An Open Letter to the Governor

Dear Governor Cellucci:

Congratulations on Tuesday's victory. It was a hard-fought battle, full of sound and fury (more than occasionally signifying nothing), but you pulled it out. In your election night remarks to the press, you said you felt you had a mandate from the people of Massachusetts to move forward with your agenda.

But by definition, it's impossible to have a mandate for your agenda when you won only 50 percent of the vote. Instead, it's up to you, as you finally take over the State House in your own right, to consider what the 50 percent of us who voted for Democrat L. Scott Harshbarger '64 or Libertarian Dean Cook might have been saying when we went to the polls. You have a new role before you as a coalition builder, someone who needs to join two visions of the future of the Commonwealth into one cohesive platform.

Some of the issues on which you and Harshbarger disagree can't be compromised, of course. Those of us who would have preferred a Democrat in the corner office can only hope that the state legislature will uphold its tenuous opposition to the death penalty in the face of your attempts to reinstate it. The legislature will also have to work hard to convince you not to remove any more necessary funding from important social programs just for the sake of a nominal tax cut.

But the most important issue facing Massachusetts as you begin your term--education--is one in which discussion, compromise and rational action is not only possible but necessary. The major reason why the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) endorsed Harshbarger is that he drew a clear line between taking responsibility for education reform and hurling blame at the nearest targets. It is time for you to do the same.


No more waffling on whether teacher testing should be required. It should. No more hollow promises that education will be job one. Let's face it: during the Weld/Cellucci administration, a focus on education was woefully absent. No more knee-jerk reactions to bad test scores. The governor needs to set the tone for an informed and reasoned debate about the best way to train and test our state's future teachers.

There are two tangible ways to begin fulfilling your promise to make education a priority: first, remove Chairman of the Board of Education John R. Silber--your de facto governor for education--and replace him with someone committed to public education and willing to conduct honest and open dialogue with education program heads, teacher candidates and concerned citizens. Silber has proven his reluctance to cooperate with his colleagues by refusing to release a copy of the teacher test given last spring or explain how those tests were graded. In addition, his disparaging comments about the intelligence of those candidates who failed the exam (comments which you echoed immediately) set a disastrous example for teacher-bashing in the state.

You could demonstrate your good faith to the teachers and future teachers of Massachusetts by removing Silber and replacing him with an articulate, impassioned proponent of rational education reform. Patricia McGovern's name springs to mind. An unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, McGovern nevertheless managed to establish herself as a knowledgeable advocate for the future of education in this state. The shining moment of her campaign came in the first week of September when she challenged Silber to a debate about the Board of Education. She took the usually aggressive and articulate Silber to task with her extensive preparation and relentless questioning. I wonder if you watched that debate. If you did, you would have seen that McGovern is a logical choice to revamp the Board with a measured and cooperative approach to the job.

Also in that debate you would have seen Silber unable to answer McGovern's request for a detailed account of the massive education budget. Here is the second tangible way to emphasize your commitment to education: find out where the money went and tell us.

There's no doubt that our state's schools need to be rebuilt, that we need smaller classes and therefore more teachers. But without knowing how the money is now being used, there's no way to tell if we're allocating it appropriately. I'd also like to know how much money was spent in administering the teacher test, the accuracy and fairness of which even many passing students called into question.

Of course, it's clear that I was disappointed by Harshbarger's close defeat Tuesday night. I think he is the better man for the job and would have been a stronger advocate for the people of Massachusetts. I worry that your relative inattention to education--save a few soundbites spent teacher-bashing--will continue into your new administration. But you gave me some hope when in your victory speech you uttered the following line: "Teaching is the most important job there is." If you really believe that, prove it to the 50 percent of voters who chose you--and the 50 percent who didn't.

Susannah B. Tobin '00 is a classics concentrator in Lowell House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.