Quincy teachers say news of oil-tank leaks got out slowly

QUINCY – Teachers have joined Mayor Thomas Koch in criticizing the way word of oil tank leaks at Quincy High School was spread.

The information may have been public, but teachers should not have been forced to seek it out, Quincy Education Association President Paul Phillips said.

“The information doesn’t have to just be available, it has to be spread around,” he said. “If you just sort of hold it, and we don’t know enough to ask about something – you still feel like they’re hiding it.”

Last week, Koch raised the question of transparency after The Patriot Ledger reported that two oil tanks had been leaking for years, causing the city to incur $1.5 million in investigation and cleanup costs. That night, school committee member Elaine Dwyer called for him to publicly apologize.

She said the information “has been documented and very public for those who sought to seek it out,” pointing to a series of building committee meetings on the issue since the discovery of the leaks in March.

But Phillips said those meetings, unlike school committee meetings, are often not attended by the public.

“You have to go to a subcommittee meeting just to hear what’s going on?” he asked.

Phillips, a science teacher at Quincy High, remembers watching from the window of his third-floor classroom as oil-soaked dirt was removed.

“To the best of my knowledge, no teacher or staff member, including myself, was ever informed by anyone that a single drop of oil had leaked out of an existing oil tank while it was in the ground or upon removal,” he said.

Phillips said other union representatives at the school had similar concerns – and not just about the recent situation.

Throughout the construction, there have been disruptions and distractions – a power outage and gas fumes, for example – about which communication was lacking, he said.

School Superintendent Richard DeCristofaro acknowledged that but said things have gotten better.

“I think, in hindsight, we can, as a school system and in collaboration with the construction staff, make sure that the word gets out sooner rather than later about issues happening with the building,” he said.

The gas leak occurred in early October. Since then, there have been weekly meetings of school department heads, construction representatives and the city’s building and maintenance director.

DeCristofaro said the department heads were kept abreast of the oil tank issue at those meetings, which are used as a springboard for disseminating information.

“To my knowledge, it really appears to be an effective way to communicate with most or all of our staff,” he said.

Phillips acknowledged that officials “seem to be a little more up-front about what’s going on.”

When there was a small fire at the construction site on Thursday morning, he got a personal phone call from the superintendent, he said.


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