Few positions on the ballot get less voter attention than those for School Committee.
This has always been a mystery to us, for the committee plays a powerful role and, all things considered, members have a greater impact on the community and taxes than the council does. Consider this – the committee has five members (versus nine on the council), they serve four, not two, years and they control more than 60 percent of the city budget. More importantly, they set the course for our schools and, in the process, form the mold for our future. Good schools are a community asset. It is a reason why people want to live here, which has a direct correlation to property values. Apart from what good schools can mean to individual enrichment and achievement, which is critical, they also serve to attract businesses and, in that process, create jobs.
Somehow, the electorate either doesn’t see or appreciate this. Few people know their School Committee members.
For years, until the Board of Canvassers went to a lottery system, committee candidates were listed alphabetically on the ballot, and the odds of being elected were greatly enhanced by being on top of that list. The same holds true today, although candidates are not listed alphabetically unless the lottery turned out that way.
This year, four candidates are vying for two at-large seats.
One is an incumbent, Patrick Maloney, who is looking to be re-elected to his second four-year term. Of the other three, two are running for their first time, Karen Bachus and Jennifer Ahearn. The third, David Testa, ran unsuccessfully for a district seat two years ago and is now in it for a citywide seat.
We also note that three candidates – Maloney, Testa and Ahearn – have students in the system, an important asset, in our book, for someone looked upon to set policy and the course for Warwick schools.
The campaign has been low-key thus far. There have been some letters in support of various candidates, but otherwise no press releases, or for that matter, position papers. Signs, advertising and some door-to-door campaigning have been the extent of most efforts.
We did get to see and hear the candidates in a recent forum hosted by this paper where they were asked questions by a panel of three high school students – one from each of the city’s public high schools – and Beacon reporter Kim Kalunian.
We came away from that forum both buoyed and troubled.
Foremost, all four candidates illustrated a knowledge of the issues facing Warwick schools and a zeal to engage in the process of solving problems and setting a course for the future. That’s good. What troubled us was Mr. Maloney’s response to a question raised by Vets High senior Bianca Coppelli over the status of Superintendent Peter Horoschak, who has been placed on paid administrative leave. Maloney deemed the question “inappropriate” because it is a personnel matter and for legal reasons can’t be publicly discussed.
What blather. Certainly taxpayers should know why the committee continues to pay Mr. Horoschak while telling him not to set foot on school property. Moreover, Mr. Maloney’s answer is reflective of an attitude that the committee is above question and need not answer to the public, even though he has espoused greater communication and transparency.
Because of this, our choices are Ms. Ahearn and Mr. Testa. Though Ms. Bachus showed the vim and vigor of a natural leader at our School Committee forum, she doesn’t have children. Ahearn, Maloney and Testa do have children in Warwick schools and that’s an important component. With what they bring to the table, we think Ahearn and Testa will best serve the interests of the entire school community, while not losing sight of the even larger base of citizens they would represent.