Candidates Night Part 3: School Committee

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Above: Dashe Videira, Meghan Whitmore, and Dave Callaghan, three of the  12 candidates vying for a seat on the School Committee.

Thursday evening, a town-sponsored event brought nearly all candidates for the Nov. 2 election to the Town Council chambers, with former Police Chief Lawrence Benedetto moderating. Due to the length of the event, reporting will be in multiple parts.

Part 3

School Committee

Introductions

Denise Spencer: Running for reelection. Grew up in Walpole. Moved to Franklin in 2017. Has 11-year-old son in public schools. Motivations are similar to two years ago. “I want to advocate for students; if reelected I will continue to provide resources for social-emotional learning.

Elise Stokes: My life always centered on public education. Product of Massachusetts public schools. Currently a senior consultant to public school districts. Have two-kids in school. Worked in field for 20 years. “I know how district operates and I know how other districts operates; I have been dedicated and involved.”

Mark Bisson: Grew up in Sudbury, have been in Franklin 8 years. Involved in leadership of fourth generation family-owned construction company as director of safety. Wife was Franklin teacher for about 15 years. until about two years ago. Oldest child just entering public school.

John McCormack: UMass Amherst degree in history and in education from UMass Boston. Children in 3rd grade and kindergarten. Worked in Everett High School, teaching diverse students. Moved back to Norwood and was hired by King Philip High School in Wrentham.

Camille Bernstein; Originally from Kentucky. Went to school in Memphis and later attended graduate school at Harvard. Have lived in Franklin for 23 years. Two kids at Annie Sullivan School. Husband teaches in Hopkinton. “I want to be an advocate for public schools.”

Dave Callaghan: Came to Franklin with wife to start a family and because of the amazing education. Has master’s degree in public administration from Framingham State. Worked in the public sector on implementing public policy.

In 2020 when Franklin issued non-renewal notice to 103 teachers, we supported our town teachers “from Stop & Shop to CVS.” That same summer we heard that 75 percent of school districts spend more per pupil than Franklin.

Dave MacNeill. Graduated Franklin High School in 2009. Works at State House. “I want to pay it forward; I can trace my path back to FHS.”

Meghan Whitmore: Lived in Franklin 20 years. Works as data center consultant in state and local public education and as a storage consultant for the Department of Defense. Have three kids in schools. “I am a trans-female; the community has been very welcoming and I currently serve on the ZBA as an associate member. I am running because I have three kids and two are on IEPs.” Mentioned that daughter is loving school and has worked up to advanced science. “I want to fight anti-science.”

Dashe Videira: Attended Bishop Feehan high school and began to develop network of connections to Franklin. Have owned property in town for 11 years. Bought first property on Cottage Street right after graduating from Bridgewater State. Had a background in schools and thought about becoming a guidance counselor. Got graduate degree in Organizational Leadership. Husband is CPA from URI. At 23 or 24 found we were having a baby

Al Charles: Have been in Franklin 12 years. I have two boys at Keller and I jumped in with both feet [to the School Committee race]. I wanted to help my kids and all kids. I don’t see Franklin coming out and supporting the policy meetings and things that support the town. “I think I can help.”

MJ Scofield: It has been an honor and privilege to serve on Committee from 1997 to 2007 and from 2015 to the present. My two step-children are FHS graduates and all successful. I am research professional in new medicines. I have also been involved with PCC, CCD and as a Scout leader. Served on the Start Time Advisory and the Davis Thayer Facilities Assessment Committee.

Jennifer D’Angelo: Currently o School Committee. A third generation Franklinite and graduate of FHS. Went to Bentley and got an undergrad degree in Finance and then an MBA from Suffolk (and additional schooling at Bridgewater State). I think I have the experience and knowledge; being involved with the community is important. When we talk about Planning, those things impact the schools, too.

Statements

Spencer: The top three critical issues are we laid off 103, the money will be gone from the Feds by FY 2024, and we are losing staff because they can make more money elsewhere. Facilities assessment report has suggested redistricting to better utilize buildings. We hear schools should be creative in addressing their problems. Special and [missed words] are priorities but are limited by our budgets. Demand for mental health services have increased over the past two years. We will be challenged. We need more interventionists. We have a responsibility. The equity audit should not just be a box. We need to expand equity and inclusion, ensuring culturally diverse hiring.

Stokes: The most important thing is we need to support staff and student to recover. We need to look closely at facilities master plan. We will need to consider retirement or renovation. Diversity, equity and inclusion are important principles; everyone needs to fee they are safe and belong.

The last town budget will need attention. Costs are doing up more than 2 percent. We will have to pick our poisons – cut or acquire additional funds. We all benefit from investing in schools, they are vital.

Bisson: I have a unique perspective. I have seen first-hand how dedicated teachers are and look forward to helping them. Parents have a right to choose what is best. Student education and health is about parents. It is important to look at the budget and work with others. My platform is simple. Reading, writing, and arithmetic. In my world, we have value engineering to see what is working.

As parents and leader, the mandates and other things we are doing aren’t part of what we should be doing. This wasn’t their burden to bear.

McCormack: We are facing a looming budget problem. Chapter 70 aid will be adjusted and it will decrease. As aid decreases, we could see a shortfall and with rising average income and property value, the state won’t swoop in to save us. We need to attract businesses and the can be attracted by schools. Currently, no policy is more important than addressing learning deficits and learning loss. We don’t want to blame teachers or students but the deficits are real. Although Franklin is high performing, we aren’t immune. I would want to see the district address this loss.

Bernstein: In past 22 y ears, role of educator has expanded. Teachers do more than deliver curriculum. Career preparation is more complex. All this takes away from the joy of teaching. I don’t like those who brag about doing more with so little. I support expanding any things, to look at rigorous budget and expanding the tax base. We have to show kids that we care about education.

I tell students I teach for selfish reasons: to make them smart

Callaghan: Franklin does provide a good education with small resources. We have asked families to pay more in user fees. Day one, I would focus on unfunded mandates which can help us gain new funding. We can go to an auditor to see the economic impact and take it to state leaders to petition to get on the budget. I also think staggered elections is a terrific concept. It would provide a more stable transfer of knowledge.

McNeill: As a legislative body, our two biggest tasks are setting policy and handling the school budget. There are pressing concerns. Some of the biggest issues are the pandemic. We need policies that keep students in schools and provide a safe environment for teachers and students and we need proper support services. Closing Davis Thayer was the right decision.

Whitmore: I think there are three important issues we need to work on. 1. With Covid, we need to protect staff and students and we know how to get that done. 2. Financing. We have gotten less and less from Chapter 70. we have benefited from this but there isn’t as much now as there used to be.  3. We need to increase local funding to keep from losing senior teachers. If we can’t retain teachers that will have a negative impact on house values.

Videira: I grew up in Foxboro. My parent had little money and a hard upbringing. Foxboro closed the Taylor School and I got bounced around from school to school; so did my siblings. Finally, my parents made a leap of faith and enrolled us in private schools. Even though it was hard for them, the did it. Here, I feel kids are looked at as dollar signs. They say they will do fine [with redistricting] and that children are resilient but that’s not true. I am sure all of us can speak of trauma from growing up.

I was interviewed by Frank Falvey and he asked me about being “for Freedom” – my slogan—and thought it sounded right wing. I think it is fascinating that freedom has gotten rebranded that way!

Charles: The purpose of the school district is to prepare students. We have been reducing services. In `09 we had language programs and library services and to meet the budget, we had to reduce. We had the Charter School come in. They found parents went to those other resources at private and charter schools because we were not providing those services. How do we bring those services back? We need to get arts, sciences and so on. The teachers are doing more than their fair share. They must meet ever-more requirement and we must ensure they have the resources.

Scofield: School budget has been an issue for years. Franklin has been fortunate to receive tremendous state aid, due to current and former state legislator. Some 85 percent is salary and healthcare; 15 is out-of-district tuition. There isn’t much wiggle room but the fabulous central office team helps.

The decrease in enrollment is factual but misleading. We have much to think about. The town charter changed how committees are elected back in 1995. I don’t think we need term limits but I do think it is time to look at term lengths. This is the second election where a new committee could be 7 new members.

D’Angelo: I want to clarify our policy. The pink slips [in 2020] were part of our duty to notify. We took a conservative approach and pink slipped when we didn’t know about funding. Regarding funding, 50 percent comes form local 45 percent state, and 5 percent federal. We talk about our budget but it is also a town budget. We have to work collaboratively. In `09 our facilities function was moved to the town side and that created an opportunity for us to reduce costs.

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