By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The School Committee race has been pretty quiet, partly because of the hotly contested Town Council race and partly because four of the five candidates running will win. There’s another reason, too. By and large, School Committee meetings have been civil, with a lot of respectful discussion, a marked contrast to the often tense, sometimes antagonistic Town Council meetings.
The winners, who will serve until 2022, will join Chairwoman Carolyn Mark, a Democrat; Matt Plain, an independent who ran as a Republican but recently announced he has left the party (Plain’s Letter to Residents, 10/18); and Jeff Dronzek, an independent who chairs the finance subcommittee, all of whom have two years left to serve.
There are no Republicans running for election, a stunning reversal of elections past. With Plain’s change in affiliation and the end of Mary Ellen Records 12-year tenure on the panel, the new School Committee will have no GOP representation.
The biggest issue facing the schools is funding. The Town Council holds the purse strings and has given the schools significantly less than the School Committee had requested for the past two years. As a result, it has considered cutting French at Cole Middle School, cutting a school nurse, and cutting sports, among other things. One casualty of the 2017-18 budget was there was no librarian at the high school. For many residents who said they moved to the town because of the schools, that was an ominous sign (the position was filled this year). The Town Council has refused to take responsibility for the librarian and other cuts, saying those decisions are entirely up to the School Committee.
To figure out what exactly the schools need in terms of funding, the School Committee had a performance audit done over the summer, the first step in what could turn into a legal action against the town. It showed the schools were underfunded this year by $1.2 million. Results of both the Town Council and School Committee elections may determine what happens next.
Here are the candidates:
Lori McEwen, 49, Democratic incumbent
Lori McEwen won a seat on the School Committee two years ago, filling out a term vacated by the departing David Osborne. As a lifelong educator and now assistant superintendent in North Attleboro, McEwen did not have much of a learning curve as a member of the School Committee. She has been a vocal advocate for curriculum development and one of the stronger critics on the committee when it comes to the town’s funding of the schools. Together with Matt Plain, she has been a consistent voice for poorer students in the district. (You can find her Facebook page here.)
Anne Musella, 51, Democrat
Anne Musella started attending School Committee meetings a little more than two years ago, after the schools moved to a two-tier bus system and transportation was a mess the first weeks of school that year. Musella ended up a parent representative on a newly-formed transportation subcommittee, which ended up revamping the entire bus transportation system, updating and tightening routes, resulting in lower costs. She is a lawyer. (You can find her Facebook page here.)
Alyson Powell, 42, Democrat
Alyson Powell became active in town politics after the appointment of Gayle Corrigan to serve as town manager in June 2017. Days later, together with Justine Caldwell (now running for R.I. House Dist. 35), she penned an op/ed in the EG Pendulum protesting Corrigan’s hasty appointment. She has been a regular at meetings since then. Powell believes her experience as a lawyer would help in working with the Town Council and building consensus. (You can find her Facebook page here.)
Eugene Quinn, 68, Democrat
Gene Quinn has become a regular at both School Committee and Town Council meetings. A mathematician, Quinn has done a lot of quantitative analysis on many issues facing the town and schools, including refutation of an official town mailer that contained inaccurate information – inaccuracies the town eventually acknowledged; an analysis of firefighter overtime; and an analysis of why the state funding formula treats Barrington more favorably than East Greenwich. His primary interest is in getting the Town Council to devote more money to the schools. This is Quinn’s second run for School Committee – he ran in 2012. He teaches math at Stonehill College. (You can find his webpage here.)
Susan Records, 66, Independent
Susan Records served on the School Committee from 2006 to 2014. She did not participate in the two School Committee candidate forums held in October and has made no public statements beyond a brief statement in June that mentioned school safety and her previous experience as among her reasons for running again. Her son, Matt, is a physical education teacher in the district. She works for Lifespan.
(You can watch four of the five candidates in action during our candidates forum Oct. 15 here.)