EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence Local Advisory Committee for Special Education invited those office-seekers running for School Committee to a “Meet the Candidates” forum Wednesday night, Oct. 10, at the Riverside Library.
About two dozen people attended the event, which was held in the branch’s meeting room and lasted for roughly two hours. Six of the eight candidates for School Committee on the Nov. 6 ballot appeared the forum. Unopposed Ward 3 candidate Richard Pimentel and Ward 1 candidate Elizabeth Clupny were not present.
EPLAC co-chairs Laurie Brown and Jennifer Enos moderated the forum. They presented the candidates with two prepared questions after each gave brief opening remarks. The process of introductions and answering the queries took about 80 minutes. The remaining time was spent on a Q-and-A session with the audience.
Each of the candidates — At-Large Joel Monteiro and Ronald Warr, Ward 1 Betty J. DeCrescenzo, Ward 2 Anthony Ferreira and Stephen Furtado; and Ward 4 Tim Conley — acknowledged the need to be accessible and to listen to their constituents.
The candidates were first asked about how the School Committee should work with administrators and parents.
Mr. Monteiro said the most important component of the relationship is communication and that some politicians “fear” giving bad news, but in these difficult fiscal times it is the “reality” we face.
Mr. Ferreira said there needs to be more accountability on the part of the School Committee to the parents and the general public, and that it was important for politicians to listen to the electorate.
Mr. Warr said it was important to get as much information as possible on a subject and to come up with a “viable” solution. He also noted the East Providence School System is underfunded per the state average by about five percent.
Mr. Furtado said having an “honest dialogue” was the key and that administrators must be prevented from acting unilaterally without the support of the School Committee or parents.
Mr. Conley, himself a father of a Special Needs child, said Special Education dollars are the “best money the district spends,” and that early-intervention programs create “life-long” returns for all residents of the city.
Ms. DeCrescenzo said Special Education teaching principals are based on a “team approach” and that is also needed throughout the entire community.
The second question posed to the candidates dealt with the prospect of how they would go about making cuts, if needed, in the future.
Ms. DeCrescenzo referred to an oft-used quote in Special Ed, “You may want a Cadillac, but all it takes is a Ford.” She said she would work towards ensuring all students, including those in the general population, received everything required to enhance their education.
Mr. Conley echoed Mr. Warr’s assertion East Providence is underfunded. He said so-called “Big Ticket” items have been the city’s most pressing problems in the past. He said there was a need to keep the School Department’s fiscal house in order. And he would be willing to make “painful” decisions if necessary.
Mr. Furtado said there are new ways to solve old problems and that he was open to any thoughtful solutions.
Mr. Warr stressed the need to audit all contracts in the district and to curb spending on administrators. He said it was wrong to keep asking teachers to bare the burden of cuts.
Mr. Ferreira said it was important to get the community involved, make them aware of the problems. He said if everyone is working together things can get accomplished.
Mr. Monteiro said it was important to assess the value of return on the investment and what are the long-term costs of any future cuts. He also was critical of the 3-2 votes taken by both the current School Committee and City Council, adding each member should be a check-and-balance on the other.
Mr. Ferreira agreed with Mr. Monteiro, saying he was troubled by the amount and appearance of “back-room deals” that are made in the city. He said he would work to bring the practice to an end.
Mr. DeCrescenzo told the audience it was important for them to get involved in the community by joining committees like the EPLAC so that their voices can be heard.
At-Large candidates Joel Monteiro and Ronald Warr seemed to be in agreement on some core issues. Both spoke of their school-aged children as being the main reasons why they chose to run.
Mr. Monteiro said he “unfortunately wasn’t surprised, but still discouraged” by the state of disrepair he found East Providence High School. And he believes a big part of the problem with the school system is “poor communication.”