School Committee Bills
Taxpayers for Fine Dining
past three years members of the Lawrence School Committee
have been billing the taxpayers for plush dining at the
citys most expensive restaurant: One Mill Street.
Then School Committeemen Noah Shannon, Pedro Arce,
Suzanne Piscitello, Nancy Kennedy and current member
George Gonzalez all dined with Superintendent Wilfredo
Laboy and his staff after school board meetings running
up tabs worth over $1,200.00.
Documents obtained by The Valley Patriot show that state
taxpayers treated members of the Lawrence School
Committee to more than a dozen expensive meals between
Meal reimbursement receipts show School Board members
helped themselves to veal, sirloin steak, calamari, pork
chops, duck, steak salad, garlic shrimp, mussels,
scallops, spinach chicken, assorted appetizers and other
various menu items. The meals were then billed to the
Lawrence Public Schools which receives 100% of its
funding from the state and federal government.
While Superintendent Laboys $156,000 a year
contract does not include a meal allowance, he says that
some of his expenses are reimbursable. I dont
have a meal allowance but it is accepted practice for me
to be reimbursed for certain expenses as long as they are
reasonable and sensible, he said.
School Committee members, on the other hand, do not have
that luxury. According to the School Committee policy
(B-18) "School Committee members shall receive no
compensation for their services. However, upon submitting
vouchers and supporting bills for expenses incurred in
carrying out specific services previously authorized by
the Committee, Committee members may be reimbursed from
district funds." This never took place regarding
meal receipts from One Mill Street.
Instead, some School Committee members took advantage of
their position as members of the School Committee Finance
subcommittee by eating at One Mill Street and then signed
off on the meal receipts as legitimate educational
Laboy said he submitted the School Committee meal
receipts because it was the least he could do for them.
These people (School Committee members) put in a
lot of hours and they work very hard for our children. I
think buying them a meal is the least we can do for them
after a long meeting. The School Committee members are
not compensated in any way, shape or form for their
service. I dont find it offensive or excessive to
pay for a persons meal when they work so
problem is, Laboy didnt pay for the meal, state
taxpayers did; a fact that angered some current board
members who demanded repayment for the meals. School
Committeeman Michael Sweeney said "each member who
received a free meal should pay back every penny to the
children of Lawrence.
I think their actions are reprehensible,
Sweeney said of Piscitello, Gonzalez, Shannon, Kennedy
and Arce. Particularly Ms. Piscitello. Of all
people, she should be writing a check out to the school
department for everything she ate. I also think the
Ethics Commission should be informed about this.
They should pay the money back with interest and issue a
written apology to the school children and the citizens
On at least one occasion, a quorum of the School
Committee (six of the seven members) met at One Mill
Street for what Laboy listed on receipts as a
School Committee meeting/Discussion at One Mill
Street. (see right) With a majority of the board
present, Laboy admitted the meeting was not publicly
posted as required by the states open meeting law
because, he said, it was a social event.
Asked why he submitted meal receipts to the taxpayers
totaling $141.25 for a social gathering he
admitted, It was partially business. Business was
Mayor Michael Sullivan who sits as chairman of the School
Committee said he doesnt believe Superintendent
Laboy did anything wrong, however, he added, I
think the members of the finance committee who signed off
on those warrants should pay the money back.
I dont think its appropriate. As
political leaders we have to be held to a higher
standard. If it is outside the educational setting it
isnt right that their meals should be treated by
Sullivan said that the School Committee policy must be
adhered to. It all flows back to the policy. We
have a policy and we all need to abide by the
School Committeeman Jimmy Vittorioso said he was outraged
when he learned about the School Committee meals.
Its a disgrace. Its a waste of
taxpayers money. I would never go out to dinner
using the peoples money. Thats a serious
conflict of interest. For committee members to go to Mill
Street and send the taxpayers a bill is outrageous. I
actually agree with Mayor Sullivan, they should pay the
School Committee member Amy McGovern said that she had
only gone to Mill Street once with fellow
board members and left early when she realized there was
a quorum because she felt uncomfortable with the whole
situation. I know they do this all the time but I
was very uncomfortable with it, McGovern said.
All I had was a diet coke and I left a few dollars
on the table to pay for my drink. I just dont think
its right. Its abominable.
Heidi Pearlman, spokesman for the Department of Education
said the matter of School Committee members getting free
meals is an issue for the Ethics Commission not the
Department of Education. Was it appropriate for
them to have meetings at an expensive restaurant,
she asked rhetorically, probably not. But this is a
local issue for local officials to deal with. This is not
an issue for the Department of Education.
It was a stark contrast to the position taken by the
Department of Education when misspending allegations
against former superintendents Jim Scully and Mae Gaskins
surfaced in previous administrations.
In 1987 the Department of Education threatened the School
Committee to fire Jim Scully or they would take over the
Lawrence School System. The Department of Education was
also intimately involved in the Gaskins firing.
Ironically, former Superintendent Mae Gaskins was fired,
in part because she billed the taxpayers for 32 bags of
Cape Cod potato chips (totaling $77.13), a meal at
Palmers Restaurant in Andover ($75.57) and a meal order
from Lawtons Hot Dog Stand which included two hot
dogs, a large order of fried clams, a large order of
onion rings and ice tea for a total of $16.35
At the time of Gaskins firing, then School
Committeeman Suzanne Piscitello (who is listed on several
meal receipts at Mill Street) led the charge against
Gaskins for what she called a disgraceful waste of
our childrens money, which she said was
robbing our children of the educational dollars
they need for their future.
Piscitello told the Eagle Tribune in January of 2000 that
the precedent set by the firing of Jim Scully for what
she called questionable expenses had to be
maintained by Gaskins and future superintendents.
You cant have one standard for one
Superintendent and another standard for another
Sweeney said Piscitellos involvement with the One
Mill Street meals was the height of
Its obvious that public office isnt the
place for either one of them (Piscitello and Arce). As
alleged professionals they should know better. If the
Gaskins case was still in court we would be in a boatload
of trouble on this. I mean, not only is Piscitello a
former assistant superintendent and vice president of the
School Committee, but her added role in the Gaskins
firing pours a can of gasoline on the fire.
Sweeney said the revelations about free meals at One Mill
Street explains an ongoing question regarding his former
colleagues, ...at least now we know why School
Committee Meetings used to last only half an hour. They
all wanted to get to Mill Street before last call.
Suzanne Piscitello did not return calls from The Valley
Patriot to be interviewed for this story.
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comments to ValleyPatriot@aol.com
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