There’s no more important institution in Belmont than our public schools. There’s no more important elected body than the School Committee, which is the community’s voice to the School Administration. In this year’s School Committee race, I think there are two clear choices for the two open spots: Anne Lougee and Pascha Griffiths. I’ll be voting for both at the polls tomorrow.
First let me say this: I served on School Committee, and its no walk in the park. For most of the school year, there are meetings every week. Come budget season, or if there are union contract negotiations going on, you often have more than one meeting a month: morning and evening. The issues involved are highly complex, and there are no easy solutions to be found. We all love kids and schools and teachers and the paintings of the butterflies on the fridge. But, for the purposes of School Committee, its better to just think of our public schools as a $40 million a year non-profit with hundreds of union- and non-union employees operating in a cash starved and highly regulated industry: public education.
That’s why I’m so excited by the candidacies of Anne Lougee and Pascha Griffiths this election season. Both are serious and thoughtful candidates who have a lot to offer our community.
Lougee Brings Experience, Understanding
Anne brings a wealth of knowledge of the Belmont schools to the table, and direct experience as an interim member of the current Committee. Of all the candidates, I think Anne has done the best job articulating the unique challenges facing our public schools. Anne speaks and writes eloquently about our need to restore financial stability to our district, and has done the best job in describing the inexorable cuts that have been made in recent years, and in making the case that so-called “level service” budgets are anything but. Anne has made the argument well that the continued strength of our public schools demands that we fully fund the programs that we rely on to build great students. Like every candidate, Anne knows that budgets are balancing acts, and that these lean times call for compromises. But she’s uncompromising on the issues that matter: our need – as a community – to support the work of teachers in the classroom and create the environment for success: with manageable class size and first-rate administrators, curriculum and teacher support.
In the last ten years, we’ve seen a steady erosion of support for many of those programs, coupled with a steep increase in fees (just a “tax” by another name) to pay for cuts in the core operational budget of the schools. Anne is right to note – as she did in this statement in the Patch – that those fees amount to a barrier to entry that can keep children from families of modest means from participating in the full range of extracurricular activities. Anne is a great candidate for the Committee and I look forward to voting for her on Monday!
Pascha Griffiths: A Welcome, New Face With Smarts, Energy and Experience
Pascha Griffiths has impressed everyone who has met her with her energy, drive and the seriousness that she’s shown in this – her first run for town wide office. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Pascha on the phone and I hung up thinking “Wow!” A professional educator by training, and the founder of an educational non profit – the Possibilities Factory – Griffiths has a wonderful combination of the skills and experience the School Committee needs. That’s especially true as our district looks to hire a new Superintendent and revise the district’s curriculum to reflect the needs and priorities of a new century: team-building and new delivery models that get us past the “chalk and talk” of the last sixty years. Pascha’s work and education prepare her supremely well for this task.
As for Pascha’s other main plank: using grant money to offset direct funding of the school system through commercial and residential taxes? I think its a great idea, and one that Pascha, as someone who has worked as the head of a non-profit can provide excellent guidance on. Of course, adding a development officer or a full time grant writer will require a short term expenditure, even if the long term benefits (grant money, etc.) more than pays for the position. I also think it unlikely that Belmont will see more than small changes at the edges of its budget through grants.
What I like about Pascha’s platform, however, is her willingness to approach an old problem (budget shortfalls) with a fresh idea – to see possibilities, rather than just obstacles in her efforts to solve concrete problems. I look forward to casting my vote for Pascha tomorrow for School Committee. I hope you’ll join me!