School board candidates square off, tout experience

  • FROM LEFT: School board candidates Tom Croteau, Liza Dube, Danielle Smith, Barb Higgins, Liza Poinier, Rusty Cofrin and Chuck Crush. Jonathan Van Fleet—Monitor staff

  • FROM LEFT: School board candidates Tom Croteau, Liza Dube, Danielle Smith, Barb Higgins, Liza Poinier, Rusty Cofrin and Chuck Crush. Jonathan Van Fleet—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

In an election forum Tuesday, the candidates in Concord’s contested school board races squared off on early childhood education, competency-based grading, budgets, and what to do about the district’s aging middle school.

But with few policy differences between them, candidates ultimately emphasized their background and experience in their bid for voters’ support come Nov. 7.

Tom Croteau, the incumbent in District A (wards 1, 2, 3 and 4), referred to his time as a teacher and principal and said he’d been a dedicated, passionate member of the board for five years.

“I have not been scared about being on subcommittees,” he said. “I want to be involved. I want to know what’s going on.”

Liza Dube, one of Croteau’s challengers, touted her experience both as a parent in the district and as a corporate and nonprofit executive.

“Concord is in the midst of an economic revitalization, and I’ll bring the fresh perspective and skills that the school board needs to match it,” she said.

Danielle Smith, another candidate in District A, said she’d first gotten involved with the school board during last year’s debates about full-day kindergarten.

“I come to this race with a master’s in education, eight years of classroom experience ... 34 years of Concord residency, five years of business ownership, and yes, eight years of motherhood,” she said.

Barb Higgins, the incumbent in District B (wards 5, 6 and 7), said she had a track record of listening to her constituents in her six years on the board.

“I really come as Barb Higgins. I am what I am. And the reason people should vote for Barb Higgins is because I am the person that they feel would represent them,” she said.

Liza Poinier, her challenger, said she’d put a premium on keeping the public involved and informed about what the board is up to.

“Here’s what I bring to the school board: A new point of view, decades of work experience that includes big, complicated projects and a focus on collaboration and communication,” Poinier said.

In District C, which represents wards 8, 9 and 10, Rusty Cofrin, a retired math teacher and former school board member, emphasized that “experience counts,” and pointed to his fiscal track record.

“My level of knowledge is proven. And as the Monitor claimed last year, I am the budget hawk. I truly believe I know what should be budgeted and what should not,” he said.

Chuck Crush, director at the Birches in Concord and the other candidate in District C, pointed to his background in health care.

“I’m a health care executive with 20 years’ experience delivering quality health care in a cost-effective manner,” he said. Crush added that inclusion was a top priority: “I want to make sure that we have a school system ... that’s inclusive of New Americans, LGBTQ students, as well as students with disabilities.”

As in last year’s elections, early childhood education has received top billing in the race. All endorsed the idea of full-day kindergarten, but Cofrin declined to commit to voting for full-day programming next year, saying it all depended on the budget.

“I am for full-day kindergarten. But what I am against is the funding if it’s going to make everyone’s taxes spike,” he said.

Both Croteau and Higgins said they had struggled with their decision last year, when both ultimately voted against moving to full-day kindergarten after the district needed to rush through a bond to pay for a conversion to gas heat after Concord Steam’s sudden closure. Both said they planned to vote for it next year.

“Unless something miraculous and horrible happens, I will vote for full-day kindergarten,” Croteau said.

Dube called herself a “huge proponent” of full-day kindergarten, and said the district also needed to start talking about implementing universal preschool.

“Early childhood education is better for the kids; it provides an equal opportunity for all the students in our community, not just those whose family can afford it, but also because it’s better for the economy,” she said. “Research has shown that when you invest in early childhood education, for every dollar that you invest, you get a 7- to 10-dollar return on investment, particularly in reduction in crime.”

Smith, who has taught kindergarten, said she’d seen firsthand the impact and importance of full-day programming.

“I had a little boy come in, in one of my last years teaching, who had never even held a pencil before. And I can’t imagine how he would have survived in a half-day (program),” she said.

Poinier was emphatic: “Kindergarten should not be negotiable.”

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)