Podcast: Haverhill Mayor Barrett Brings Listeners Behind the Scenes on School Decisions

Haverhill Mayor Melinda E. Barrett. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News.)

In a wide-ranging interview with WHAV this week, Haverhill Mayor Melinda E. Barrett took listeners behind the scenes on recent moves affecting the futures of both the “big” and “little” Whittier schools.

Barrett, in her fourth month working out of the corner office at City Hall, took some time Wednesday to appear on WHAV’s “Win for Breakfast” program. The mayor said she spoke with Gov. Maura T. Healey recently as plans took shape to explore a shared campus for Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School and Northern Essex Community College.

“So, the idea would be to build a Whittier Vo-Tech and align it with NECCO so they could capture some different dollars rather than just the 11 communities relying on (Massachusetts School Building Authority) and their own tax levy capacities. This would open up even more grant opportunities, some federal funding, take advantage of job training monies that might be out there from both the state and federal government to try to reduce the cost to the communities and produce a school that will produce workers for the future,” she said.

During January’s vote of Whittier Tech communities, only Haverhill supported plans for a $445 million replacement school.

As WHAV reported first, Barrett recently met with other communities and made clear the city’s opposition to reopening the 1967 Whittier Tech agreement.

“I don’t know the motivation behind the other communities as far as how they feel. We had a meeting last week with all 11 communities and many of them want to open up the charter and basically shift the cost burden to Haverhill more than it already is. I told them I would not approve opening the charter due to that fact.  I won’t vote for that. When I did tell them that, one of the town managers from a different community said ‘Of course you wouldn’t. If I were in your shoes I wouldn’t either.’”

The mayor also related the backstory about how the John C. Tilton School came to be considered as part of the replacement of the John Greenleaf Whittier School on Concord Street.

“When they came to tour, I guess last year at some point, they toured the J. G. Whittier and they also looked at the Tilton. Initially, we only put in for the J. G. Whittier, and they let us know that if we wanted to consider a combined school, similar to what (Caleb Dustin) Hunking is, that we would have to put in a statement of interest for Tilton also, so that they could, in their concept, consider doing a combined school. Without our application for Tilton, they would not have considered it,” Barrett explained.

She said the J.G. Whittier middle school application has already been accepted by the state, but she doesn’t have a timeline for the Tilton application.

The mayor also previewed a lead hazard reduction grant the city received which she called, a “whopper.” It will, in part, benefit families in older housing.

Besides WHAV.net, WHAV’s “Merrimack Valley Newsmakers” podcasts are available via Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeart, Google Podcasts, TuneIn and Alexa.

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