With election day fast approaching, candidates for School Committee in Cranston fielded questions about a variety of school issues during a forum held at the Central Library last Thursday. Though only two ward positions are up for grabs – because only Wards 1 and 3 have multiple people running – all 9 of the candidates expressed their opinions on key school issues including school construction, school budgets, and the new high school schedule change.
In Ward 1, Michael Baer and Sara Tindall-Woodman, both of whom are parents to children who are or will be in the school system, are battling it out. Tindall-Woodman said she that creating “an exceptional educational experience for our children” is one a community’s most important responsibilities, while Baer said that he’s running “as a parent, not a politician,” and he believes that “public schools are the backbone of a vibrant community.”
Ward 2’s incumbent committeeperson, Stephanie Culhane, is unchallenged. She said the most important thing for her this year is the $250 million state bond question, and she urges voters to get the money so Cranston can make “meaningful infrastructure improvements to help bring our students into a 21st century learning environment.”
Paul Archetto, the current Ward 3 Democratic councilperson, and Domenic Fusco, the incumbent Ward 3 school committeeperson, are on the ballot against each other. Archetto said the school buildings need to be improved and he wants to use his experience to aid in that process. Fusco said he wants to make sure the schools keep going in the direction they have been, and that “children deserve to learn 21st century skills in a 21st century learning environment.”
Ward 4’s school committeeperson is and will continue to be Vincent Turchetta, who said he “wants what’s right for the schools systems in the state.” He is running unopposed.
Ward 5 has Janice Ruggieri, the committee chairwoman who said she is proud of the programs and partnerships the schools have created over recent years, and she wants to get more accomplished, including school repairs with the potential bond money. Ruggieri also pushed back against candidate Paul Archetto during the forum, saying that he hasn’t done enough on the City Council for schools and was being deceptive about how much he’s really done to help fund schools.
In Ward 6, Dan Wall is returning, and he said he wants to continue bringing a “balanced perspective” as a parent, educator, and taxpayer.
The citywide committeeperson is Michael Traficante. He said he believes quality education is a priority in the city of Cranston and the local contribution to school funding from Mayor Allan Fung is “dismal,” and he wants to continue pushing for more funding. A question was posed at the forum about whether or not the schools need a bigger operating budget to improve, and these were the candidate’s answers:
We need to get our schools as fully-funded as possible to operate and provide academic excellence.
Baer: I’m in favor of increasing the school budget. You have to take an objective approach to how much is being spent and figure out how to fit in within existing budgets, but we need to add value to teachers, students, and the district.
: The backbone of a great city is a great school department, and the city needs to show the citizens they are willing to make an investment in education. The city investment should match the state’s.
The schools need more money. In today’s day and age, the fixed costs – salaries, pension, healthcare- go up every year. We can always use more money. The council has come through with some things, but having to make do with what we have, thank goodness for our finance director, superintendent, and staff. Students do not deserve to be just making do.
I would try to get as much money as I can if and once I’m elected. When I was councilman, chair of finance committee, I obtained over $3 million for the school department.
It’s important we continue to work together to try to get the money we need. All our institutions in the city need more money.
Archetto didn’t make one amendment to the budget for the schools, it was Farina and Stycos who tried to get extra money during those proceedings. We inherited a mess that was made during [Archetto’s] time on the school committee that we have been cleaning up since.
The Mayor could have given us more money, we deserve a bigger operating budget, the Council could have given us more. Maybe it’s time we step up as a city. I’m not pointing fingers, but a resounding yes, we would like a bigger budget.
It’s the Mayor who sets the tone for the budget. We submit our cuts. Of the $9 million we’ve asked for in recent years, we’ve only gotten $2.5 million.
Another question focused on what the candidates thought of the high school schedule change, and these are their answers:Baer:
Going door-to-door, I’ve heard some complaints from students who are adjusting, but I think it does provide them with opportunities.
I’ve been hearing concerns about whether or not students have the resources available to get to internships and use the time appropriately.
We should be in constant review, but it’s going to take a couple years and not everybody’s going to like it, but it’s something everyone had a voice in. It’s not going to be 84 minutes of lecture, it’s going to be a work in progress.
Fusco: I am 100 percent in favor of it. This schedule provides our students with a unique opportunity. In the past they didn’t have the chance to do internships, to do some things that high school students should be able to. It is going to take some time, but my son is getting used to it and has adapted.
I’ve received calls from teachers who aren’t happy, but the students seem to like it and are getting used to it.
I taught in an 84-minute block for a few years and it’s only as good as the teachers, and we have tremendous teachers in Cranston.
I know it’s a work in progress and things will come up, but the good news is we have such a great relationship with all involved that we’re able to work through issues as soon as we find them.
I haven’t heard very many complaints, and I think it’s been rolled out pretty well.
It forces the teacher to become more creative and get more help for the kids in that particular classroom. Another question was asked about whether or not they support the sponsorships of businesses to help defray costs and raise money for the districts, and these are their answers:
We should look at this issue on a case-by-case basis. Some projects need more scrutiny than other projects. There’s a greater concern about fully funding the arts, music, athletics, and extracurriculars, which keep the student’s attention during the day.
Baer: As long as there’s no conflict of interest in terms of a future contract, it could be a great opportunity to bring the business community into schools and create a better connection.
Fusco: I sponsored a resolution to allow the Cranston East Thunderbolt band to elicit sponsorships for the trailer they use to go to competitions. Schools should be able to get sponsors for different things, for extracurricular events that are beneficial to students.
I would be in favor of it. I wanted to put advertisements on school busses and I would be in favor of getting corporations involved to help taxpayers.
Finally, a question was posed about how important transparency and communication with parents is for a school committee member, and these are the candidates’ responses.Tindall-Woodman:
Transparency is one of the biggest gifts we can give our parents. It’s the only way you know what’s happening in schools, what programs are happening, and transparency is the foundation of a good democracy. It would keep in constant touch via email, Facebook, maybe having a liaison student from the high schools. I also want to keep an up-to—date website and make sure people know what’s going on at school committee meetings.
It’s really important to educate families and parents, new members of the community, so they understand the great things happening in our public schools. That’s through constant communication, and I would use Facebook, email, phone calls, and I’d work with the City Council representative in Ward 1 to have meetings.
I’ve tried to attend as many school events as I can to interact with parents. Attending sporting events and others, I’m fortunate to be apparent of band member at East. It’s important that I am there, that I attend and let people know what’s happening and answer their questions. I also try to communicate online.