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Vervaeke looks back on his years at Groton-Dunstable

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GROTON — After seven years on the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee, Alan Vervaeke of Dunstable has decided to leave the board.

“I’m going through some life changes and I’m looking for a fresh start,” said Vervaeke, whose departure on June 30 will leave two years remaining on his current term.

“I first ran because no one else did,” said Vervaeke. “I knew nothing about the school district. When I first ran, I was interested in teacher testing and uniforms. I just wanted to support good education and if no one else was going to do it, then I would.”

“I think that when I first got on the School Committee seven years ago, it was a very different committee because although they worked together very well, at the time they were more concerned about the kids and the quality of education and less concerned about the impact on the taxpayers,” said Vervaeke. “I think that over the seven years that I’ve been on the committee it has changed, one person at a time, to the point where the emphasis is now on communication and outreach; it’s about building bridges.”

But even with improved lines of communication, challenges remain for the district, most notably the annual struggle to make ends meet with ever-dwindling resources.

“I think the challenge of state funding is a huge issue that’s gotten worse over the years,” said Vervaeke. “Another challenge is growth. Right now things are very quiet but I think they always have to keep an eye on the fact that there is going to come a growth cycle. Whether it’s 40Bs or young families, growth is going to happen again and it’s better to be proactive than reactive.”

In just such a proactive move, the School Committee at its last meeting voted to have the superintendent notify state officials that the district was at least considering building a new elementary school at some time in the future.

“We’re going to be paying for the middle and high schools for another 20 to 25 years and if we can’t get support for improving the education we provide through the operating budget, I think we’d have a hard time getting the towns to approve another capital project right now,” Vervaeke said. “I think we’ll definitely need a new elementary school in the future, probably in five to six years, maybe sooner, but look at all the trouble we had to simply find land for the high school. It’s not an easy process.”

If the time ever comes when the schools’ operating budget will just not cover all of the district’s expenses, asking the public to approve an override or debt exclusion measure might be inevitable.

“The district as a whole has not passed a budget override in the seven years that I’ve been on the School Committee,” observed Vervaeke. “For a successful budget override, we have to be cognizant of the ability, not just the desire, but the ability of the public to handle a specific tax load. So if we can show a clear and compelling reason why the district in the future may need an override, then it has to be compelling; it has to be communicated; and it has to be believed. That is where this School Committee has been working for the last two years, to improve that level of honest communication and trust between the district and the towns so they’ll be more supportive.”

As for his own future, Vervaeke has not completely shut the door on continued public service.

“I’m not interested in any position outside the town level,” said Vervaeke. “I’d like to take some time off but I can’t guarantee that I won’t come back after a while. I think that local politics is definitely in my future but whether it’s with the School Committee or someplace else is hard to tell. There’s a difference between being a public servant and a public official and I have loved being a public servant. That’s all I ever wanted to do for the past seven years; to be a servant to the people who sent me to the School Committee and I’d like to do some more.”

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