Politics Badger the Schools of Cambridge

Will the real superintendent of Cambridge schools please stand up?

The complicated issue as to who is the real superintendent of Cambridge public schools will be tested next week in Suffolk Superior Court.

Court intervention became necessary when Frank J. Frisoli, fiery superintendent of Cambridge schools refused to yield the Superintendent's offices at Rindge Tech to his successor. Alforence Cheatham.

Frisoli was ousted from the $38,000 a year post in a narrow vote by the School Committee last January. However, when Cheatham arrived at the Rindge Tech offices September 1. Frisoli refused to vacate, saying. "I am still the Superintendent here." Cheatham former district superintendent from Chicago's West Side, was selected in June by the majority members of the School Committee to replace Frisoli.

Three hundred spectators jammed the School Committee meeting room a week after the incident, expecting a public confrontation between the two men at the Committee's first meeting of the term. Cheatham failed to appear--"on the advice of counsel," according to Mavor Barbara Ackermann--and Frisoli occupied the Superintendent's chair.

After fifteen minutes, the bewildered committeemen recessed Frisoli assumed the Superintendent's chair for the second night in a row. Ackermann asked him to leave. Frisoli declined, insisting that he still held the office.


"If Mr. Frisoli chooses to sit in the chair ordinarily occupied by the Superintendent, that does not make him the Superintendent," said Ackermann who serves as chairman of the School Committee and voted against Frisoli last January.

The dispute reached Suffolk Superior Court on September 8 but Judge Francis J. Good postponed it until next Monday. The suit, brought by minority committeemen James F. Fitzgerald and Donald A. Fantini on Frisoli's behalf, argues that the 57-year-old Superintendent has tenure in his position. Frisoli has 36 years experience in the Cambridge School System, but only one year a Superintendent.

Three years service in the system is necessary for tenure. Lawyers for the Committee majority will argue that while Frisoli has tenure as a teacher, he lacks it as Superintendent.

When chided by Ackermann at the second Committee meeting, for waiting until school opened to rate the tenure issue, Frisoli explained that his term had not expired until August 31. "You can't be aggrieved for assault and battery until you've been assaulted," he said. "And I was not assaulted until August 31."

Defeated in two previous court battles concerning a referendum on the Superintendent, the pro-Frisoli minority (which has the sympathies of much of Cambridge) is trying to keep the issue alive on technicalities. Two weeks ago Fantini said that as Frisoli was removed "pending reassignment and had not been reassigned he was still Superintendent Committeeman David A. Wylie a member of the majority replied that Frisoli would be assigned a new position once the superintendent issue was settled.

Supporters of Frisoli also contend that Cheatham was an unqualified replacement because he lacked Massachusetts teachers' certification until September 8. Ackermann termed certification a "formality" and said that Cheatham did not seek it earlier because "nobody happened to think of it--usually the Superintendent takes care of hiring staff."

At the same meeting Fantini charged that Cheatham is an "avowed social revolutionist."

Both Cheatham and Frisoli have refused to speak to the press since the dispute began.

In contrast to the City Manager controversy, riddled with intrigue and shifting alliances, the city's opposing political and social forces stand in stark outline in the Superintendent fight.

Political reformers, exemplified by the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA), confront the old line logrolling Democrats. "An alliance between the intellectual and economic elite and the lower-class backs faces middle and working class ethnics. Two educational philosophies, one promoting innovation and the academic curriculum, the other emphasizing discipline and occupational education struggle for supremacy. A home town boy born and bred is pitted against a well-traveled black from Chicago and the South.