School Committee

If Mayor Edward J. Sullivan's manipulations with the Cambridge School Committee did not affect the city's educational system, they might be humorously reminiscent of the type of enlightened city government which used to rule around the turn of the century. It is somewhat entertaining to observe the machinations by which legal procedure can be circumvented or strategically misused in order to make desired appointments.

Sullivan, as chairman of the School Committee and with the backing of a majority of the Committee employed his power as chairman to nominate the seventeen appointees at a special meeting, ostensibly called to consider the budget. The officer who by law should make nominations for the school system, Superintendent of Schools John W. Tobin, was absent. Sullivan obtained approval, however, to suspend Committee's rules in order to have the committee vote on his nominations which it approved by a five-to-two majority.

By this process, Sullivan managed to circumvent several regulations established to guard against misuse of the power of appointment. The Cambridge Municipal laws state that the Superintendent shall submit nominations with a detailed written report of the "education, experience...and other qualifications" of the nominees. In addition all votes must normally take place at an open meeting, and at a "special meeting" the School Committee can consider only the particular question it was called to discuss.

Sullivan's nominations were made neither by the Superintendent of Schools, nor did he originally enumerate the qualifications of his appointees. And the committee majority approved them at a closed, not an open session. Furthermore, the special meeting had been summoned to consider the budget and could not legally treat other matters. While the School Committee is entitled to suspend its own rules of procedure, it cannot set aside the General Laws of Massachusetts. These, in addition to the Cambridge law, require that the School Committee shall ascertain the qualifications for all teaching personnel.

Besides demonstrating the Mayor's desire for haste in filling the teaching staff and endowing Cambridge with the additional offices of junior hockey coach, a second assistant director of athletics and a public relations manager for athletics, the present episode illustrates the need for a broader state code on education. The present law leaves each local School Committee practically autonomous in order to keep each school system as free of state political interference as possible. The State laws include the Mayor as chairman of th School Committee so that each committee would have some tie with the local city government. However, in the case of Cambridge, this provision has served only to place the school system under a political influence from which it was originally intended to be free. As Shaplin plans to recommend, state control over education should provide tighter and more complete minimum requirements for the qualifications of teachers and curricula, as well as outlining stricter methods for administration of the school systems. Cambridge's example should illustrate that even the field of education is not free from political maneuvering.