Seven Bellingham Candidates Express Views at Forum
Those attending included Selectmen Michael Connor and Jerry Mayhew, who are running unopposed; School Committee hopefuls Marc Flannery, Melissa Jacques and Beverley Pierce; and Planning Board candidates Brian Salisbury and Dennis Trebino. There are two openings on the School Committee and two on the Planning Board. Not in attendance were Alyssa Perry, a candidate for Library Trustee; Joe Hall, seeking re-election to the Housing Authority; and Glen Wojcik, a candidate for re-election to the Planning Board. Perry and Hall are running unopposed.
Leading off the forum, Flannery, an environmental engineer, listed his top priorities, which include increasing academic performance and ensuring that the redistricting transition, coupled with the pending closure of Macy School, goes smoothly.
“Test scores show that Bellingham’s results are lower than other, nearby communities’ results,’’ Flannery said. “If elected, I’ll work to improve performance. That also means examining Common Core standards and PARCC [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers] testing. Those who designed the educational standards and the testing want it to be a one-fits-all process, but there are parts that are good and bad. We need balance.’’
Flannery, who has two children in the school system, said the key to redistricting success will be “to put students in the best position to succeed.’’ The goal, he emphasized, “is to make it smooth for both students and parents.’’ He also noted that the school budget, even with the closing of Macy School, is up 4.7 percent, citing salaries and unfunded mandates — like special education — as reasons for the increase.
Jacques, a special education teacher in Taunton, agreed that redistricting is a major priority and that “keeping curriculum up to date’’ also is high on her list. “Redistricting brings anxiety,’’ she said. “We have to ensure it goes smoothly. Another challenge is keeping our curriculum up to date. I don’t agree with all the standards Common Core presents, but it’s here and we have to deal with it. Special education represents a big chunk of the school budget, and we’ve got to find ways to help students but also monitor how money is spent.’’
Pierce, who has three children in the system, said her objective is to be a positive influence. “When you have a respected school system, it attracts new homeowners, and property values increase,’’ Pierce said. “I’ve been involved in redistricting with the closing of Macy and that is a big priority. Also, we have to deal with budgeting. We must look at what’s important and strive to continue with it. Budget problems aren’t going away.’’
Pierce noted that she doesn’t agree with all the standards of Common Core but that “the critical thinking aspect is important.’’ She also noted that the move to PARCC testing “seems more in line with what’s being taught in the classroom and that more investigation of Common Core needs to be done.’’
Connor, who will become a three-term Selectman, pointed to the town’s excellent bond rating as a plus during his first six years on the board, and also listed other achievements, such as adding police officers, keeping Bellingham’s tax rate low, building a police station with no tax increase, zero-based budgeting and improvements to the tax work-off program for seniors.
“We need to focus on road repair and we’ve got the money to do it,’’ Connor said. “Seniors can now save $1,000 on their real-estate tax bills because of the changes to the tax work-off program, and we’ll be saving money on energy for our municipal buildings because of the solar farm we’re associated with in Douglas.’’
Mayhew, who is looking forward to his eighth term as a Selectman, emphasized how the town has judiciously funded projects, like the new high school and the senior center. “We got 76 percent reimbursement for a new high school and the refurbishing of the middle school,’’ he said. “Our senior center was funded with the help of a power plant. Over the next two years, road improvement will be a primary focus.’’
Mayhew said the keys to being a good Selectman are “to check your ego at the door, think about the community as a whole, not your individual concepts, and to always tell the truth.’’
Salisbury, who has served for the last two years on the Planning Board, is currently vice chairman of that committee and also vice chairman of the Zoning Board. Salisbury is a lawyer; he said the Planning Board is constantly looking at legal issues with developments. “I’ll evaluate projects based on their merits,’’ he said. “If a development complies and is appropriate for the town, then I’ll offer an objective opinion on its value. As for the Shoppes at Bellingham (proposal for retail and office buildings behind Home Depot), it represents a significant economic opportunity for the town. It will change the character of Bellingham. We need to carefully examine it and vet it properly.’’
Trebino, who has spent 30 years in the construction industry, said his strength is knowing how contractors think. “I know what contractors want and I want to hold their feet to the fire,’’ he emphasized. “I’m fully aware of the impacts construction can cause for a town. I was involved with the construction of the high school here and also with the building of Patriot Place in Foxboro.’’
Trebino, who is retired now, said that the Shoppes project “will involve getting a lot of departments involved.’’ “It’s going to take a long, hard look at what’s proposed,’’ he said. “We’ll need an added ramp off Route 495, and we’ll need to assess the strain on our police and fire departments. There’ll be a lot of people coming into town if this passes, and they have to be taken care off. This project is going to need a very close look.’’
Town Clerk Ann Odabashian attended along with Chief Financial Officer Chris Laviolette. Odabashian said she “hopes the voters will respond.’’ “Last year, only 270 people came out to vote in the local election,’’ she noted. “We have 10,534 registered voters. To conduct an election, we have to spend the same amount of money whether we’re dealing with 270 voters or 2,000. Lack of voter turnout is my pet peeve.’’
Larry Sposato, the Republican Town Committee Chairman, served as host and moderator for the forum.