Staging a Comeback to School At-large: Jimmy Ferrera…
This post is the third of several profiles of Springfield at-large School Committee candidates.
Springfield is no stranger to political comebacks. Candidates for office up and down the ballot have returned to office after defeats, both honorable and humiliating. While those comebacks happen, timing is everything. For Jimmy Ferrera, who was defeated for reelection to the City Council four years ago, an open School Committee seat may be the break he needs.
Ferrera’s time on the Council was, at times, tempestuous as was his last campaign. This time, he appears to be flying under the radar to snag the open at-large School Committee Norman Roldan is vacating. The pitch is his esteem for public school tutors who aided his own education—he formally attended parochial schools—and the importance of schools in neighborhoods.
Public school teachers, he continued, helped him overcome a learning disability. “If it wasn’t for their dedication and willingness to help me learn, I never would have had the opportunity to graduate from high school, college or even serve on the City Council.”
Some stars have aligned for Ferrera’s comeback. He placed second in the September 19 preliminary behind incumbent Denise Hurst. His family has had deep ties to labor and several unions have come out for him. He has raised enough money to go on TV twice—both before the preliminary and the general.
At the same time, Ferrera’s time on the Council was rocky, as a recent Republican article recalled. The media, this blog included, did not hide their criticism under a bushel. Ryan Hess and LaTonia Monroe Naylor, the other challengers in the at-large School Committee race, have potent support and could leapfrog him on Tuesday.
In an interview last week at an area Starbucks, Ferrera was unrepentant about his Council tenure, attributing his loss to not working hard enough. He chose the School Committee race after hearing of Roldan’s retirement. Though City Council seats were open, he passed, he said, to give others a chance on the Council.
Though he attended the former Holy Name and Cathedral High schools and has no children, Ferrera argued public education played a big role in his life, helping him overcome dyslexia.
Ferrera said his family could not afford private tutoring. They instead developed an individual educational plan through the public schools. He attended a program a Duggan for much of his primary and secondary education and credits teachers there with changing his life. The former councilor went on to college and worked at Marcotte Ford and now the state courts.
As far as platform is concerned, Ferrera spoke in broad terms about the importance of education. He did answer questions about policy confronting or emanating from the other contenders.
Discussing parental engagement, he talked about involving parents directly in the activities in the classroom and in afterschool programs. But he also recommended deploying the School Department’s resources into the community.
“Another area which I think is critically important, just like we do with the City Council,” Ferrera explained, “is bringing the resources of the central office, the School Department to the neighborhoods.” One way would be town halls.
School Committee budgeting is of a different kind than the City Council’s. Under state law, the mayor submits the budget and the Council reviews it. The body can then make cuts to spending not required by contracts or state and federal mandates. The legal and contractual rules apply to the School Committee which oversees the 2/3 of the budget dedicated to schools. However, the School Committee is the author of the schools’ spending plan. The mayor is just another vote on the seven-member panel.
Ferrera said his budget experiences from the Council would be helpful. Reviewing line items and an awareness of the relationship between the school and non-school side of the budget—one side of the budget often funds lines on the other side—could relate to the School Department’s fiscal duties.
Asked about the school to prison pipeline, Ferrera stated his belief in second chances and related deepening concerns about seeing more younger offenders.
Though he drew on several things, his campaign leans on his time as a councilor. He served seven years starting in 2007, the last two years as Council president. Justin Hurst’s 2013 surge squeezed Ferrera into sixth in the five-seat at-large race. Ferrera frequently allied with now-outgoing at-large Councilor Bud Williams on votes and has developed other relationships as well.
Then-Councilor Angelo Puppolo’s resignation to join the state House of Representatives originally granted Ferrera his seat. As the 10th place finisher in the 2005 election, Ferrera filled the vacancy.
“He is dedicated and cares about Springfield and its future,” Puppolo said in an email. “He will work hard and do what’s best for Springfield’s students and teachers,” he continued adding Ferrera’s compassion and background were a good fit.
“I believe that every member of the city council is very passionate about the city. They all have the city’s best interests at heart,” he said. “I truly believe that. The people I served with on the City Council, I believe contribute in various ways and talents to the city.
Ferrera painted the disagreements as just part of politics. Indeed, reflecting on the arc of his political career, Ferrera attributed the bumpier parts to politics and simple differences of opinion.
Consequently, for him, this race is similar to those for Council. It takes door-knocking and reaching out to the whole spectrum of the city’s neighborhoods.
In that sense, Ferrera has a roadmap for electoral success, one that did well by him in the preliminary. However, School Committee members are not generalists. The office requires nothing more than citizenship unlike Attorney General—for which you must be a lawyer.
“My decision was strictly based on I thought I could lend best help by being a member of the School Committee,” Ferrera said.
Yet, there is a pattern among of his rivals in the race. They have or will have children in the schools or attended the schools themselves. Others have career backgrounds in social work (Hurst), finance (Hess), education grants (Naylor), or teaching (several aspirants who didn’t survive the primary).
If voters are skeptical of his background, he will have to convince them otherwise by Tuesday to win. On the trail, he has praised public educators and points to their support of his campaign.
“I know Jim,” Philip Mantoni, a former principal, says on a piece of Ferrera’s literature. “He will be an outspoken advocate for our public schools.”