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Home MASSACHUSETTS Brockton CRISIS IN BROCKTON PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM: COMMUNITY RALLIES TO SUPPORT STUDENTS, TEACHERS,...

CRISIS IN BROCKTON PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM: COMMUNITY RALLIES TO SUPPORT STUDENTS, TEACHERS, AND STAFF AT BROCKTON HIGH SCHOOL

BROCKTON, MASSACHUSETTS – BY YVES CAJUSTE – As of 6:15 this morning at the East entrance overlooking Forest Avenue of Brockton High School, more than forty Brockton residents were already on site responding to the call initiated last Thursday by Rahsaan Hall, a civil rights attorney, President-CEO of Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts and resident of the City of Brockton. The crowd was expected to swell to more than one hundred by 7 a.m.

In a poster circulated on social media last Friday, the community was invited to show support for the students, teachers, and staff of Brockton High School in the wake of the decision by four members of the School Committee to implement what criminologists term “Zero Tolerance” to address violent behavior and incidents involving adolescents within the public school system. These local elected officials also petitioned Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey to temporarily deploy the National Guard “to help restore order, ensure the safety of all individuals on school premises, and implement measures to address the root causes of the issues we face.” This proposal was swiftly disavowed by Mayor Sullivan, who distanced himself from it and rejected the idea.

The decision by the “Group of 4” had a seismic impact on a city already reeling from the events of September 1, 2023, when Mayor Sullivan, also the chair of the School Committee, said that “he learned just days before the start of the school year that the Brockton Public School system was facing a $14.5 million deficit for the 2022-2023 fiscal year”. This deficit ballooned to an estimated $20 million in the weeks that followed, revealing systemic financial mismanagement within the education department. Throughout the School Committee’s meetings, it became evident that the handling of educational funds was deeply flawed.
In response, Superintendent of Schools Mike Thomas, currently on medical leave, was temporarily replaced by Dr. James Cobbs, the former Director of Operations.

Additionally, CFO Aldo Petronio and Deputy CFO Chris Correia were placed on administrative leave, as Mayor Robert Sullivan romised repeatedly that he would lookfor answers regarding the causes of the massive overspending. Three months later, just days before Christmas, Mayor Sullivan requested and secured a $9.9 million check during a special meeting of the Municipal Council to prevent the State of Massachusetts from assuming control over the city’s public school finances.

January 1, 2024 marked the beginning of Mayor Sullivan’s third two-year term, amid ongoing financial turmoil within the city’s public school system, which he oversees as chair of the School Committee. The promised “financial audit” aimed at assuaging concerns has yet to commence. Regarding the audit, crucial details emerged during a recent School Committee meeting: of the City the lawyer involved in drafting the contract for the auditing firm clarified that it would not be a “Certified audit”. In financial terms, meaning it won’t entail the formal certification of financial statements. Disturbing, isn’t it?

The firm RSM US was selected in November to conduct this so called “audit”.

In addition to the mayoral 2 years-term, a new School Committee, including two new members, Claudio Gomes (Ward 2) and Ana Oliver (Ward 3), commenced their duties on January 3rd, 2024. However, two months later, the committee has struggled to elect a Vice-Chair. Tony Rodrigues (Ward 4) emerged as a candidate to replace Kathy Ehlers (Ward 1), but votes have consistently resulted in a 4-4 tie between Rodrigues and Ehlers.

Mayor Sullivan, along with Judy Sullivan (Ward 5) and Tim Sullivan (Ward 7), voted for Ehlers, while Joyce Asack (Ward 6) and the two new members supported Tony Rodrigues. Many residents and even some local officials believe (privately) only the Mayor can resolve the deadlock by abstaining from the next vote. The repeated deadlock has strained relations among the committee members, whose primary responsibility is ensuring the proper functioning of the city’s public school system.

The sentiment of frustration and trauma stemming from the events since September 1, 2023, was palpable in front of Brockton High School Monday morning, as evidenced by carefully crafted messages on signs. The community expressed disapproval of the “Zero Tolerance” policy proposed by four members of the School Committee, questioning the whereabouts of the budget deficit (approximately $20 million) facing the Brockton Public Schools system.

As part of ongoing coverage of the crisis, Gary Keith, a veteran and long-time Brockton resident, voiced his confusion over Mayor Robert Sullivan’s presence, accompanied by some members of his cabinet, at the morning gathering. He perceived it as a mere photo opportunity, devoid of substantive action.

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