Part 2 of a 2-part story
The eight candidates vying for the three Shirley seats on the new regional school committee are Karyn Baldino, David Baumritter, Deb DeLaite, Bryan Dumont, Kevin Hayes, Robert Prescott, Jr., James Quinty and Joyce Reischutz.
Joyce Reischutz has lived in Shirley since 1972. She and her husband John have three sons, all college graduates, who attended Shirley schools from Kindergarten through Grade 8. She owns and operates Pedal Power Bike & Ski in Acton. The store, which she co-founded, has been in business for over 35 years.
Her slant on money matters derives from personal and professional experience. “I understand the importance of wise spending and living within your means,” she said.
Reischutz served on the Shirley School Committee for nine years — from 1994 to 2003 — and was chairman for three years. She later served on the first Shirley School Council, an advisory board to the principal made up of teachers, parents and community members. This year, she is attempting to re-enter the school bureaucracy, this time as a member of the new Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee.
While on the Shirley School Committee, Reischutz served on search committees to hire principals and a new superintendent and helped negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the Shirley teachers union, she said.
Counter to some expectations at the time, she says, the deal with the teachers wasn’t all about money. “The teachers were focused on many non-monetary issues to improve the schools and quality of life in the schools,” she said.
While on the school committee, Reischutz attended state training sessions on educational standards and member responsibilities annually.
Five years ago, Reischutz helped lead the campaign to build the new Shirley Middle School, the town’s first school building project in over 40 years. She stayed throughout the process, serving on study, design and building committees.
Reischutz was the first president of the Shirley League of Women Voters and was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Shirley Grange in 2002. She’s been active with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in Shirley for 25 years and Boy Scout Committee Chairman for several years. She helped launch the All Scout Food Drive in Shirley over 20 years ago and still coordinates the event. Last year, the drive collected over six truckloads of food.
Reischutz said, “If we don’t give our children a good education, we will continue to lose jobs overseas and our economy won’t be able to maintain services,” she said.
Reischutz said these issues will be key for the new regional school committee include developing an educational vision; hiring the right superintendent; adopting policies to control functioning of the school system; developing a prudent and effective budget; implementing high educational standards; evaluating available physical plants (school buildings) for best use, which would require a study.
“We need communication among the selectmen, finance and school committees, not just at budget time but all year,” she said about the cooperation between town and school officials.
Reischutz is also in support of the plan to start sending Ayer middle-schoolers to Shirley next fall.
Reischutz pledged to bring diligence and dedication to the job. “I will read every document, study every issue and consider every option,” she said.
“I believe a healthy community must have a vibrant school system,” she said. “Nobody benefits if our children must leave the community to get a good education.”
It’s the school committee’s job to ensure the district provides the best education possible. And it’s the law. Citing state law which states that a “paramount goal” of the commonwealth is to provide a public education system that allows all children to “reach their full potential,” Reischutz said members take an oath to uphold state laws.
But it’s no good to bankrupt towns and decimate services to pay for schools. “Balance is important,” she said. With the right representatives on the regional school committee, she believes it can be achieved.
Deborah Delaite has lived in Shirley for 46 years. She is married, with one child, now 20. An Ayer High School graduate, she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Masters in Business Administration.
She worked for nearly 20 years for Digital Equipment Corporation in several managerial positions, including distribution, planning and development, sales, manufacturing and quality control. She also managed an adult literacy program for workers in conjunction with Mt. Wachusett Community College.
As executive director of the nonprofit Nashoba Valley Partnership for Excellence in Education, from 1995 to 1997 and from 2001 to 2004, she worked with member schools and the Department of Education to coordinate “school to work” programs that familiarized students with the local business community and helped schools build supportive curricula. The group’s area network included three high schools, four middle schools and seven elementary schools.
She was involved with the Shirley School District for 10 years, from 1991 to 2001. Beginning as a volunteer in the Reading Recovery Program, she assisted second grade teachers working with students to improve below-grade level reading skills. She later worked part-time for the school system. As a volunteer, she created a first through eighth grade mentoring program.
She was a member of the Shirley School Committee from 1992 to 1994 and served on the 1992 Regionalization Study Committee. She also served on the Personnel Board and currently serves on the Government Study Committee. She has been a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals since 1991.
Delaite has worked with and advocated for children for many years. From 1992 to 2000 she was a licensed Foster Parent for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services and cared for several children in her home. Since 1994, she has been a certified foster care case reviewer for the department.
Question: Why are you running for the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee?
Answer: I see this as a major change for the town, the most significant yet. Operating a regional school system is like a business, and I have the leadership skills, financial background and management experience to help.
Q: What are the critical issues for the committee in the transition year?
A: Lots of things need to happen. First, develop a comprehensive plan to structure and coordinate curriculum and integrate the cultures of the two districts. From where I sit, there is no such plan, or if there is, it has not been presented to the community.
Q: So what would you, as a committee member, propose to do?
A: Develop an implementation plan the community is involved in. It’s still our school. Another key step is to hire a superintendent for the region as soon as possible. We’d need to work on a set of criteria, put together a process and include the community.
Q: Would that be a prudent use of some of the $300,000 transition money the state has promised?
A: For a small part of that, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges has folks who could help us work on criteria for the job.
Q: Anything else?
A: There must also be a feasibility study of all school buildings, not just the high school. We have to understand the needs of the district and make decisions about use of facilities.
Middle School Merger
Delaite said the new committee should put the brakes on that move and hold off on the merger for another year. “You can’t just move kids around, they need structure,” she said.
The middle school merger has had too little preparation, in her view. She proposed using the next year to plan, host get-togethers, develop projects Ayer and Shirley students can do together. “Integration takes time,” she said, culturally as well as academically. And long-range projections must be part of the process. “We must be careful to look ahead,” well beyond next year, she said. “Relationship-building is key.”
Schools versus Town
Asked if there’s a way to bridge the gulf between municipal government and the schools, Delaite said its all about achieving balance. “There are lots of folks here on fixed incomes. You can’t just keep raising taxes without providing benefits for all,” she said. Meaning, the school is not the only service the town must marshal resources to pay for.
“I want to be sure our kids get the best education possible, we owe them that, but at the same time, we can’t spend uncontrollably,” she said. “We need to ensure accountability.”
She said Shirley RSC representatives could form working relationships in a tri-board setting that included selectmen and the finance committee so that the needs of the town and those of the schools are not at odds.
School administrators and elected school officials work for the people, even in a region. “We have a responsibility as public officials to respond to the community we represent,” she said.
One of the first things she’ll do if elected is initiate talks with other regional school districts, including troubled ones. “If they’re not happy, we’d want to know how they got there, so we can avoid those pitfalls,” Delaite said. “Nobody wants this to fail”. It’s all about learning and all new. “We’ve never done this,” she said. “We want to get it right.”
Kevin Hayes and his wife Laurie have lived in Shirley for 18 years. Their son Kevin attended Shirley schools, ,served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps., and is now a student at Middlesex College.
Hayes launched his own courier service in town in 1995.
Now a member of the Finance Committee, from which he said he’d step down if elected, he is also an active member of the Republican Town Committee and its current treasurer. He helped organize the RTC’s “Shirley Future Fund,” which awards college scholarships to Shirley students graduating from Ayer or Lunenburg. He also helped organize and promote other RTC activities in the community, including Operation Clean Street and Operation Cookie Drop.
Hayes said he’s running in the hope that his life experience, organizational skills and business savvy will help the committee “navigate in the right direction” as it enters “unchartered territory.”
He is committed to ensuring that students from both member towns get a high quality education. “That’s why it’s important that we spend our money wisely,” he said.
Asked to sketch a to-do list for the committee’s first year, Hayes said he wants to talk with regional school districts in other communities to get an overview of their experiences.
Most importantly in that first year, the committee must hire a superintendent who will be “up front with the public,” he said. “There’s no doubt people want a good school in their community,” he said. Yet tax overrides for the schools have a history of failure in Shirley, and the relationship between school and town officials is often strained. Changing that dynamic takes trust, Hayes said.
Hayes offered his “overview” of the situation. “We’re one town, and if the town does well, so does the school,” he said. But that logic doesn’t necessarily work the other way. Those who advocate for the schools at any cost “mean well,” but they tend to go overboard, he said. “Education is one of the things people need, but not the only thing, he said; while extremely important to the well being of the community and all of its citizens, so are municipal and public safety services such as police, fire and highway departments. It’s key to achieve balance, he said.
That’s what his candidacy is all about.
“This town is important to me,” Hayes said. “That’s why I have participated in many activities here, and why I’m running for the regional school committee.”
Hayes said he was one of the folks opposed to regionalization before the vote. Now, it’s a different story. “The voters have spoken,” he said. “It’s up to all of us to unite and embrace this new path for education.”
The responsibility of the new school board will be to ensure everything comes together equitably, he said, so that students get “the best possible educational experience” the town can afford while maintaining other services. “Our school system is a very important part of this community,” he said. Which is why it consumes “the lion’s share” of the budget.
Hayes has ambitious goals. “We must make this work better than it has for any other regional school district in the state,” he said. That’s where studying other regions comes in. “We have to understand what works and what doesn’t.”
Hayes pledged to keep an open mind on every issue if he’s elected. But that doesn’t mean he won’t take a stand. His “fundamental beliefs” are no secret, he said. For example, he believes “we pay far too much in taxes already,” but won’t let that view get in the way of making “balanced decisions.” Balance is the key word here. “It should be the flavor of the day” for the new board, he said.
If elected, “I will not be a mouthpiece for the school administration, nor intentionally adversarial toward school officials,” Hayes promised. “I will always strive to do what’s best for our students and our town.”
Bryan Dumont has lived in Shirley since 1989. His wife Kendra is serving her first term as a selectman.
Education: Associates degree in Law Enforcement Curriculum; BS in Criminal Justice.
Experience: Dumont’s professional career spanned 29 years of combined military and civilian service. He received numerous awards for his work over that time, including two Army commendation medals. After serving a four-year stint in the Army, he held civilian positions with the Department of Defense as a criminal investigations officer; military police investigator, supervisor and section chief of a narcotics unit.
In each position, he supervised employees, dealt with budgets and tackled complex issues, he said. “Doing more with less with the mantra for my last five years of service.”
Continuing in a similar line of work after retiring three years ago, he founded Sentry Security and Investigations, presently sub-contracted to a major security firm conducting anti-terrorism training for the Department of Homeland Security.
Community and Civic activities: Non-member participant in Republican Town Committee activities as an organizer, planner and supervisor. As a volunteer for the RTC, he has helped establish and operate Operation Cookie Drop for the last five years and helped a group in Ayer launch its first “Christmas in July” event, slated for June this year. He also helped coordinate RTC’s Shirley Future Fund, which provides scholarships to Shirley high school seniors graduating from Ayer or Lunenburg and coordinated with Townsend on Operation Blanket, whose mission is to provide blankets for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He serves on the publicity committee for the Council on Aging and assists the COA director as a volunteer. He is chairman of the Shirley Government Study Committee. Dumont also serves on the Board of Directors of an animal protection group and in that capacity has overseen investigations into large-scale animal abuse such as “puppy mills.”
His candidacy, in part, was inspired by questions. For example, how can Shirley have a school budget of over $10 million and provide only a half-year each of Science and History at the middle school level?
He believes the current school committee – of which two members are also vying for RSC positions – has not done what’s needed “to insure a quality education” for the children, he said.
Another question: “Why is it that every year we are told we need more than the 66 cents of every tax dollar already given to education or face cuts in programs or lose teachers?” The conundrum this poses is that while these cuts are proposed, surpluses are carried over from a previous year’s budget.
Before the regionalization vote, Dumont wrote an op-ed piece for local newspapers opposing the move. Now that it has passed, however, “we have to make this system work, like it or not,” he said.
As a member of the RSC, one aim would be to avoid “continuous fights” between the district and the towns over money and education ” that nobody can win,” he said. “What I hope to accomplish is the formation of a solid and realistic plan to proceed forward,” while keeping “fundamental education” and realistic funding goals” as core objectives. By his lights, there are ways to marry “paramount goals” that may seem disparate but shouldn’t be: “education of the children and the concerns of all taxpayers.”
Major issues the committee faces in its first year include formulating such a plan, he said
Question: Do you have a platform?
Answer: Yes. Quality education at a cost affordable to all residents and our community.
Q: Can the schools and the town work together, and if so, what is the School Committee’s role in that process?
A: Absolutely. It must start with openness, honesty and transparency. When people in Shirley voted NO on tax overrides for schools, it wasn’t because they don’t have children or are against the schools. No votes are based on no trust. The opposite is true for a Yes vote. In that case, people feel they’ve been told the truth, that their money is being spent wisely. That can only happen when school finances are an open book.
Dumont pledged to work toward that goal, without secrets, back room deals or special favors. “If I’m elected, every penny will be laid out for all to see,” he said.
Q: Do you have an opinion on use of existing facilities?
A: We don’t have a shred of evidence or a concrete plan to determine that. How many times were we told the Lura White School needs $20 million in renovations, without being told that the renovation plan included a 15,000 square foot addition to the building? I won’t comment on that issue until I have real facts. The two guiding principles would be is it good for the children? And is it good for the taxpaying residents of Shirley?
As for the proposed middle school-high school building project, Dumont said $36 million seems like a high price. He cited another town that’s building a new high school, bigger than Ayer’s, for that amount. He doesn’t know yet which would be better for the Ayer-Shirley region, he said, but that decision should hinge on “accurate numbers.”
“The citizens of Shirley will support the education of their children and grandchildren once they feel they can trust people to do the right thing with their money,” he said. “I’ve spent a career insuring the right things were done and will continue to do that if elected.”