Franklin voters choose moderates over reformers for school board

  • Dave Testerman, who is running for re-election for Franklin Ward 2 School Board, stands out in front of the Franklin City Hall on election day on Tuesday, October 4, 2022. Laurie Cass won the two-year term on the board with 105 votes, beating out Testerman, who received 77 votes. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Dave Testerman stands out in front of the Franklin City Hall on election day on Tuesday. Laurie Cass won the two-year term on the school board with 105 votes. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/5/2022 2:57:28 PM

With issues of student achievement, controversial curriculum topics and parent rights at the center of school board elections, Franklin voters chose candidates who favored supporting teachers, increasing salaries and focusing on social and emotional learning over challengers who favored cutting services or holding teachers responsible for low test scores.

Franklin voters elected three City Councilors and five school board members Tuesday.

For City Council, incumbent Olivia Zink and newcomer Leigh Webb ran unopposed and incumbent Ted Starkweather defeated Cecile Cormier, a former school board member. On the school board, Jack Finley won a three-year seat on the school board in Ward 1 with 142 votes, beating out opponent Marie Danforth who received 80 votes. In Ward 3, incumbent school board chair Tim Dow was re-elected to a three-year term with 167 votes, beating out challenger Robert “Roy” Hubble, who received 93 votes.

In Ward 2, voters faced two contested races and one uncontested race because two candidates were appointed to fill vacated seats earlier this year and were required to run again.

Liz Cote won a one-year seat on the board with 96 votes, narrowly beating opponent Peter McLaughlin who received 84 votes, while Laurie Cass won a two-year term on the board with 105 votes, beating out Dave Testerman, who received 77 votes.

Desireé McLaughlin, who ran unopposed for a three-year term in Ward 2, was elected to the board with 150 votes.

Voters in Ward 2 opted for more moderate candidates who supported existing school models over more reform-minded candidates.

At a Sept. 26 candidate forum hosted by the community group Choose Franklin, candidates were asked about how to address Franklin’s low test score rankings, Cote and Cass argued in favor of paying teachers more and offering more social and emotional services like trauma-informed care to support students. Other candidates like Peter McLaughlin and Testerman argued in favor of returning to a focus on the fundamentals of education: reading, writing and arithmetic, saying teachers should be held responsible for low test scores.

“These tests are not tests of the students, they are tests of the communicators,” Testerman said. “We should be making those people accountable for what they’re doing. These are indications – are they doing their job? And it’s obvious they’re not.”

Candidates were also asked how much involvement parents should be allowed to have in the schools and their child’s education. Danforth and Peter McLaughlin spoke in favor of parents’ rights to be involved and have say over students’ education.

“The best expert is the parents,” Peter McLaughlin said. “I think everything should be transparent so the parents should know exactly what’s going on with the curriculums and I think they should have a voice if they disagree with certain curriculums that are taught in the school.”

Cote and Cass, who won seats on the board, both said that while parents have a right to information and participation in their local schools, big decisions over curriculum content development is something that’s best handled by education professionals.

“There’s a reason that curriculum instruction is either a graduate or sometimes even a graduate and an undergraduate degree,” Cote said. “It is best left to experts who study it and know it intimately, guided by tested and mutually agreed-upon guidelines.”

At the Choose Franklin forum, school board candidates were also asked to provide their thoughts on teaching critical race theory in school. There is no evidence that critical race theory, a legal framework, is being taught at the K-12 level in any New Hampshire public school, and the phrase has become a political dogwhistle among critics of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

“We are not teaching CRT in New Hampshire schools. That being said, it is important to have difficult conversations in our schools, like those about racism,” Cote said. “These conversations support the development of our students into educated, productive, empathetic citizens who are an asset to our community.”

Candidates were asked about steps they would take to increase the school’s funding sources, including whether they would consider consolidation between two schools or two school districts. Most candidates were against school consolidation, although Danforth said she would be willing to explore it as an option. Danforth, Peter McLaughlin and Testerman spoke in favor of reducing school staff such as teacher aides and cutting social-emotional learning initiatives to create more funds.

“The way you save money is to get rid of a lot of the crap that’s in the schools,” Testerman said. “You’d have fewer teachers, and that money could go to other teachers to pay them more salary.”

Cote and Cass both spoke in favor of pursing change at the state level to improve state funding to public schools,

“Not only should the state be more accountable for helping the kids where it’s already been proven that it’s inequitable, but the federal government as well,” Cass said.

City Council candidates discuss school performance and city infrastructure

In Ward 1’s contested City Council race, incumbent Ted Starkweather won a seat on City Council with 130 votes, beating out challenger Cecile Cormier, a former school board member who recieved 90 votes.

At a candidate forum hosted , Starkweather listed his top priorities as school funding and performance, and public safety followed by infrastructure and the tax cap. Both Starkweather and Zink brought up broadening the tax base, making room for more industry to help revitalize Franklin.

“If we want to get young people moving into the city, the thing you have to look at is school performance,” Starkweather. “Public safety, the police and fire department is a revolving door. We are fighting to keep the people we get.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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