BROCKTON, MASS. (WHDH) - Brockton’s public schools superintendent opened up on Friday, answering questions on the same day that officials voted unanimously in favor of an independent, external audit and investigation into a $14 million budget deficit impacting city schools.
Superintendent Mike Thomas said he takes responsibility, admitting he spent too much money on staffing, safety and transportation. Also growing emotional at times, Thomas defended the decisions he made.
“I made decisions I needed to make and you have to make them fast sometimes to keep people safe,” Thomas told 7NEWS. “And, again, that caused the overspending.”
“I’m guilty of keeping too many staff members, doing what I thought was right to help kids recover from COVID and provide them the support that they needed and support our staff,” Thomas said.
Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan announced the deficit Thursday night after a four-hour closed-door meeting with school committee members.
“I am extremely dismayed, collectively we’re all dismayed by the situation and we are committed to ensuring that we will rectify the situation, appoint new leadership and move forward,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan’s announcement, in turn, came a day after a spokesperson for the Brockton Public Schools said Thomas informed the school committee that he needed to take an extended medical leave.
“I have some medical issues I’m dealing with and hopefully they’ll be settled soon,” Thomas said on Friday.
Asked if he will come back, Thomas replied.
“We’ll have to talk about that but I can’t discuss that now,” he said.
With his leave and the announcement of a deficit coinciding, Thomas said he knows rumors are swirling.
Asked if any allegations of wrongdoing make sense to him, Thomas answered “Not at all.”
“That’s laughable, actually, absolutely laughable,” he said. “Anybody that knows me knows my character and everything I do, I do for the kids and the staff.”
Along with being superintendent for the past four years, Thomas also holds the role of Brockton High School principal.
“I’ve given my heart and soul to Brockton,” he said. “This is my 31st year and there’s nothing more important than those kids and the staff that works for them.”
Sullivan said Thomas did not attend Thursday night’s closed-door meeting.
A day later, school and city officials met Friday afternoon for another meeting in which school committee members decided to hire an independent investigator to look into the 2023 budget and determine what went wrong.
Thomas said he welcomes an investigation.
“I’m not apologizing for anything that I did wrong,” Thomas said. “…You make decisions quickly but, no, I’m not apologizing because there was nothing stolen, there’s nothing wrong. Everything was spent towards kids.”
In addition to the independent investigator, school committee members voted to appoint Dr. James Cobbs as an acting superintendent.
Cobbs has been working in education since 2001, according to a biography shared by a Brockton Public Schools spokesperson, serving in various roles in the Brockton Public Schools since 2013. He was most recently named the district’s deputy superintendent of operations in 2022.
Outside his education career, Cobbs is a military veteran, having served in various roles including time as an executive officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. Cobbs has also spent time as a nursing home executive director, according to his biography.
School is still slated to start in Brockton on Wednesday of next week. In the meantime, students shared their reaction to this week’s news.
“No one’s really sure what’s going to happen because we’re not given any information,” said student Isabela Katzki.
Though they met publicly on Friday, officials did not answer questions from the public and did not allow parents or teachers to speak, leaving many frustrated.
“What has it been spent on?” said parent Nancy Demacedo-Fernendes. “Where did it go? No explanation. No nothing.”
Following an executive session meeting, Sullivan read a new statement from the city, saying “The independent audit will help us better understand the unbudgeted expenses.”
Now moving forward, parents said they plan to be back next Wednesday when they’ve been told they will have a chance to speak at a public session.
“This is BS,” said parent Nair Fontes. “Brockton needs a better answer than this.”
Sullivan said the new acting superintendent, Cobbs, will work to choose a new high school principal.
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