Andover’s candidates for local office launched a series of scheduled forums last week – the first of several – to discuss their thoughts on how to run local government.
Dozens of residents filled the upstairs meeting room of the Memorial Hall Library for a forum hosted by the Andover and North Andover Chapter of the League of Women Voters to hear from candidates for board of directors, moderator and school committee. The five in the running for the school committee dominated the evening, answering questions about their approach to how they would help run schools.
Each candidate who would be a newcomer to the committee highlighted why their experience was useful to the board, including how they work as a team in their daily lives and would bring that to the school committee, which has been in conflict with the teachers’ union while throughout the ongoing contract negotiations over the past few years.
All five candidates also currently have or had children who attended Andover schools.
Contestants Erin Cash and Jo Thorlin both highlighted their work as educators. Emily DiCesaro and Sandis Wright talked about how their professional experience in team problem solving would carry over to the committee. Shishan Wang used his background as a microbiologist to talk about strengthening STEM programs.
Currently, the committee is winding down more than a year of negotiations with the teacher assistant bargaining unit. All of the candidates, except Cash, agreed that RNs were paid competitively, but they also said that RN work deserved to be better paid.
They also all agreed that there could be better communication and more empathy in the negotiations.
It’s best if the council “don’t dig trenches. If it drags, stay on the high ground to maintain respect and conversation,” Cash said.
The candidates were also asked how they would have lifted the mask mandate earlier this year. DiCesaro and Wright said they would have maintained the district schedule. Cash, Thorlin and Wang reportedly chose to lift it on Feb. 28, the same day the state first allowed such a choice.
Thorlin also explained that masks and vaccines should be left to parents’ choice because “we make the choice for many other aspects of people’s bodies.”
Cash said she would rely heavily on the voices of parents and teachers while weighing public health decisions.
Wright said he would follow the medical professional’s data and recommendations.
DiCesaro also turned to the mental health toll the pandemic is likely taking on students and educators, saying there should be more help available for them when the pandemic ends.
Additionally, applicants were asked, via community-submitted questions, about their thoughts on critical race theory in the program. Andover schools do not teach Critical Race Theory – often referred to as CRT – because it is an area of study that concerns how race intersects with the law and is generally not taught only in colleges and law schools.
Each candidate agreed that the curriculum was outside of their purview as a member of the school committee and that everyone should feel respected at school.
There was also a question about funding school meals. Currently, the federal government is providing free breakfast and lunch to all students through COVID-19 assistance. With this ending, the free and reduced lunch meal plans that were already part of federal and state programs will continue.
Each candidate agreed that schools should provide meals for children whose families need financial assistance.
The two people vying for moderator – incumbent Shelia Doherty and newcomer Keith Saxon – have also been invited to the forum. Doherty was unable to attend the forum because she was caring for a sick friend.
Saxon, who participated in the forum, explained that he wanted to bring new voices into the finance committee and that he wanted to update Town Meeting to make it “better for everyone”, including electronic voting.
Doherty, who submitted a statement to the forum moderator, highlighted her experience as a moderator and her independence from city politics, including that only her siblings knew what she thought of the issues that would be discussed. during a meeting.
Selection Committee Member Alex Vispoli and Selection Committee Candidate Melissa Danisch also introduced themselves to the community at the forum. Each is running unopposed for two three-year terms on the Board of Directors.
The full forum is available to watch on andovertv.org. There are several other forums, including one hosted by the Student Government Association at Andover High School at 7 p.m. on Monday March 14 and another forum by the Service Club of Andover at 6:30 p.m. ‘Andover.