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Official Who Suspended Teachers Failed English Fluency Test 3 Times Embattled School Chief Won't Be Fired Mid-Year, State Official Says
Official Who Suspended Teachers Failed English Fluency Test 3 Times
by Elizabeth Mehren
August 6, 2003
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- When two dozen teachers here failed a required English fluency examination, the superintendent of this state's most troubled school system placed them on unpaid administrative leave.
Now it turns out that Supt. Wilfredo Laboy three times flunked a mandatory Massachusetts teacher certification test.
Laboy did not return calls Tuesday, but the disclosure has sparked outrage among many state educators. The governor and commissioner of education, however, have rallied to support Laboy.
"I'm not sure the superintendent of schools is in the same level of importance to me in terms of English skills as are the teachers in the classroom teaching our kids," Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, said at his Monday news conference.
Romney strongly backed a state ballot question last fall calling for English-immersion programs in schools. The measure passed, and the English fluency test for teachers was introduced as a result.
But Steve Crawford, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, on Tuesday fired back, saying: "It is the height of arrogance for Gov. Romney to suggest that school department leaders may meet a lesser standard than the teachers and students they are expected to lead."
All teachers and public school administrators in Massachusetts have been required since 1998 to pass a test that measures communications skills and literacy.
The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune newspaper revealed Sunday that Laboy has taken and failed the exam three times in three years.
Laboy, who has refused to comment on the controversy since the article was published, earlier told the newspaper that he was handicapped in taking the test because English is his second language.
"It bothers me because I'm trying to understand the congruence of what I do here every day and this stupid test," the newspaper quoted Laboy as saying.
"I didn't meet the bar," the superintendent -- a native of Puerto Rico -- said in the article. "But I think honestly and truly that it has no relevancy to what I do every day. The fruits of my labor speak greater than not passing a test."
Laboy, 52, has headed the 13,800-student Lawrence school system for three years. He came to the struggling industrial city north of Boston from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was assistant school superintendent.
Laboy last week received a 3% pay increase. His $156,560 annual salary makes him the highest-paid public employee in Lawrence.
"Honestly, this is why I'm glad I didn't go to high school here," said Clara Morel, 22, a Lawrence native who attended private school on scholarship. Morel said her younger sister consulted her high school guidance counselor in Lawrence when she was having problems not long ago and was told she should just drop out.
Lawrence schools for years have been plagued by financial woes and low achievement. The state Board of Education has discussed placing the Lawrence system under state administration.
The exam the 24 Lawrence teachers failed was introduced in the spring as a measure of English proficiency for bilingual instructors. The exam is administered orally.
The teachers have passed the written certification test that Laboy failed, according to Crawford.
"These are teachers with 18, 20 years of service, some of them, to kids in the most troubled school system in Massachusetts," he said.
"Fair is fair," Crawford went on. "The teachers who have been suspended should be given the same number of opportunities to pass a new test that the superintendent has been given to pass a test that has been on the books for the last five years."
Massachusetts Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll stressed Tuesday that Laboy passed "all but the writing portion" of the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure.
"This test is not easy, particularly for someone whose first language is not English," the commissioner said.
Laboy will have two more opportunities to take the exam before the end of the year, said Department of Education spokeswoman Kimberly Beck.
Shawn Feddeman, press secretary to Romney, said Tuesday that the governor "thinks very highly" of Laboy.
But, said Feddeman, "he certainly expects the superintendent to pass the test."
Embattled School Chief Won't Be Fired Mid-Year, State Official Says
By KEN MAGUIRE
August 13, 2003
BOSTON (AP) - Lawrence superintendent Wilfredo T. Laboy's job is safe through next spring even if he continues to fail a state-mandated English literacy test, a top state education official said Wednesday.
Officials are sticking to their year-end deadline for Laboy to pass the test, which he has failed three times, and could begin searching for a replacement then, but are unlikely to fire him in December or January, Board of Education Chairman James Peyser said.
"Creating a vacancy in the superintendency in the middle of the year does not strike me as a smart thing to do," Peyser said. "But if we get to that point and he still hasn't gotten over this hurdle, we are probably going to find ourselves searching for alternatives."
Laboy, whose first language is Spanish, is the only current superintendent who has failed the Communications and Literacy Skills Test, which all educators must pass before being licensed by the state.
The exam measures basic reading and writing skills. There are two tests scheduled, Sept. 13 and Nov. 22, before the end of the calendar year.
The state helps run Lawrence Public Schools through a 1998 partnership agreement, which the Board of Education recently renewed through 2005.
Replacing Laboy mid-year would only hurt the system, Peyser said.
"We need to keep foremost in our minds the best interest of the district and the students in it," he said.
Laboy, 52, has drawn national attention since The Eagle-Tribune newspaper disclosed that he failed the test three times. He said he believed when he was recruited from New York City Public Schools three years ago that he didn't have to take the test.
A waiver had exempted Laboy from taking the test immediately after he was hired.
Laboy, who did not return calls to comment, has struggled on a section requiring test-takers to transcribe a passage read over an audiotape, using proper punctuation and spelling.
Earlier this summer, Laboy put 24 bilingual education teachers on unpaid leave because they failed a different English test, which has been required since voters passed a law last fall requiring English-only classrooms.
Laboy receives a 3 percent pay hike this month that will raise his salary to $156,560.
Laboy, who moved to New York City from Puerto Rico when he was 6 years old, has said he plans to recruit teachers to tutor him for the exam. School Committee member Amy C. McGovern said Laboy should pay for private tutoring.