Williamstown School Candidates Say They'll Listen
Williamstown School Committee candidates Huff Templeton, left, and Valerie Hall; moderator Anne Skinner; McCann School Committee candidates James R. Gazzaniga Sr. and Daniel H. Collyer.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Candidates hoping to represent voters on two school boards pledged to do their best to maintain their school's excellence and listen the community.
Four of the candidates spoke at Wednesday's forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters; the fifth, Williamstown School Committee incumbent Margaret A. McComish, was represented by her husband, Magnus Bernhardsson.
McComish is running for re-election to one of two three-year seats on the Williamstown School Committee against newcomers Huff T. Templeton III and Valerie A. Hall.
McComish, who works in the Williams College Development Office, was away at a conference she'd committed to sometime before. Bernhardsson read a statement from her that expressed her desire to run for a second term and some of major events that had occurred during her past term, such as allowing the Youth Center to build on school land and the merger of Williamstown and Lanesborough into a new school union.
Daniel H. Collyer
James R. Gazzaniga
She has two children in the school, a third-grader and a sixth-grader, is currently vice chairman of the committee and served on the supervisory union, endowment and long-range planning committees. She and her family moved to Williamstown in 2003.
As former financial attorney, she stated, "I believe I am well equipped to continue to plan strategically for the future and to tackle the current challenges facing the school, such as declining revenues, declining enrollment and increasing costs."
Bernhardsson said McComish was looking forward to the opportunity of serving three more years. Any questions on her stance on issues can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Templeton is a local entrepreneur and owner of Ephporium on Spring Street and a health club in Bennington, Vt. He has two children in the school, a fourth-grader and a sixth-grader and moved to Williamstown in 2002. He has served on the long-range planning committee and as president of the Parental Advisory Council.
He said his two degrees in business and background in creating a volunteer organization and his two years developing computer-based training in the 1990s would be valuable to the committee.
"I've grown to really love Williamstown Elementary School and I've been impressed with everyone I've met there," he said. "My motivation for running is really to help improve it from where we are and have an opportunity to not only be a great elementary, which we already are, but be a world class elementary school."
Valerie Hall is currently a stay-at-home mom, also with two children in the school, who moved here with her family in 2001. She holds bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering and formerly designed communications satellites.
A member of the PTO, she served as president and vice president. She has volunteered with a number of school activities, including the sixth-grade yearbook, and regularly volunteers in her children's classrooms.
"I am devoted to keeping our school on the right track while facing these tough budget times. Our enrollment has been declining, our budget is level-funded, while fixed costs are increasing," she said. "The school as a community needs to be flexible and work together to control expenditures but hold the high standards and the essential character of our school."
Running for a 11th three-year term on the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School Committee (McCann Technical School) is James R. Gazzinaga Sr. He is being challenged by Daniel H. Collyer.
Gazzaniga is a retired Mount Greylock Regional High School guidance counselor who has resided in Williamstown for 51 years. He began his teaching career in the Williamstown schools in 1953, spent two years active duty in the Navy, then became a guidance counselor in 1961. He retired in 1990.
He's long been a strong believer in the opportunities offered by McCann's combined academic and technical curriculum and ran successfully for one of the town's two seats on the 14-person board in 1980.
"My greatest concern over the years has been the disappointing number of enrolled students from Williamstown. Currently we have 14 students attending McCann," he said. "There is one major factor contributing to this lack of interest: there is a serious misperception among adults and students regarding the strength of the academic and technical course offerings."
Collyer was on the McCann faculty for 19 years. He holds two postgraduate degrees and was special education director for the former School Union 69 and taught vocational teachers how to create programs for students with special needs. Semi-retired, he currently is a learning specialist at Berkshire Community College.
He agreed with Gazzaniga that McCann's academic strength is too often underrated. He is running to "keep an eye on these austere times of the budget and how it affects Williamstown residents."
As special education director, he said he was active in working with the school committee and the superintendent. "I believe that experience has more weight ... not only with parents but with community members in preserving what I call one of the jewels of Berkshire County."
In response to questions, the Williamstown candidates had no answers on how to stem declining enrollment.
"In my opinion, this is going to be a natural phase and will level out," Hall said, noting the reduction of teachers from four a grade to three had also meant a drop in the number of school-choice slots. "I don't think there's anything the School Committee can do about it."
Templeton thought that because of the decline, school choice should be looked at for more revenue. "We could always introduce a fourth teacher."
All the candidates agreed that the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System is here to stay.
MCAS is a very good tool, said Gazzaniga, "we shouldn't fear evaluation." Collyer said it had its uses but should not be the only measure of learning. Hall and Templeton said the concern was that too much pressure was being put on the younger children. Templeton also said there was a need to ensure that all the kids were progressing and not just passing.
In terms of curriculum, Hall thought the elementary school offers a broad curriculum but math should be reviewed, as well as continuity going into the middle grades. "We need better integration of languages," she said. "A school of the future should be offering language during the day."
Templeton said he was not convinced that high-achieving pupils were being challenged enough, and that language and technology were lacking.
"They should be exposed to comptuers every day not every third day," he said. "Multicultural communications should be added into the curriculum. That can be taught at a young age."
All four said they would listen to their constituents but noted in some cases, their and their committees' ability to effect change was limited.
"The only role [we have] is to hire and fire the superintendent, but we can give suggestions, said Gazzaniga. "But our role is greatly diminished."
"If I am on the School Committee I'd certainly be open to suggestions," said Templeton. "The climate is a bit contentious ... We're a community. We have to think like a commmunity, have to put the ideas forward no matter whose they are."
"I'm willing to listen to all sorts of opinions," said Hall, adding Facebook would be one way she'd communicate with residents. However, she said, "the board could be better articulating the answers they give."
"I think it's the job of the representative, the role of the school committee member, to get that input and give it to the whole committee body," said Collyer.
The election is set for Monday, May 11, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Williamstown Elementary School.
Williamstown Moderator Race Could Set Fiscal Policy
Candidates Richard Haley Jr., left, Ronald Turbin, moderator Anne Skinner, Frederick S. Leber and Mark S. Gold at Tuesday's candidate forum. Thomas Costley is seated at far right.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The voters will have a clear choice between financial philosophies this election when they vote for moderator.
Frederick S. Leber wants an aggressive Finance Committee; Mark S. Gold wants a balanced, thoughtful one.
Mark S. Gold
Richard Haley Jr.
Frederick S. Leber
Williamstown is one of a few towns in the state that put the composition of the Finance Committee in the hands of the town moderator. With the position now a three-year term, the winner of this year's election will have the ability to reconstitute the panel.
The two men aired their different views of the moderator's role on Wednesday night at a candidates' forum sponsored by the Williamstown League of Women Voters at Town Hall and moderated by league President Anne Skinner. Also speaking were the three candidates for the two selectmen's seats up this year: incumbents Thomas Costley and Ronald Turbin, and challenger Richard Haley Jr.
Leber and Gold are vying to fill the seat being vacated by longtime Moderator Stan Parese.
Gold, a corporate attorney with Grinnell Smitt LLP who's lived in Williamstown since 1979, sees the position as requiring a grasp of parliamentary procedure and patience to ensure that town meeting runs smoothly and efficiently. It's a tradition, he said, that previous moderators have hewed to.
"I think the moderator should be scrupulous in maintaining his or her neutrality," he said. Appointments to the Finance Committee should be "highly skilled and work diligently to be fair."
Leber, however, said he'd "appoint a Finance Committe that would be much more aggressive and confrontational than the Finance Committee has been."
"If what the town wants is a moderator who'll stand up at the next town meeting and say what a wonderful job everyone's been doing, they should not vote for me," said Leber, who also has a legal background, in finance, but came to Williamstown 10 years ago as founder of an Internet startup, Orbis Vox. He currently operates a small livery service.
He wants a Finance Committee that will not rubber-stamp budgets but will do due diligence in questioning spending, particularly spending on administrative and legal costs for the schools over instruction, set priorities and set standards of disclosure.
Gold, a former chairman of the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee, said, he'd had to go before the Finance Committee for 10 years. "I still have scars. If that was a rubber stamp they hit it pretty hard."
Both men agreed that the schools were important town functions that should be properly funded.
Among the selectmen's candidates, Costley and Turbin, both elected in 2007, said they'd learned a great deal in their three years and wanted to continue with initiatives. Haley said he wanted to represent the taxpayers and vowed he wasn't going anywhere.
"I love being a selectman," said Costley, owner of Overland, which offers adventure trips for adolescent. "It's not easy and I'm not always great at it ... But I will work hard."
He said wished he done more early on to better understand how the actions of the selectmen affect the town. He also wants to have more time to work on changing zoning to allow greater density in the commercial downtown district while preserving open space.
Turbin, retired from the New York attorney general's office, said he enjoyed working on various committees because he gets a broader perspective on the many divergent issues that town faces. "We make sure we have a very polite debate and everyone's view get heard."
Haley, a local farmer and contractor whose roots go deep in Williamstown, said he had no issues with how the others had served. Rather, he was concerned about the town's finances and their affect on taxpayers.
"We've got a monster in this town and we're feeding the monster all this money. People can't afford to live here," he said, adding the town should put a freeze on hiring and salaries. If Costley wanted more open space, then taxpayers had to get a break on their taxes, he said, or it wouldn't remain open space.
Turbin said "there are no easy answers to the commercial problems we're having" but the town manager and treasurer had "done a fine job of cutting to the bone" without sacrificing services. "We have to keep at it."
Costley said no one at Town Hall had gotten raises the year before, and very small ones this year. "Overall, the increase in the tax rate is less than 2.5 percent. ... I know there are people in town where every dollar hurts."
Haley said that wasn't enough. "I want to challenge the town to save money."
|Tags: Williamstown, moderator|
Candidate Forums Slated in Williamstown
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The League of Women Voters is sponsoring forums for candidates running for contested town offices on Tuesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28.
Both forums will be held in the Selectmen's Room at Town Hall from 7 to 8 p.m. They will be taped by Willinet for broadcast later in the week.
On Tuesday, the candidates for town moderator and the Board of Selectmen will attend. Running for a one-year term as moderator are Mark Gold and Fred Leber. The candidates running for two three-year seats on the selectman are incumbents Thomas Costley and Ronald Turbin, and challenger Richard Haley Jr.
Wednesday's forum is for candidates for the Williamstown School Committee and the McCann School Committee. Running for the Williamstown board are Valerie Hall, incumbent Margaret McComish and Huff Templeton. Running to represent the town on the vocational regional school board are Daniel H. Collyer and incumbent James R. Gazzaniga Sr.
League President Anne Skinner will moderate both forums, which will be taped for broadcast on WilliNet. The public is invited to attend and ask questions of the candidates.
Nichols Announces Campaign Staff
Scott Nichols, candidate for selectman in the town of Adams, announced his campaign committee on Sunday.
"I am extremely excited by the overwhelming support I have received since I announced my candidacy," said Nichols. "For the past couple of years, I have had a number of people in the community encourage me to run again for office. With Joe Dean stepping down after many years of distinguished service on the Board of Selectmen, I felt the timing was right."
Noelle Pandell is the chairman of Nichols'campaign committee and Jim Fassell will serve as treasurer. Additional campaign committee members are Don Wright, Carol Corrigan, Norm Schutz, Jim Waltermire and Larry Pandell.
"I would like to thank the Maple Grove Civic Club for hosting the open forum to allow all candidates to express their views on a number of topics," said Nichols, who participated in the Sunday event.
|Tags: Adams, Nichols|
Adams Selectmen Candidates Quizzed by Civic Club
Selectmen candidates Scott Nichols, left, and Paula Melville, standing center, listen to a question Sunday at the PNA.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Maple Grove Civic Club heard this past Sunday from the three candidates running for the Board of Selectmen.
The candidates' forum was attended by some 55 club members and guests and included moderator candidate Joseph R. Dean Jr. and Board of Health member Roy Thompson, both of whom are running unopposed.
Selectmen Chairman Donald R. Sommer, second from right, at the Maple Grove Civic Club candidates' forum on Sunday.
The main attraction was the three vying for two selectmen seats, including the seat being vacated by Dean: current Chairman Donald Sommer, former selectman Scott Nichols and Finance Committee member Paula Melville. Each spoke for several minutes and took questions from the audience on the proposed school renovations, finances and the dog park.
Nichols served a single term opting not to run for re-election in 2006 because of family commitments, including coaching in three youth sports league. He serves on the Master Planning Committee, and on the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and Reach Foundation boards.
"I felt I was out pretty much every night of the week with my job and doing work with the town," he said. "I felt my kids were growing up really fast and I wanted to be home most nights with them."
Now that his children are older and he has fewer parental commitments, he's ready to serve again. "I've been very involved. I love this community ... I want to see it continue to move forward."
Nichols said he moved here 1996 because of the good school system and was impressed at how well people took care of their properties. Both issues continue to be important, he said, "blighted properties ... for me that's one of the biggest things to address."
"If elected, I'll work hard for this community to help make it grow," said Nichols.
Melville, who has also served on the Parks Commission and Adams-Cheshire School Committee and as town meeting member, lauded some of the good "bell-ringing" things happening in Adams, such as the Thunderbolt anniversary race, progress on the Greylock Glen and Topia Arts Center.
The town requires new revenue to supplement the property taxes, local fees and state aid that fuel its budget she said. Her "knee-jerk" reaction to talk of a sewer user fee was negative, but she added, "if it does free up money in the budget we could put that money someplace quickly and it would not affect our tax rate."
There's also .75 percent meals tax that municipalities can adopt. "I know that in Northampton they did and they're expecting a half million dollars in extra revenue," she said.
Donald R. Sommer
"I think serving on the board of selectmen is the ultimate in acting for our town, said Melville. "I would really appreciate the opportunity to act on behalf fo the town."
And, she noted, "there are some differences between me and the people :'m running against and one is that I am a woman and they are not."
Sommers been involved with town government for three decades, including serving on the Finance Committee and, years before, on the urban renewal commission. He has said that if elected, this would be his final term.
"I said three years ago I was running for a couple reasons. I didn't think the town was going in the right way," he said. Since then, he said the town has assembled a good working board. "We don't always disagree but it's certainly not the Wednesday comedy show it used to be on television," said Sommer. "We're arguing the issues, we're making progress."
Adams is suffering like many communities because the state is not coming through with money they should be giving, he said. "The state doesn't come through so we have to rely on a very regressive real estate tax. Somebody, who fixes their house up or buys a nice little house they're punished for the rest of their life through real estate tax."
Sommers said the town has looked for new revenue, including advocating for the governor to release $600,000 toward the next phase of the Greylock Glen.
He also said he would support further exploration of making the town assessor, treasurer/collector and clerk professional, appointed positions, as recommended by the charter study commission. "It's not like it was 20 years ago," he said. "You have to have training. We need a skilled person; it's good now but we've had problems in the past."
Nichols disagreed, saying the issue has already twice been voted down by the people. "I don't think we should be putting a lot of effort into this." Melville seconded Nichols' opinion.
None of the them mentioned the dog park in their remarks but it was almost immediately brought up by audience members. The three said they didn't have any particular issues with a dog park, but agreed that the Adams Memorial Middle School was not an appropriate location for a variety of reasons.
The candidates mostly agreed on several issues. They were for transparency in government and against high taxes, although with few new suggestions on how to deal with a tax rate that's already the highest in the county.
Melville didn't want to speculate on how to attack the problem. "I don't know yet," she said. "I'm an investigative type of person. I'd like to get two, three opinions and make sure my facts are straight."
"We're all against taxes but we have to live in reality," said Sommmer. "Taxes are here. We have to pay for things like the police, like our schools, like the senior center, have our streets plowed ... It's not our fault that the state is not coming through. We have the highest tax rate in the county and we're trying to cut where we can."
Nichols said using the Romney solution of raising fees "just shifted the burden to a different area. [Taxes are] a necessary evil because we don't get enough money from the state."
They did split on the form the school project should take. Nichols and Sommer, both members of the school building committee, stressed the importance of moving forward with renovations at Hoosac Valley High School to accommodate the grades moved there from the middle school. That will mean moving the students temporarily back into the middle school for another year as a way to speed the project and save costs.
Melville, however, said a better solution might be to split the elementary and middle school grades between Cheshire and Plunkett elementary schools, thereby sharing all the costs between the towns and keeping the younger teens off the high school campus.
"I think that all options haven't been considered," she said. "I don't think all options have been put on the table."
Dean is seeking to replace longtime Moderator Anthony McBride, who decided not to run for re-election again. He recalled how he had stood in the PNA 46 years before in his first bid for town office — a seat on the Planning Board that he lost. But he was appointed to a vacant seat that fall and has been in the town's service ever since.
"It's time for me to get out and, hopefully, you people will elect someone to replace me who'll do a good job on the board," he said.
Thompson has served on the Board of Health for 10 years, three as chairman. He spoke of some of the issues the board has faced, such as its work to bring down blighted properties and pursuit of residents ignoring outdoor burning bylaws.
"I would appreciate your vote because the write-ins could kill me," he joked.
All other races are unopposed. The town election will be held Tuesday, May 3, from 7 to 7 at the town's Department of Public Works garage on North Summer Street.