, Salem, MA

February 11, 2014

Our view: Walsh’s remarks were way off base

The Salem News

---- — School Committee member Brendan Walsh certainly made a statement at last week’s meeting.

Unfortunately, his “statement” — calling the Salem Education Foundation a “political action committee” and its leaders “elitist snobs” — says more about Walsh’s own character and personality than it does about the people he tried so hard to disparage.

In fact, it was an embarrassment to the Salem School Committee, an uncalled-for insult to school volunteers who have done so much for this city’s children and, quite frankly, a mean-spirited and childish rant from someone who should know better.

What’s so baffling is what sparked it — a perfectly innocuous remark made by a foundation member, who prefaced her presentation about a new program to buy books for Salem teachers with a polite welcome to the two new members of the board.

“I think this is your first official School Committee meeting,” Alexa Ogno said, “so congratulations and welcome to help leading the schools.”

That was it. That was what “appalled” Walsh and prompted his angry retort.

Clearly, this is a man who is still resentful that he came in second, not first, in the School Committee election last fall, and angry that two of his former colleagues were replaced in that election. Apparently, he takes it personally.

Because somehow he twisted that polite remark in his own mind and interpreted it as some kind of a taunt about the election. A week later, in a written statement he read aloud, he accused the foundation of coming to the meeting not to introduce their new book-buying program, but “to congratulate two of my colleagues on their success in last November’s election and to express the foundation’s delight in their presence on this committee.”

And he didn’t stop there, going on to the accuse the foundation of being a “political action committee.”

That, of course, is patently untrue.

The Salem Education Foundation is made up mostly of parents, but also of some business and community members, who volunteer their time to raise money for the schools, providing enrichment materials and seed money for programs that can’t be funded in the regular school budget. In the past 20 years, they have raised more than $500,000 for the schools, for everything from musical instruments to a program to prevent bullying.

They have also published a school newsletter, in both English and Spanish, and hosted several candidate forums leading into the election. But the organization is nonpartisan, has not endorsed or promoted any candidates for the school board and does not raise money for political causes or candidates. Membership is open to anyone in the city who cares about the schools.

Of course, Patrick Schultz, one of the two new School Committee members, is a former officer of the foundation, and Walsh probably suspects that others in the group voted for Schultz last fall. He may be right. They may also have voted for Walsh. Either way, that’s OK; they don’t have to give up their rights as citizens in order to join a civic group, and the group itself has welcomed members of every political persuasion without getting involved in partisan politics.

Rather than childish name-calling in the aftermath of the election, Walsh would have done better to set an example for the city’s schoolchildren by being gracious and polite himself. There’s nothing “elitist” or “snobbish” about that.