First-time candidate and stay-at-home mom Jennifer Townsend-Ahearn pulled out on top by about 5,000 votes in Tuesday night’s election for School Committee. With 35 percent of the vote, Ahearn cruised to a victory for one of the two at-large seats.
Patrick Maloney, a current School Committee member who, unlike his fellow incumbent Chris Friel, sought re-election, polled 20 percent of the vote, and was upset by Karen Bachus, another newcomer who works for DCYF who earned 24 percent at the polls. David Testa, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 1 seat in 2010, also garnered about 20 percent of the vote.
So it’s Bachus and Ahearn who will take the two citywide seats come January.
“I’m very excited,” said Ahearn yesterday. “But I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.”
Ahearn, who recently returned to her home state of Rhode Island after living on the West Coast for several years, said she’s doing this for the kids. A stay-at-home mom to two children in the Warwick system, Ahearn has served on several PTAs and also the Food Advisory Committee, which works in conjunction with Sodexo to improve the nutrition of school lunches.
Ahearn believes it’s her sincerity and connection to the people that contributed to her high numbers in the polls.
Because it was her first time running for office, Ahearn said she was initially apprehensive about the outcome. But as the numbers began to come in last night, Ahearn said her feelings changed.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I really could have this,’” she said. Ahearn said she is grateful to the voters and supporters for helping her to win.
Maloney, a four-year member of the School Committee who won his first bid for the at-large seat in 2008, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the results of Tuesday’s election.
“I know I’ve done a good job for the last four years,” he said.
Maloney said the people of Warwick could look at his record over the last four years and see that he has worked hard for the schools and the children. Now he hopes that what he’s done will not be undone by those new to the committee.
“I wish them luck,” he said. “They have a lot of hard work in front of them and I hope they’re up to the task. Warwick schools deserve 110 percent from their leaders.”
Maloney said he would consider running again, either for School Committee or another elected office. For now, he plans to spend more time with his family.
David Testa, who faced the same defeat in 2010, said he’s unsure if he’ll toss his hat into the ring again.
“It was disappointing,” he said. “But it is what it is. I wish both of them the best of luck.”
Testa said Ahearn’s and Bachus’ campaign expenditures are what put them over the top at the polls. For Testa, spending a lot of money on a non-partisan School Committee seat did not seem necessary.
“But I’m not naïve,” he said.
For the victors, it’s time to prepare for January, when they’ll take their place on the committee.
Although Bachus did not return calls as of press time yesterday, she has made her main priorities clear. When asked what she believes the most important issue facing Warwick schools is, Bachus zeroed in on funding.
“State and federal government constantly bombards schools with unfunded mandates,” wrote Bachus for a special election section of the Beacon. “These mandates must end – or they must be funded by those who mandate them.”
Bachus said the system needs to be fixed, and Warwick needs to look to other sources, like awards, grants and business partnerships, as avenues for additional money.
“We cannot continue to rely on our taxpayers,” she said.
Ahearn said her focus now is on getting acclimated with the issues and how the School Committee operates. With a budget already in place, Ahearn said she would take a look at the discretionary funds the School Committee has to work with. She also wants to set up a meeting between the School Committee and the various PTAs throughout the city so the Parent Teacher Associations can communicate their questions and concerns directly to the committee members. She plans to do something similar for administrators and teachers.
“I want to bring everybody together,” she said. “We’re in this together for the kids.”
For Ahearn, making the school system stronger is all about interconnectivity and communication. She encourages those interested to contact her with their questions and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org
“I would love to hear any ideas, concerns or comments,” she said.