Guest columnist Patrick O’Connor: Officials paid handsomely, yet poor kids can’t get bus to school

  • Holyoke City Hall FILE PHOTO

Published: 9/11/2023 6:21:24 PM

While Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia claims the city cannot afford to bus children through an unsafe area, school administrators and city officials continue to get paid handsomely. 

Just take a moment to look at some of these top 2022 school salaries, as reported by the city of Holyoke:

Assistant Superintendent Stephen Mahoney gets paid $167,978.

Chief of Strategy and Turnaround Erin Linville, who works remotely out of state, gets paid $164,792.

Executive Director of School Leadership Jaqueline Lashine, $147,662.

Chief of Pupil Services Marrianne Currier, $145,438.

Chief Financial Officer Michael Buhl, $134,443.

These are just a few of the top salaries. Thirty-seven more school officials are paid more than $100,000 a year. For example, our school superintendent, Anthony Soto, gets $209,000 a year with salary increases built into his contract.

Ironically, while students are told to walk through dangerous areas because of a lack of funds, Holyoke’s Director of School Transportation Rebecca Lamb gets paid $93,845.

And let’s not even start with how much money Holyoke police officials are taking from our taxes, with 10 police officers making more than $100,000 a year before overtime which, for some, reaches more than $100 an hour. With overtime, eight officers earned more than $200,000 a year in 2020.

Meanwhile, the most needy children in our city can’t get a bus to school. It is a crime.

Whether these salaries are paid for by local, state or federal funds does not matter. This, of course, is the argument officials will give to deflect responsibility: “We’re not responsible for those salaries,” they say with a shrug. As if that excuse absolves them.

It doesn’t.

They are our leaders and should find ways to care for our children when the simple fact is the money is there. Our leaders need to prioritize our children and fight for them, not make up lame excuses. They need to have some guts.

Yet, they don’t prioritize all of our children, especially the ones suffering in poverty. We saw this when Holyoke taxpayers refused to pay a little extra a year to build new public schools.

Now, children living in Lyman Terrace Apartments, which is an affordable housing neighborhood in downtown, are being forced to walk a dangerous path to school because, as Garcia said, the city has budget constraints.

Such children were receiving bus transportation to school because construction on a nearby bridge blocked their way.

Yet, the construction was recently completed, and Lyman Terrace falls under the mile marker for walkers, meaning elementary school students now must get a ride or walk the 0.7-mile route.

On the route, students walk alongside two busy roads, which have both residential and commercial traffic. They pass over two canals, one where a young man drowned several years back when he fell from a nearby train trestle into the water.

All around this area are towering mills, some abandoned with open windows, that children, including kindergartners, will have to walk by to reach the school.

Parents have begged city leaders to make an exception considering where students have to walk, including a road that runs alongside unfenced train tracks where Amtrak trains pass at high speeds.

Yet, city leaders, including our mayor, have said the budget may not allow for the expansion of transportation. Not true. The money is there. It always has been.

We just give it to people other than our children.

We choose to pay more than $100,000 year for a school administrator to work remotely out-of-state while an 8-year-old Holyoke child with special needs has to walk through an unsafe area to get to school.

That’s the truth — and it hurts us all.

Patrick O’Connor lives in Holyoke.


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