By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING – Selectman Jeff Yull criticized the School Committee for approving stipends recently for school department administrators, saying it’s a fairness issue.
Yull cited a story last October in the Transcript originally reporting the stipends as well as a letter to the editor from former Selectman Ed Canney on Nov. 13. The School Committee defended the stipends in December, saying the payments were for time spent on special projects above what is required of the administrators.
Eight administrators were paid stipends totaling $19,536 by the School Committee for taking on extra tasks, such as working on the secondary schools construction project, mentoring other administrators and working on elementary school redistricting.
“I realize the administrators put in a lot of hours but so do many other people,” said Yull. “The role the administrators play is important and sometimes key. But so are the teachers when they go home and correct papers and do extra work.”
Yull said he didn’t wish to diminish what the administrators do and he understands this decision was in the school committee’s domain. But he didn’t recall any advance notice these stipends were going to be paid.
Yull said Canney’s message in the letter was about fairness and Yull thought that was correct. “Everyone had to work extra hard to make the transition to the new school go smoothly,” Yull said. “But there’s more than one message. It’s the careless spending of people’s money. Every advocate for education should be questioning these stipends. This takes away from the students.
“We’re in budget season right now and we need to look at the school budget very carefully. If they have the excess money to make these stipends and they’re concerned about having enough money to support other programs, it doesn’t seem to be right.”
Yull said he’d like to see the school board be careful of “how they spend other people’s money.”
He said administrators “get paid well to do what they do.”
In his remarks Yull also made reference to the $332,000 recently approved in change orders for the high and middle schools construction project but Selectman Mike Prisco pointed out the stipends have nothing to do with the school project. And furthermore, there’s never been a school project in the commonwealth built without some change orders, Prisco said.
Selectmen Chairman Robert Mauceri said Yull chose his words poorly when he brought up the change order issue.
“I think he was saying there’s a tremendous expense in building this school, which our citizens are paying for. And yet in the school budget itself they found money for stipends,” Mauceri explained.
Board member Stephen O’Leary said he thinks it would be appropriate to remind the school officials about the stipends when budget talks are held by the Financial Planning Team.
Mauceri agreed. “They’re probably going to get reminded of it when they present their budget numbers and they have a gap that’s bigger than big.”
To be fair, Mauceri mentioned, that the town side of the budget has some stipends built in for certain extra responsibilities. But that wasn’t the case with the stipends approved by the School Committee.
Snow removal bylaw
On another subject, Yull asked the board to instruct Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto to enforce a town bylaw requiring businesses to clear their sidewalks after a snowstorm.
There hasn’t been much snow so far this winter but no one expects that to last. The town does have a bylaw requiring owners of non–residential properties to remove snow from their sidewalks without blocking sidewalk access at driveway entrances. Yull said he’s noticed a few property owners on Route 28 who have complied with the bylaw but most have not.
“It’s not fair to those who clear their sidewalks when the debris from the roadway gets pushed onto the sidewalk, turns to ice and it’s very uneven (walking) for those who use the sidewalks,” Yull said.
T.A. Gilleberto said he would consult with Police Chief Michael Murphy on how best to enforce the bylaw.
That struck Mauceri as the best approach. Town Meeting approved these bylaws but there’s a separate issue about managing the resources of the police department, he said.
“Let Michael have the opportunity to have a discussion with the police chief and come back to the board how they might manage it. And the next time we have a reasonable snowfall, we’ll address it.”