By SCOTT MERZBACH
Friday, March 12, 2010
AMHERST - From the Proposition 2½ tax-cap override to the search for a new school superintendent, the five candidates for two seats on the School Committee discussed a wide range of issues at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters Thursday night.
Incumbent Kathleen Anderson is joined by Ernest Dalkas, Richard Hood, Vincent O'Connor and Rob Spence on the ballot in the only contested race on the March 23 election ballot.
Anderson, of 19 Deepwoods Drive, said she would not take a formal position on the $1.68 million override, noting that the schools would like to have the additional revenue, but that she appreciates raising property taxes could pose hardships for some.
"What I want to say is we need the money," Anderson said. "We need the money."
Anderson said she comes from a family of educators that places a high value on the process of schooling.
She said a School Committee member's essential characteristic is being able to see the big picture and having a calm demeanor. "Engaging with people requires a lot of patience," Anderson said.
With the need for a new superintendent after the departure of Alberto Rodriguez, Anderson said a national search would be a priority so that a fresh set of eyes could examine the district.
Dalkas, of 170 E. Hadley Road, said he strongly supports the override. "If you look at the schools, you look at what's being cut," Dalkas said.
Dalkas said he is concerned about the loss of intervention programs and physical education classes.
He comes from a working class family in Holyoke and is a disabled veteran, having served a tour of duty as a Marine.
As a School Committee member, he said there is a need to hear what townspeople have to say. "I feel I have a strong ability to listen," Dalkas said. "I've bridged the gap in many areas of my life."
Dalkas said he wouldn't rule out an internal search for a superintendent, noting that there are likely to be qualified candidates who could step up from within.
Hood, of 69 S. Pleasant St., said passing the override is necessary for the functioning of the schools. "I do support changes in the schools, but I don't want the administration to use the excuse that they don't have the money," Hood said.
Hood came to Amherst in 2001, moving his family to be part of the school system. He said he has a passion to bring people together through collaboration to work toward a common goal.
"The process in which we reach decisions is more important than the decision, in some ways," Hood said.
He said he would likely support a national search for a new superintendent.
O'Connor, of 179 Summer St., Unit 1, said he got into the race because of the override and hopes to push for the University of Massachusetts and the other colleges to lend more support to the town and its schools.
"I'm for it, and I'm going to speak out for it," O'Connor said.
A 36-year resident of Amherst, O'Connor said he believes good programs are being sacrificed and that class sizes will increase too much without the override.
O'Connor said he wants to treat public and parent concerns with respect. "Had that been done, the outcome of the Chinese immersion school, and the founding of that school, might be different," O'Connor said.
O'Connor would not go out for a superintendent search right away, saying the dust needs to settle because having a superintendent stay for only eight months reflects poorly on Amherst.
Spence, of 16 Bayberry Lane, said he isn't taking a position on the override, noting that he supported the School Committee's idea of simply presenting cuts that will be made. "I really think it's up the voters to decide."
Spence, who works in the emergency room at Wing Memorial Hospital in Palmer, said he moved to Amherst in 2004 for its strong public schools.
As a School Committee member, he hopes to be an effective communicator, a deliberate decision maker, and "to work collaboratively as leaders and team leaders," Spence said.
In replacing Rodriguez, Spence said a search should be done far and wide so Amherst can land a transformational person to lead the schools. "I think we need top talent," Spence said.
No other contested elections appear on the election ballot, but two newcomers are running for seats on the Select Board and board of library trustees.
Jim Wald of 454 Old Montague Road is running for one of the two open seats on the Select Board, along with incumbent Alisa Brewer of 5 Fairfield St.
"My goal is to guide Amherst toward a more sustainable future," Wald said.
A former chairman of the Comprehensive Planning Committee, Wald said residents should know what services are being lost if the override doesn't pass. He added that he supports economic development in the context of the master plan.
Emily Lewis of 15 Salem Place is seeking a three-year term on the trustees, joining incumbent Kathy Wang of 11 Dickinson St.
Lewis said she wants to maintain the Jones Library and the branch libraries as the heart of the community.
"They're a wonderful resource, a home away from home," Lewis said.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.