The war of words between the Tewksbury School Committee and Shawsheen Tech Superintendent Charlie Lyons escalated Wednesday night as the town's school committee members lined up to take shots at Lyons at the conclusion of their meeting.
Lyons had been quoted in the Lowell Sun on Nov. 6 as being critical of Tewksbury's vote last month to continuing barring Shawsheen Tech from sending its guidance counselors into the Wynn Middle School to present information sessions to Tewksbury's eighth graders.
"If the (Tewksbury) School Committee, for some reason, doesn't want its students to learn more about another school funded by the taxpayers of Tewksbury, I can't defend that action," Lyons was quoted as saying to a Sun reporter. "That type of behavior has only been exhibited by one district and that's the town of Tewksbury -- but it's not the town, it's the school district," Lyons reportedly added.
All five members of the Tewksbury School committee took issue with Lyons' comments, with committee member Jayne Miller stating that "those kinds of comments I have seen from this administrator of a public school toward another school, in my opinion, is reprehensible.
"This board has never commented negatively, in any way about Shawsheen Tech, nor would we," Miller added. "They are an excellent school district. But those kind of comments coming from (Lyons) I think are beneath a public school administrator."
Committee member Joe Russell agreed.
"I was actually insulted, tremendously, reading the article, personally," Russell said. "It was directed at this board. It wasn't directed at the district, it was directed at us.
"I think Shawsheen Tech is a tremendous school," Russell added. "I've always said that. None of us want to keep our children from going to a vocational school ... if they should be in that vocational school. Absolutely none of us want that. (But) that's the picture they're painting, that we're being unfair. So I was very hurt by that article. It couldn't be more wrong."
The School Committee has opposed the practice of allowing students to be taken out of a classroom setting during regular school hours to be presented with information on other school districts. School Committee chairperson Krissy Polimeno, however, reported that she had participated in discussions about alternative ideas that would not disrupt the learning process at a recent Mass. Association of School Committee (MASC) conference. The ideas discussed at the MASC conference included using the afternoon hours on scheduled professional development days (during which students are dismissed late in the morning) as visitation days for schools like Shawsheen Tech.
Under MASC's proposal, schools like Shawsheen would provide bus transportation to interested students, at Shawsheen's expense.
"If they're going to pay for the bus, I think the kids should go," Russell said. "I want as many kids that can, to go, so we can get the right kids there."
School Committee members also bristled at the fact that while public school districts like Tewksbury have to go to great lengths to get taxpayer approval to undertake projects like the building of the new high school, expansion plans for vocational school districts like Shawsheen Tech are not subject to voter approval.
"I just want Shawsheen Tech and Tewksbury to be playing by the same rules," committee member Dennis Francis said. "I look at the $4.2 million addition they have on their school, which is a tremendous addition. But when we (approved) our new high school we went before the voters, so the residents of Tewksbury had a say in that building.
"That $4.2 million that went to Shawsheen Tech, I don't remember voting for that. I don't even know who voted for that. Who represented the town of Tewksbury?"
Ultimately, however, the committee gave superintendent of schools Dr. John O'Connor the green light to meet with Lyons and continue to explore ways in which the two school districts could cooperate in their efforts to make the vocational school education available to all Tewksbury students.
"I agree with some of the provisions presented at the (MASC) conference," Miller said. "I think it may be worth a second look."
"Some of the changes proposed (by MASC) ... are something that we as a school committee may want to revisit and talk about," Polimeno said.