Sandwich News sent a series of questions to all the candidates for School Committee in Sandwich. These are the questions and answers, with candidates listed in the order reeceived.
All answers are copied and pasted with no editing.
Compiled by Mark Snyder (C)2015 by www.snyderssandwich.com
1. Do you agree with the reconfiguration that Supt. of Schools Richard Canfield has already implemented, and will complete in the Fall, including the closure of the Wing School. If not, would you consider trying to delay or reverse the reconfiguration decision?
Kerri Ames: Like many parents with children at the Wing School I was dismayed to learn of the school closing. While I agree with Dr. Canfield that the Wing School is in disrepair I felt the timetable for the reconfiguration was too hurried. I understand that rehabilitation of the building is an expense the school department is unable to afford. However I wish the community had been given a voice in the decision. During my prior involvement with the Oak Ridge PTA E-board and the Forestdale RPT, I was and remain concerned that the School department has not allotted enough time for the reconfiguration to be a smooth process. However, it is my belief that the preliminary work has been started. Therefore to reverse the reconfiguration would be unfair to the teachers, parents and students who have begun preparations. I believe the role of the incoming school committee will be to listen to the teachers, parents and administrators on what they need from the committee to limit any negative impact on our student population.
Jay McGrail: Since the first time I heard about the two proposed reconfiguration models, I have been in favor of the K-6 configuration. My wife and I moved to the Forestdale area of Sandwich to be able to live close to the Forestdale Elementary School, where we expected our daughters to be students. We anticipated that our daughters would be walking to the school together and seeing each other in the hallways and during after-school programs, for several years to come. An important factor in our decision to move was Sandwich’s neighborhood school concept. The decision by the School Committee to go with the K-2, 3-6 model was difficult for my wife and I to accept. But, we have moved forward. I understand the reasons why the School Committee choose the K-2, 3-6 reconfiguration model and I feel that it will be the School Committee’s responsibility to see that the school administration follows through with the programs and benefits that were put forward as justification for this model. For a number of reasons, I do not intend to delay or reverse the reconfiguration. I understand and appreciate the cost savings generated by the elimination of redundancies with the K-2, 3-6 model. Also, I recognize how much planning and work has already gone into the implementation of this model and how the FY2016 budget is built around the new configuration. In addition, the funds to pay for the construction and moving expenses have already been approved by a recent Special Town Meeting. While I was opposed, I am prepared to move forward on the implementation of this model with the best interest of the district and our students in mind.
Lois Wack: Great question, Mark! You must be hearing the same thing from voters that I am - and am curious as to the answer. I can assure you that is not why I’m running. I was on the School Committee last year, and after extensive research, I voted in favor of the reconfiguration. I supported the reconfiguration then, and I continue to support it. The closing of the Wing School has been on the table since at least 2011 and remains one of the driving factors behind the reconfiguration plan. On April 13, the Town is hosting the first of three public forums to discuss the repurposing of the Wing School. In the meantime, I am happy to support the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Town and the School Committee to assist with the transition of the Wing School. We need to keep moving forward.
Stephanie Hall: I am a “STEM” parent, as my son is a member of the inaugural 8th grade class at the
new Sandwich STEM Academy. I have been a supporter of Phase 1 of the
Reconfiguration, which moved 7th and 8th grade to the high school A wing because I
feel it provides our middle school students with unique learning opportunities and
introduces them to the new ability to make choices in their program with electives
Many people are aware that I was also a vocal supporter of the grade K-6 model for
Phase 2 of the Reconfiguration. Prior to the vote in June of 2014, I created the Friends
of Sandwich Schools Facebook group as a forum for continued discussion and
collaboration for our whole community, regardless of the vote’s outcome. I believe this
forum has allowed community members to come together since last spring, regardless
of their past positions on this issue. Many members participate in valuable, respectful,
public discussions on issues facing the Sandwich Schools and I am proud of my role
and contributions in this new public forum. I was also chosen by the Sandwich School
Administration as a member of the Forestdale Reconfiguration Planning Team and I have been a collaborative partner with the District in their communications effort in supporting and promoting their online news magazine, Sandwich Learns Together. If elected to the School Committee, I would not support any efforts to delay or reverse the Phase 2 Reconfiguration decision. Here are very critical points for me; the School Committee voted March 27, 2014 to instruct Dr. Canfield to work with their counsel and the Board of Selectman to address vacating the Wing School by August 2015, the current School Committee voted in favor of the K2/3-6 model in June of 2014 and the Sandwich community voted to fund the chosen Phase 2 Reconfiguration option with Articles 1 and 2 at Special Town Meeting in February 2015. I respect these decisions. I will work to support our students and teachers to ensure that Phase 2 is fully implemented and supported in all ways necessary for its success. The time for debate on the merits of these decisions has past and it is time to focus on creating the best future for our students.
Beth Cummings: When the discussion of closing the Wing School and Phase 2 was happening last year, I was in favor of creating two K-6 schools through a redistricting plan. In June of 2014, the current School Committee voted to reconfigure. The schools, under this reconfiguration, are slated to open in September 2015. At various times in the last year, I have questioned the timing and asked for the reconfiguration to slow down. The work and conversation to move our district forward will continue long after these “new” schools open. I am looking forward to being a part of the ongoing conversation.
2. The Sandwich School budget is lower this year than last year's, while the municipal budget went up. Looking at the proposed FY2016 school budget, are there any items you think should have been included that were not? What is your overall opinion of the proposed budget?
Kerri Ames: My overall opinion of the budget is mixed. I commend Dr. Canfield and his team for devising a budget in line within the target of the Board of Selectman. However a budget is more than just a figure. It is how the budget is dispersed within the line items that is most important. In my opinion the 20 teaching positions (8 ESP and 12 teachers) that have been cut from the budget should have been included, along with the librarian for the Oak Ridge School.
Jay McGrail: When looking at the School budget it is extremely important to remember that it is one part of the overall town budgeting process. The school budget must, not only, address this year’s funding needs, it must also take into consideration the spending requirements of future years. For this reason, solid relationship between the School Committee, the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectman is instrumental to the budgeting process and, if elected, I will work to foster a good working relationship between these committees. When I see that Sandwich has the lowest cost per pupil of any school district on Cape Cod I am impressed that we are able to offer the quality education that we provide and I am also pleased that we have been able to control our costs. However, the point should be made that this statistic is not the “be all and end all” measurement of our school district and there is lots of room for improvement in our educational offerings. Our primary goal should be the highest quality education possible. I would answer yes to your question, whether or not there are additional items that should have been included in the FY 2016 budget. I have a wish list. I would like to see more funds added for technology in the budget to increase computer and tablet use in all grades (K-12). I would also like to see sufficient funding for Grades (3-6) science labs and an alternative agronomic approach to the management of the recreational and athletic fields. I understand, however that whether or not my wish list can be implemented will depend on the balancing process involved with developing a sound school budget which is within the confines of the over-all town budget. I do feel my wish list is important. With the potential change to the online based PARCC testing, technological skills are paramount. We want our children focusing on the questions posed and not worrying about using the computer technology, during the test process. A better understanding and familiarity with computers will also help our students in many other ways. Science labs, in the grade schools will help prepare our students for the next step in their educations, the STEM Academy. A new agronomic program to better manage the school fields will allow us to improve the quality of the fields and control the cost of doing so. Physical activity is important to the health and well-being of the students and must remain a part of our education process.
Lois Wack: Given an additional million dollars, there are plenty of things I’d like to include in the budget. For example, we currently have only a part-time contractor dealing with all of the district’s IT needs. In this era of technology, we need a full-time Director of Technology. In the not-too-distant future all testing will be done online, and the current staffing is insufficient. In addition, each year, the district defers maintenance. I would prefer to regularly maintain our facilities and perhaps even upgrade them to better serve our school community. However, we have to be realistic, and the School Committee has to work within certain parameters. As a School Committee member, it’s my goal to do what is best for the school district, while keeping a careful eye on the overall budget. This year –in large part, because of the reconfiguration discussed above --the school budget includes additional educational opportunities for students, and yet represents a decrease in the operating budget from FY 15, which resets the base level of the budget downward and saves taxpayers money this year and each year after.”
Stephanie Hall: With my professional experience in the financial services industry, it is my opinion that
good budgets are more than just bottom line numbers. I was responsible for creating
and maintaining budgets and I was very aware of my fiduciary responsibility; it was my
company’s money that I was spending but I thought of it as my own. It was imperative
that I understood and communicated the importance of every aspect of a budget under
my management. This same holds true for the Superintendent’s, School Committee’s, Finance Committee’s and Board of Selectman’s version of our Town Budget. While I appreciate the fact that the FY16 Budget has met the guidance number from the Board of Selectman, I am concerned about some notable points. During discussions at School Committee meetings last spring, prior to the Phase 2 vote, administration officials reported that financial efficiencies would be achieved by the consolidation of resources; supplies, duplication in libraries and similar items. In this proposed budget, the District will also be consolidating positions to meet the financial goals for the Reconfiguration. These positions are teachers and para-professionals who directly interact with and impact our students in the classrooms. While I value our administrators, their commitment and their expertise, this budget also seeks to increase our number of administrators and their salaries, while reducing actual classroom educators. Additionally, I appreciate the cost efficiencies of our low per-pupil spending but I do not think Sandwich should strive to provide low cost education on those merits alone. Dr. Canfield began this FY16 Budget season by introducing the concept of “Funding What We Value” and I believe we can do more to show our students and their families that we assign the highest value to their academic, social and emotional well-being, rather than just a low bottom line.
Beth Cummings: I would have liked to have seen line items that addressed updating the playgrounds at both the Forestdale and Oak Ridge schools to accommodate the changing student population. Under Building Maintenance, I would have liked to see specific items addressed in order to keep our school buildings updated and properly maintained. I would also like to have seen updates to the school district’s technology structure. I think the goal of the proposed FY’16 budget was to get to the bottom line number that was given to the School Committee by the town.
3. The Finance Committee has said that the school department has not complied with its requests for information. Do you think the Superintendent of Schools and the School Committee have been transparent? How could they improve?
Kerri Ames: I was not involved with the requests, therefore I am not comfortable with offering an opinion on what has transpired. My goal as a member of the School Committee will be full transparency. I believe the BOS and FinCom should be fully informed on the SC budget process and would strive to answer any questions/provide documentation as needed.
Jay McGrail: As I viewed the proceedings this past winter, I was pleased by the number of workshops and public forums the school administration, the School Committee and the Sandwich Finance Committee held to provide insight and get public feedback on the proposed FY2016 budget. Since I have not been an active participant in the Finance Committee or on the School Committee, it is unfair for me to comment on the level of transparency that occurred this year. I can say that, if elected, I will strive for a transparent budget process that is open to all who are interested.
Lois Wack: Mark, I certainly believe that transparency is of the utmost importance –and not only between the School Committee and FinCom, but also between the School Committee and the taxpayers of Sandwich. As a School Committee member, I’m dedicated to making sure that the Committee is open, available and honest with all requests for information, and that we listen to the taxpayers. That’s why, prior to the budget workshops this winter, I voiced my opinion in favor of inviting FinCom members to submit questions and “join us at the table” during the workshops. As a result, when the workshops were held on January 9 and January 14, I feel that every FinCom member had the opportunity to ask questions and get answers. After the workshops, FinCom submitted an additional list of questions, and the district answered those questions, too. (The questions and answers are available here.) In addition, budget information is routinely discussed at School Committee meetings, and since those meetings are all available online through Sandwich Community Television, anyone with questions can look back to the meetings for answers. While I feel that that Dr. Canfield, the Business Office and the School Committee have been transparent, I’m someone who believes that processes can always evolve and improve. Next year, I’d like the School Committee to cast an even wider net and ask everyone—FinCom members, Selectmen, taxpayers—to submit questions and concerns before the budget workshops. That way, the School Committee can incorporate a wide range of feedback into the budget discussions.
Stephanie Hall: It is my opinion that all stakeholders in the budget process could potentially benefit from
a more formal group like a budget steering committee that could have representation
from the Board of Selectman, the Finance Committee and the School Committee. This
group could begin the process of budget creation together earlier in the fall of each year
and would have the ability to focus on exploring specific key aspects in the budget. This
group could also request supporting documentation from this early review and begin the official Budget season with a collaborative approach.
Beth Cummings: I am not a member of either the School Committee or Finance Committee at this time. If I become part of the School Committee, I would ask that the line items on the budget be expanded to include the details of what falls under those line items. I would also be in favor of having discussions about creating a Town Budget Steering Committee to further understand the budgetary needs for all town departments.
4. What qualities, talents and experience do you bring to the table that would be of immediate benefit to parents and students if you were elected to the Sandwich School Committee?
Kerri Ames: A willingness to run for elected office is my number one qualification. I believe strongly in serving my community. As the manager of a non-profit, I am very budget conscious and will look at the budget process as one of the most important duties of the office. I am well-versed in budget negotiation and creation. I believe strongly that all members of the administration and fellow committee members should be treated with respect and given the opportunity to present their opinions for consideration. My reputation as an E-board member of the ORPTA is one who believes that following protocol, bylaws and policies is the responsibility of an effective board member. My volunteer and community experience has given me the talent of team building and effective communication. While I may disagree with fellow board members, that disagreement will be respectful and an opportunity for us to learn from one another.
Jay McGrail: The skill set that I believe I am able bring to the School Committee, parents and students of Sandwich includes my tireless work ethic, my communication skills, as well as the enthusiasm, passion and pride that I have for the Sandwich community and our schools coupled with my determination to make them better. My professional experience includes many years of management positions in municipal government and serving on town committees. As a result, I am familiar with the town budgeting process and the resolution of issues with town administrators and town committees. My background includes a degree in Plant and Soil Sciences from UMASS Amherst and as the Director of Operations for a town multi-functional recreational facility, my work focus is on budget, personal and facilities management and interdepartmental relationships. With this background, skill set and experience I feel that I can immediately become a productive participant on the Sandwich School Committee and properly represent the students and families of Sandwich. For more information on my experience and background visit my Facebook page, Elect Jay McGrail to the Sandwich School Committee.
Lois Wack: My son graduated from Sandwich High School last year, so I’m familiar with all that public education offers—from pre-kindergarten to college planning…and everything in-between. Over those 14 years (from pre-K to 12), I’ve always been involved in my son’s education, and I’ve always prided myself on having wonderful relationships with his teachers and the administrators in the schools he attended. Before coming to Sandwich, I spent nine years as a room mother and PTA member. Most recently, I served for three years as the Sandwich High School PTSA Treasurer, and I’ve taken a leading role on the After Prom Committee. Last month, my son and I completed a week of college visits, and I’m pleased to say that his hard work (and mine!) has paid off; he’s certainly ready to start the next chapter in his academic life. In addition to my work as a volunteer, I have served for 26 years as a law enforcement officer, specializing in investigations, interview techniques and negotiations. This background has helped me develop great insight into people and their feelings, and has also helped shape my ability to listen and collaborate. Before working in law enforcement, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration.
Stephanie Hall: I will bring my experiences as a professional, a volunteer, an advocate and a parent to the School Committee if elected on May 7th! I spent many years in the financial services industry as a Corporate Trainer and was licensed as a Registered Investment Advisor. I have additional professional experience in communication, marketing and institutional sales in the same industry. I have been an involved participant in my children’s education as both a supportive parent and school volunteer; my son in 8th grade at the Sandwich STEM Academy and my daughters are in the 1st and 5th grades at Oak Ridge. I have been an active member of the Oak Ridge PTA for many years; serving as its Treasurer for two years. I was pleased to have served on the Forestdale Reconfiguration Planning Team and regularly collaborate with the district in their enhanced communications efforts. I am proud to participate in Town and School Committee meetings and have spoken often during public forums and hearings. During my time as the administrator on the Friends of Sandwich Schools Facebook page, I have worked very hard to inspire respectful, public discourse on education and school related topics. I have often posted one page summaries of School Committee meetings for those who are not able to attend or view in other formats. I love open dialogue and hope I can bring some new ideas to enhance these opportunities for conversation between School Committee members and the community!
Beth Cummings: First and foremost, I am a parent with two children in the Sandwich Public Schools. Any decisions that will be made during my tenure, will affect them as well as the ALL the students in our district. Through my time in Sandwich, I have been an active participant in the various organizations, conversations and committees across the district, including Forestdale School PTA, STEM Parents Group Task Force, Wellness Committee, Sandwich Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force as well as the Oak Ridge School Reorganizational Planning Team (RPT). During these times, I have built relationships that have created trust and demonstrated my commitment to the follow through.
5. Finally, do you think that the high school pool should be opened to the public? There is nothing in the FY2016 budget to allow this to happen. What would you do to change that, if you believe the answer is "yes?"
Kerri Ames: Quite simply, yes the pool at the high school should be opened to the public. This was the promise that was made when the Town was asked to approve funds to repair the pool. I would ask the Superintendent's team to create a plan that allowed the public with a sign-in process. Similar to the YMCA where you have to "check-in" with your ID being scanned. Pool fees/process should include a CORI authorization of any adult (including parents of children taking swim lessons), regardless of when the pool is accessed. The locker rooms are a concern, but I do not believe this is insurmountable (again, the YMCA has a model to follow for separate locker rooms). I believe with their experience, the PE and Aquatics directors will be able to co-create a schedule that allows the public access during the school day when the pool will not be utilized by students.
Jay McGrail: I absolutely think that the pool should be open to the public. I feel that this was one of the understandings of the Sandwich taxpayers when they voted to fund the pool project. It would be inappropriate to deny public access to the pool facilities. I understand that there may be challenges to accomplishing this but feel that we should find a way to allow the public at least limited access. I supervise the management of a town pool and can confirm that the pool provides is a terrific location for family activates and lap swimming for health minded individuals. If School Budget limitations are the reason for denying community access to the pool, there are alternatives we can explore. Examples of these are the use of volunteers, the use of membership fees or the employment of a third party oversight and management (Sandwich Recreation or the YMCA for example) for access in non-school use hours such as early mornings and the summer months.
Lois Wack: Yes, I believe that the Sandwich High School pool should be open to the public. I’m a marathon runner who knows the importance of fitness and training, and so I completely understand that members of the community want to use the SHS pool for that, as well as for recreation. I’ve listened to people who have come to public forum to advocate for public use of the pool. I’ve read their letters. However, in addition to being an athlete and a good listener, I’m also a parent—and a parent who happens to have a background in law enforcement. That means I fully recognize that there has to be a balance between what the public wants and what’s safe for our students. Can we strike that balance? Absolutely! But we’ll have to take it step-by-step. Here’s what I propose: First, let’s get the pool up and running, and work out a schedule for students where the swim and dive teams have priority. Then, let’s determine when the public can use the pool, outside of school hours. Based on my law enforcement background, I do not support allowing the public to enter SHS and use the pool while school is in session. I also feel fully recognize the importance of conferring with the Town Safety Committee for their recommendations about pool use outside of school hours. I’m confident that once the swim and dive teams are settled, we can work out the “public-use” plan.
Stephanie Hall: I was a vocal supporter of the Sandwich pool in November of 2013 when the Sandwich
community voted to approve the funds necessary for its renovation. I was very pleased
that the community chose to take the necessary steps to repair and upgrade the pool. It
has great potential to enhance our students’ experiences in many unique ways.
However, I am not just a supporter for students’ use; I do believe our community
members should be able to use the pool also! I am positive that there are ways we can determine how to best meet our students’ need for access to the pool, while allowing the community members who have funded the renovations to access its many benefits, as well. There are many examples of how the community could realize value for their investment; learn to swim and water safety programs, a developmental swim team,
senior aquatics, private facilities rental opportunities and more. It is my understanding that the funding for this program would need to come from a revolving, self-sustaining source, rather than as a part of the FY16 Budget itself. Therefore, Administration officials need to find a funding source to restart community programs at the pool and support a new program director who can work in conjunction with the current Aquatics Director in order for this model to be successful.
Beth Cummings: Yes. I believe that the SHS pool should be opened to the public as it was promised it would be when the taxpayers were asked for the monies to fix it. I could see the public usage side being self-funded through the fees collected to use the pool – for lap swim, swimming lessons, etc.
Thanks to all the candidates for their participation. PLEASE VOTE!