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NEWTON

School panel hopefuls cite budget needs

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / October 23, 2011

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Tight money, vulnerable programs, and dilapidated buildings are what candidates for the Newton School Committee are debating in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election.

Although there is general agreement on what challenges face the city’s schools, different ideas and levels of experience set the candidates apart from each other in three contested races for seats in Wards 2, 4, and 5. All School Committee races are voted on citywide.

The campaign season has been overshadowed by a drawn-out legal battle over the eligibility of Jonathan Yeo, whose residency status has been questioned as he runs from his new home in Ward 2 against Margaret Albright. The state Appeals Court last week dismissed the latest challenge to his candidacy. Yeo is finishing up his third term as the School Committee’s representative from Ward 4, his previous home. He is campaigning on his experience, while Albright emphasizes her 21 years living in Ward 2.

Albright said Ward 2, on the city’s north side, has a higher concentration of children from low-income families than other parts of town, so its constituents have a different perspective. For instance, new school fees are more troublesome for her neighbors, she said. “A lot of families can’t afford it, but they’ll never speak up [for a waiver]. They’re too proud,’’ said Albright. “I know the schools, the families, the issues very well.’’

Albright, 52, runs a consulting company, High Impact Marketing, and works on grants and funding for schools outside of Newton. She has served on school councils at Horace Mann Elementary and Day Middle School and was on a districtwide curriculum alignment committee for social studies, she said.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with education policy and what’s going on around the state and the country, and I wanted to bring some of that to Newton,’’ said Albright.

A top priority, if elected, would be to bring full-day kindergarten to the city.

Her other priorities include strengthening the curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as increasing the sense of urgency about the need to improve school facilities.

Yeo, 49, works at the Department of Conservation and Recreation as the director of water supply protection.

He stressed his experience on the School Committee, where he said he has worked to preserve quality amid tight budgets. He has served as chairman of the School Committee’s negotiations team, which recently came to a tentative agreement with the teachers’ union. The details are not yet public. The agreement is both fair and sustainable, said Yeo, who also cited his experience in cutting cafeteria costs.

“In order for Newton to maintain its breadth of programs and class sizes that are appropriate for effective classroom teaching and learning, we need to have a sustainable budget,’’ Yeo said in an interview.

Yeo said better classroom teaching and a strong curriculum are another key goal, which he has brought to the forefront by asking that it be on the agenda at every School Committee meeting.

Yeo’s other priorities include improving school buildings and boosting technology in the schools.

Josh Krintzman, 36, an assistant counsel to the Massachusetts Senate, is running for the Ward 4 seat against Diana Fisher Gomberg, 42, who has a background in public health and teaches classes for new and expectant parents at Isis Parenting.

Both have been active in the community. Gomberg has been elected to school councils at both the elementary and middle school level and has served on PTO boards, she said. Krintzman was president of the Lower Falls Improvement Association and co-founded the Riverside Station Neighborhood Coalition.

Krintzman said his goals include balancing the budget in a sustainable way, addressing school facility needs, and increasing the use of technology.

“I think there’s general agreement about things we want to do as a school system,’’ he said. “The big question, I think, is how are you going to do that?’’

To answer that, Krintzman said the district needs to look at creative ways of raising money, such as by forming a Newton alumni association and exploring more public-private partnerships.

Gomberg said her top priorities are maintaining effective class sizes, providing appropriate learning space, and preserving the variety of programs in the schools.

She said she has been a vocal arts supporter and has also volunteered with Stand for Children, a nonprofit advocacy group, helping to bring extra state and federal funding to Newton schools. At Burr Elementary, Gomberg said she has successfully advocated for modular classrooms and some increased staffing.

“I am the candidate with experience in the schools,’’ she said. “I have a strong track record of working hard over the last eight years and getting results.’’

In Ward 5, Steve Siegel is challenging incumbent Susan Rosenbaum for the second time.

Rosenbaum, 52, who works as a clinical operations manager for a California startup pharmaceutical company, is finishing her first term. Maintaining the wide range of programs Newton offers and improving school buildings are her main concerns, she said.

“I feel like my job isn’t done yet,’’ said Rosenbaum, who has served on a panel that deals with facilities issues.

Finding new sources of revenue has to be an objective, she said. To that end, Rosenbaum said she has been promoting the advent of an alumni association and has been a strong advocate for public-private partnerships.

Reducing teen stress at the high school level is also important, she said. And ideally she would like to see world languages restored at the elementary level.

Siegel, 51, is the owner and president of a structural engineering firm, Siegel Associates Inc.

“I’m running because we have issues in the school system that I think I have the skills, the ability, the interest, and the energy to address,’’ he said.

Now that the teachers’ contract appears to be on the verge of settlement, he said the main issue is school building improvements, and his background in design and construction would help tackle those challenges, he said.

Siegel is an elected member of the Oak Hill School Council and volunteers as an elementary school math tutor.

Another high priority is technology in the classroom, which is inequitable, he said, because parent-teacher organizations raise money now for what should be a city expense.

Globe correspondent Dan Adams contributed to this report. Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com.


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