School funding, building issues top concerns in race for Easthampton School Committee seats

Laste modified: Wednesday, November 06, 2013
EASTHAMPTON — A seven-way race for six School Committee seats features incumbents and three first-time candidates.

Candidates on the ballot Nov. 5 are incumbents Peter T. Gunn, Lori J. Ingraham, Deborah B. Lusnia and Laura N. Scott, and newcomers Wendy G. Bloomenthal, Daniel R. Carey, and Kelley S. Hopkins.

School funding and building needs are key issues in the campaign, with several candidates citing the need for more community outreach and public education about school issues. Committee Chairwoman Nancy Sykes, running for city mayor, and LaDonna Crow, on the board since 2007, are not seeking reelection. Following are brief profiles of the candidates, beginning with the challengers.

Daniel R. Carey

Age: 28

Address: 14 Pinebrook Drive

Job: Assistant district court administrator, Northwestern District Attorney’s Office

Carey, a city native who graduated from Easthampton High School in 2003, said he brings a youthful perspective to the board. “I’m under 30, I’m not married and I don’t have kids in the schools,” he said. “This is an exciting time in Easthampton and I saw an opportunity to help out the community.”

He earned an undergraduate degree in English and education from Emmanuel College in 2007 and worked as a paraprofessional at White Brook Middle School from 2010 to 2012.

“I never thought I’d get into working in a middle school but I loved it,” he said.

Carey is now studying for a law degree from Western New England University Law School.

In talking to city voters, Carey said the concerns he hears most often are how to keep more students from leaving the Easthampton schools through school choice and finding money to renovate or rebuild aging elementary school buildings.

Carey said that while he wishes a $1.4 million property tax override on the ballot last year for the schools had been approved, he understands that the measure “hit many people in the wallet.”

He said he is eager to serve on the board to help find solutions to the pressing need for resources for the schools.

“One of the exciting things for me about joining the committee is figuring things out,” Carey said.

Wendy G. Bloomenthal

Age: 40

Address: 11 Karen Circle

Job: Administrative assistant, Amherst public schools

Bloomenthal, who has lived in Easthampton for three years, said she brings a background in education and mental health to her first run for the school board, having worked for agencies helping at-risk students in her native Washington state.

She believe the biggest challenge facing the city schools is informing local residents about school programs and school board decisions.

“There’s a ton of potential in Easthampton and a lot of wonderful things happening in our schools that people don’t know about,” said Bloomenthal, whose daughter attends public kindergarten in the city. “I’d like to help more parents learn about that.”

A supporter of last year’s proposed override for the schools, Bloomenthal said more works needs to be done to educate citizens about school budget issues and build stronger ties with city leaders.

“It goes back to timing and community engagement,” she said. “If I’m elected, I hope to be a bridge between the School Committee and City Council.”

Bloomenthal holds a degree in community recreation with a focus on at-risk youth from Western Washington State University. She lives with her wife, Marcy, and daughter, Clara, 5.

Kelley S. Hopkins

Age: 57

Address: 23 Beechwood Ave.

Job: Real estate appraiser

Hopkins, who had lived in Easthampton for the past decade, said she wants to change negative perceptions about the city schools that she believes are incorrect.

“I would like to be a cheerleader for the Easthampton schools,” Hopkins said. “I’ve been so impressed with everything they do.”

As a real estate appraiser, Hopkins said she knows perceptions about schools are key to attracting new residents, “As the schools go, so goes your city,” she said.

Hopkins, who has two young children, said she wants the board to lead a push for new elementary school buildings.

“We can’t just say, ‘well, we built the new high school and that’s all we have to do,” she said.

A supporter of last year’s override, Hopkins said she also supports the proposed elementary school reorganization plan for elementary schools.

“I recognize that there’s a lot of emotional attachment to a neighborhood school,” she said. “But as a parent, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to keep a cohort together as the administration has suggested.”

As a newcomer to the board, Hopkins said doesn’t have a particular agenda. “I like to think I approach things with out of the box creativity,” she said.

Hopkins holds an undergraduate degree from St. Lawrence University. She is married to Lisa Downing and has two children, Shaeleigh , 3, in preschool at Maple School and Sean, 6, a first grader at Center School.

Deborah B. Lusnia

Age: 51

Address: 38 Ashley Circle

Job: Former marketing manager for Channing Bete publishing, now a stay at home parent

A resident of Easthampton since 1995, Lusnia is seeking reelection to a second term. “I am passionate about our schools and positive change in the city,” she said.

Her first term on the board has taught her the importance of better educating the public about complex school finance issues. If elected, Lusnia said she is committed to “lobbying at the state level for a change in the funding formulas and in the unfunded mandates,” such as new teacher evaluation systems and rules for teaching English language learners.

She supported the recent property tax override, but said she’s “not inclined to go in that direction” in the near future.

Instead, she said she wants to find creative ways to garner more resources for school programs. Among Lusnia’s ideas are creation of a retired volunteer teacher corps to provide tutoring and other assistance in city school classrooms, and using local colleges or virtual programs to expand foreign language instruction in the city schools.

A founding member of the Committee for Better Schools, which led the successful debt-exclusion override campaign in 2010 for the new high school building, Lusnia said Easthampton should submit a statement of interest to the state School Building Authority for a new elementary school building project.

Lusnia, who has a degree in marketing from Bentley University in Waltham, worked for 16 years for Channing Bete before leaving in 2000. She lives with her husband, Kent, and their daughters Katie, an eighth grader at White Brook Middle School, and Anna, a junior at Easthampton High School.

Laura N. Scott

Age: 33

Address: 19 Plain St.

Job: Sales agent in the Northampton office of Jones Group Realtors

Scott, appointed to fill a vacancy created when Bonnie Katusich stepped down in March, is seeking election to her first full term. A resident of Easthampton for seven years and a former social studies teacher in Holyoke, Scott said the board should take a more “proactive path, doing increased outreach, listening more and taking steps to make further changes.”

It’s particularly important for the community to understand school finance issues, said Scott, who voted for last year’s override.

“I feel confident in saying the school budget is drum tight,” she added. “We need to increase funding for the future. The question is where it will come from.

“Overrides tend to be stronger in the second or third round,” she added. “I also don’t want to rob from other departments to support the schools.”

Scott said she will work for expanded preschool programs and building improvements at city elementary and middle schools.

“The population of Easthampton is very progressive and involved and wants to be participatory,” Scott said. “I would like to see us really embrace that, rather than a select group of us saying we know what’s best.”

Scott studied history and political science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She lives with her husband, Aaron, and their two sons, Jameson, preschool at Maple School, and Jackson, a first grader at the school.

Peter Gunn

Age: 51

Address: 8 Brewster Ave.

Job: History and global studies teacher, Williston Northampton School

Gunn, has lived in Easthampton for nearly three decades, and was first elected to the School Committee in 2007. If elected to a fourth term, he said his top priority will be lobbying for another property tax override.

“In my time on the School Committee, we have laid off more teachers than we’ve hired,” said Gunn. “I think we need an override for operating expenses over a new elementary school. Having more reading specialists in an old building is better than having the same number in a new one.”

He praised outgoing Mayor Michael A. Tautznik for raising the percentage of city funds allocated to the schools to about two-thirds of the total city budget, but noted that’s not enough to adequately fund school programs. “I would hope that whoever is the new mayor would join me in supporting an override,” he said.

Gunn said the results of recent state MCAS scores, which rose in the 10th grade in Easthampton where additional resources were targeted, proves that “where we put our resources, we get results.”

He also said a planned move by the Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School to the city increases pressure on the city schools to retain students.

“We have to do a better job of educating children really well and advertising that reality,” Gunn said.

He holds an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s in education from Harvard University. He lives with his wife, Robin, and two children, Couper, an eighth grader at Williston, and William, a sixth grader at White Brook Middle School.

Lori J. Ingraham

Age: 46

Address: 22 Picard Circle

Job: Controller at Easthampton Savings Bank

Ingraham, seeking a fourth term on the school board, said serving on the committee is a way to be involved and informed about the city schools.

“It’s a good way to know what is going on,” she said. “Education is so important.”

Ingraham, who voted for the recent property tax override, cited the budget as the biggest challenge. “We need to not only make sure we are making wise choices but also see that we’re getting our fair share,” from the city, she said.

She said the board is reviewing possibilities for funding a new elementary school building. “It’s something that’s been on our minds,” she said.

Ingraham said her tenure on the board has taught her the limits of what the School Committee can do, given state funding formulas and numerous regulations schools must follow. “That’s why we have to be big advocates for the schools,” she said.

Ingraham attended Holyoke Community College and Westfield State University. She lives with her husband, David. The couple have two children, Jacob, 20, who is attending the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Jessica, 17, a junior EHS.