School Committee needs to hear. She noted that the process previously laid out by the School Committee to gather input via a public forum on Zoom effectively disenfranchises senior citizens and others who may be unfamiliar with the technology.
But Liakos insisted that it was strictly a school issue and the decision was solely up to the School Committee.
“We have a responsibility to educate the public and vote before the plebiscite,” he maintained. “The citizenry looks to elected officials for guidance.”
Boudreau feared that if a vote were to be taken before the election, the newly constituted School Committee could decline to take another vote after the election. The only way to guarantee a School Committee vote after the election would be to not hold a vote beforehand, he said.
Boudreau maintained that the timeline as already laid out, including the native American panel followed by a community survey, would mean the earliest the School Committee would vote would be April.
School Committee member Darci Burns noted that some residents felt that the process laid out by the School Committee was not open and transparent enough, so they petitioned the Town Council to put the question on the ballot.
“This matters to a lot of people,” she said.
School Committee member Colleen Guida said the School Committee owed it to the community to make an efficient decision. She said that she was concerned that the ballot question only offers a binary, “Yes” or “No” choice. She worried that if the School Committee voted after the election and its decision ran contrary to the townwide vote, it could further divide the community.
Purcell responded to assertions that the post-election School Committee would not be as well-informed on the logo issue as the current board.
“We are a well-informed group,” she said. “Anyone who is on the School Committee after the election will also be informed. I feel strongly that we don’t have all the information yet. People care about this and they want to be heard. It’s the responsibility of the School Committee to make that happen.”
School Committee member Suzy Veilleux noted that the ballot question petition was signed by 15 people. (State law allows 10 registered voters to petition the Town Council to place a question on the ballot.)
“We have to get this done and off the table because it’s exhausting all of us,” Veilleux said. “Let’s get the information and let’s vote.”
Markham called the logo issue “a monumental distraction,” asserting that, “No School Committee will be more informed than us.”
But Purcell insisted that the School Committee would not be as informed as it could be until after the April 27 election.
“The information will still be there after the election,” she said. “We owe it to the community to vote on this after the election.”
Ultimately, Purcell’s motion to hold the vote on the logo after the election failed 4-3, with Purcell, Boudreau and Burns in favor of voting after the election, and Markham, Liakos, Veilleux and Guida opposed to waiting.