Five candidates have tossed their hats into the ring for two at-large School Committee seats. Karen Bachus, David Testa, Jennifer Townsend Ahearn, Patrick Maloney Jr. and Louis Costa all have until Friday at 4 p.m. to get 50 signatures and thus ensure their names end up on the ballot.
The two current at-large committee members are Christopher Friel, who will not seek re-election, and Maloney, who will be running for a second time.
Maloney was first elected in 2008, and said in his time on the committee, he has received calls and emails from people all over the city. He prides himself in staying connected to the constituents he represents.
Maloney said he was a strong advocate for maintaining the ALAP program during the recent discussion over whether or not to cut the advanced learning program.
“I was the ALAP PTA president,” he said.
Maloney said he ran for committee the first time because he saw an exciting opportunity to get more involved in the public education system in Warwick. Maloney is the father of three girls in the Warwick public elementary and junior high schools.
“My kids, and everybody else’s, are the reason I ran,” he said.
Maloney said when he first got elected to the School Committee, the school department faced a $3 million deficit.
“I didn’t want education to be affected because someone wasn’t doing their job,” he said.
Maloney said during his time on the committee he helped to close the deficit while making sure taxes did not rise due to school expenses.
As for his own campaign budget, Maloney said he does not plan to have any fundraisers for his campaign.
“I don’t want to take money out of anyone’s pocket,” he said.
Maloney describes himself as forward thinking, and has become known as the technology guru on the committee. Maloney owns Dr. Desktop and the community gaming center, Game On.
Aside from his advocacy for advanced learning and increased technology in the schools, Maloney said he’s good at keeping his promises.
“I’ve done everything I said I would do in 2008,” he said.
Maloney is a fan of fellow candidate David Testa, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 1 seat in 2010.
Testa, a Cranston native who was educated in the public schools, now serves on the PTAs at John Brown Francis Elementary, Aldrich Junior High and Pilgrim High Schools. In 2009, Testa was named the chair of the Parent Communication Advisory Committee, a group that formed in 2008 for parents to have a public forum in which to voice their opinions.
“I’ve always been aware of what’s going on in city schools,” he said.
Testa is a senior buyer at Perkins, Inc. and said his employment in the private sector makes him great with negotiations.
“I’m a parent and taxpayer,” he said, noting that his main focus will be on state and federal mandates, managing the local budget and ensuring programs aren’t cut further.
Testa said he did fairly well during his campaign in 2010, and received a favorable response from his district. This year, he plans to act as a “one-man band,” knocking on doors and meeting people, especially those who live outside the bounds of District 1.
So what will Testa tell those who may not know him?
“I’m responsible, and knowledgeable of the business side,” he said. “I know how to get things done.”
Testa said he’s also an advocate for the kids, and a firm believer that rational people sitting around a table can get things done.
“Someone’s school system has to be the greatest, why not ours?” he said.
Two women have also entered the race: Karen Bachus and Jennifer Townsend Ahearn.
Karen Bachus said she had been thinking about running for a while. She currently works as a child protective investigator for the state, and has always had a passion for the welfare of children. Before pursuing her current career path, Bachus studied in college to be an English teacher. She has never held public office before but said her skills and passion for education make her a great candidate for School Committee.
It was the cutbacks, specifically the discontinuation of the marine science program that prompted Bachus to spring into action and file to run this year.
“That upset me,” she said of the marine science cut. “This is Rhode Island.”
Bachus said she is a product of both private and parochial schools, but said she worries about the threat charter schools pose to the public school system.
“Every time we loose a student in Warwick to a charter school, we loose $12,600 a year,” she said, citing that the school department pays $9,300 for students and the state tosses in an additional $3,300. “If we lose 100 kids, that’s upwards of $1 million.”
Bachus said she plans to get out into the community to let people know what she stands for.
“Education has to be about the kids and it has to be strong and well supported,” she said. “It’s about providing the best education we can. I want to be a part of making that happen.”
In addition to Bachus, Jennifer Townsend Ahearn, a Warwick native who recently returned to her hometown from the West Coast, will be vying for a seat.
Ahearn attended public schools throughout her educational career, and now has two children in the Warwick public school system. Previously, Ahearn worked in pharmaceuticals but is now a stay-at-home mom. She served as vice president for her children’s school’s PTA, and is currently on the Food Advisory Committee, which works with Sodexo to plan healthy school lunches.
“I’m all about the kids,” said Ahearn. “I want them to have the best available resources.”
Ahearn is an advocate of long-term education initiatives, “just not short-term … what we’ve been granted funds for” programs,” she said.
Ahearn feels that there needs to be better administrative support for newly implemented programs. She’s also a strong proponent of science and math education.
“That’s how we’re moving forward,” she said.
Although Ahearn has her own set of goals and ideas, she said she will always keep an open mind.
“At the end of the day, I’m not going to rule anything out too quickly,” she said.
Ahearn plans to reconnect with old friends throughout Warwick to help spread the word of her candidacy and her platforms. But her bottom line is simple: “I’m a mom; I’m there; I’m invested.”
Louis Costa, who filed for School Committee only a few minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline on June 27, is the fifth and final candidate in the running, though there is speculation he may not continue his campaign. Calls to Costa were not returned as of press time, and the Board of Canvassers confirmed that he had not filed papers yet, though he does have until Friday at 4 p.m. to do so.
Should all five candidates qualify, they will face off in the Sept. 11 primary. The four candidates with the most votes will be listed on the November ballot.