Attend a School Committee meeting today and you’ll find Superintendent of Schools John Buckey seated next to committee members facing the audience. Typically, Buckey sits at the far end of the table during committee meetings, situated in a position that designates his leadership status but doesn’t necessarily indicate he is a member of the committee.
All that to say, what if I told you, in May of 1993, committee members clashed about where exactly the superintendent should sit?
Phillip Whitten, then a new member of the committee, seated Superintendent James Kent at a separate table, away from the committee, despite tradition dictating the superintendent should sit next to one of the co-chairmen of the committee. Whitten was backed by Stephen Quigley and Jody Magee on that decision, but drew the ire of Marcia Sweeney and Edward Clisby.
Sweeney said decisions like moving where the superintendent sits are typically made by the full committee, adding she was embarrassed for Kent, and didn’t know how to respond when asked if Kent would sit in the audience soon. Clisby seconded a motion made by Sweeney to restore Kent’s typical seat, saying “It may not change anything, but I’d like to have my voice heard when changes like this are made.”
In explaining his decision to shift the seating arrangements in the first place, Whitten said having the superintendent sit with the committee led some to believe he was a member of the committee.
“I thought I’d better not embarrass him so I changed the seats before the meeting,” Whitten is quoted as saying.
Sweeney’s motion failed by a 3-2 vote, with Whitten, Quigley, and Magee voting it down. That triumvirate formed a new majority on the committee at the time, and quickly made their decision-making power felt, also voting to table the applications of two high school students for summer work until they correctly filled out their list of references.
The three-man majority tabled the final two of the 79 part-time appointments before them because the students, who were seeking $233.53-a-week summer jobs cutting grass, did not complete their applications by listing references.
Magee pointed to the fact that if the students were seeking jobs in the private sector, their applications could have wound up in “the circular file.”
Sweeney objected to tabling the applications, arguing the application itself may not have been appropriate for high-school students. Kent went as far as to offer to take responsibility for the oversight, but the committee ultimately stuck to its guns.