The two candidates in a contested race for the one available seat as Stow Representative to the Nashoba Regional School District School Committee were each given the same set of questions with their unedited responses published below. The Stow Town Election will be held on Tuesday, May 15 at Center School.
MARK JONES, Incumbent
I am running for re-election to the Nashoba Regional School School Committee in the May 15th Stow Town Election. I have lived in Stow for more than 13 years, and have been active in town government since 2011, when I was appointed associate member of the Planning Board; three years later I was elected to that Board. I served on the NRHS Space Study Task Force from 2014 through 2016.
I bring more than thirty-five years of experience in accounting, finance, budgeting, operations and management, from working in a variety of nonprofit and for-profit organizations, as well as a serving as a board member and president of several non-profit community organizations and foundations.
I desire to continue to advocate from a governance perspective for the District to offer the best possible education for our youth, while mindful of the necessity to do so with far-sighted effectiveness, creatively, financial integrity and managerial efficiency. In my three years on the School Committee, it has undertaken a comprehensive review of District finances, budgetary processes and operations, and I desire to implement the results of those reviews in longer-term policies for future school committees to be informed by.in longer-term policies for future school committees to be informed by.
My name is Elaine Sanfilippo, and I am running for School Committee because I believe we can do more to prepare students for productive, healthy and happy lives. We should think about education holistically, with a focus on delivering academic, social, emotional, and physical long-term health, in a fiscally responsible way. Through delivering this balanced educational system, our students will be better prepared for the future.
Why am I a good fit for this role? I am a parent of two young children. I also understand our changing economy, and how to run a successful organization. I am a Biomedical Engineer (WPI) and hold an MBA (MIT). My career has focused primarily on project management, long-term strategic planning, and helping companies use data to maximize results while minimizing spending. I’m comfortable analyzing financial reports, and have been accountable for multi-million dollar budgets, but I also understand that behind every number on the page is a person.
My priorities, if elected, are three-fold: 1) increase communication with the entire community to create a true partnership, 2) stabilize the district’s long-term fiscal health and 3) clarify and strengthen our vision, so we tie every dollar spent directly back to achieving our goals.
CANDIDATE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Question 1: There has been debate about the pre-school and kindergarten programs currently offered by the District. What types of programs at each of those levels do you support and, if different than what is currently being done, how would you suggest changes be implemented?
MARK JONES: Half-Day Kindergarten (tuition free), is a statutory mandate; parents may optionally enroll their children in Kindergarten. Districts may optionally offer full-day Kindergarten programs, and may charge tuition for afternoon programs.
The Pre-Kindergarten program, by mandate, is a special educational program that aids special needs children to transition to a social environment and school oriented experience; the special needs children shall have as many “model” non-special-needs children (who may be charged tuition) in a classroom as there are special-needs children. The Pre-K program also serves children with more significant special needs, in small special needs-only classes.
The NRSD tuition fees at present, for the Afternoon component of Kindergarten support the salaries of teachers and aides, but do not pay for employee benefits and other overhead, which is supported by taxpayer funds. Tuition fees for the Pre-Kindergarten “model” children aproximates 80% of the full cost in proportion to that population, including salaries, benefits and facilities overhead. I support and voted for the present Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten program fees.
If these two programs were to become tuition free, in the first year, it require approximately $900,000 additional to be assessed to the District Towns, and about one-quarter smaller amount in subsequent years.
ELAINE SANFILIPPO: As a School Committee member, I’d place strong value on stakeholder feedback. Prior to implementing major changes, I would seek teacher, administration, parent council, and citizen comments. Creating a public feedback loop will maximize benefits to students and staff, minimize unforeseen costs, and foster community support.
Investments in quality early childhood programs generate returns of $3 saved for every $1 invested, and 96% of kindergarteners in MA public schools attend full-day programs. The vast majority of children in NRSD request full-day kindergarten, and pay $3,250 tuition, yet we consistently have fewer spots than requested. We should create a plan for effectively funding a complete full-day program to better account for enrollment interest, and hedge a potential state mandate’s impact.
Our PreK program integrates students on IEPs with their typically-developing peers. Lengthy waitlists and improved outcomes pointed to a popular, successful program. The revised program cut total enrollment by 44% and limited some classroom options. The decision, though well intended, was made hastily for operational and budget reasons, without a feedback loop or proactive communication. The School Committee should direct a task force to better understand PreK demand, study successful models, and make recommendations for sustainable ways to educate more students.
Question 2: The School District is filing a Statement of Intent with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to start the process of addressing the needs of the Nashoba High School building. What types of solutions would you support (e.g. renovation, addition, replacement, etc) to meet the school’s needs?
MARK JONES: I voted for the Statement of Interest filing. I was a member of the Nashoba High School Space Study Task Force, which in 2016 delivered an assessment and recommended that a Statement of Interest be filed.
The HS was built in three phases, 1960, 1970 and 2002, with two modular classrooms added in 2015. The Task Force found that there is immediate need for nine more general classrooms, one Science Classroom, and a variety of other unmet facility needs. In my view the present HS population of about 1,000 is 100 more students than is comfortable or desirable.
I support examination of the most effective actions, in a financially sound way that can be taken to meet the current and future anticipated needs of the District. The likely leading choices to be explored and decided upon in the next several years are: (a) to renovate part or all of the building and its mechanical and roof infrastructure, while adding modular classrooms; (b) build new classrooms and other educational and common areas; or (c) build an entirely new High School. The architectural, engineering and operation studies to do so will likely cost above a million dollars.
ELAINE SANFILIPPO: I support a full feasibility study to truly understand our needs and get a cost estimate for repair, renovation, or rebuild. I cannot make specific recommendations without seeing these results. The building is aging, and the 2002 renovation didn’t address many of the fundamental issues. The district spends significant money every year on short-term fixes. This is a poor investment for the town, and the underlying issues still remain.
Overcrowding is a legitimate issue, but health and safety concerns are non-negotiable. Excerpts from the SOI state during “evenings the boilers have to run in “building occupied” mode to keep the building warm enough to prevent pipe freezing”, “students are often asked to wear coats to class during cold months”, and that in 2014 wet insulation was found in 18% of the roof (which attracts mold).
Delaying action may save money in this year’s budget, but it doesn’t avoid an inevitable, costly renovation. The MSBA program allows for state reimbursement of some costs, lessening the burden on taxpayers. 45% of Center School construction costs were reimbursed by MSBA. If we don’t tackle this problem in some form, now, Stow taxpayers will likely be on the hook for higher future repair costs.
Question 3: What do you see as the top priority for the School Committee and how would you address it?
MARK JONES: Having a comprehensive financial review and plan for all the mandated programs, general operations, and anticipated capital expenditures is a leading challenge of the District and the School Committee.
Putting revised policies into place to ensure continuing operational review, thoughtful planning and reporting, and making possible governance engagement towards moderating the financial requirements of the District to be safely within the ability of the Member District Towns, Lancaster, Bolton and Stow to provide, is a continuing important area for the District. Especially for the key topic of developing a sustainable plan for the Nashoba High School building.
The ability of the District and the School Committee to engage credibly with the residents of the District about its financial needs is important over the next five years.
The past several years have brought significant turmoil and turnover to the district. It is time to come together, develop a shared vision, and drive the district forward. I appreciate the efforts made toward fiscal transparency, and this should be maintained. Going forward, I’d like greater focus on stakeholder communication.
Communication will facilitate progress on all of our other initiatives. It should be at the core of what we do. When people are part of the process, they are more willing to compromise, and accept the difficult trade-offs involved with deciding complex issues with limited resources. Stakeholder support ensures shared prosperity and long-term success.
To help facilitate communication, I, personally, commit to holding monthly office hours. I will respond to emails within 48 hours. I may say, “I hear you. I’ll work on it”, but being responsive is critical. I will attend school and community events to gain context and operational knowledge to inform my positions. I will genuinely listen to the community and work collaboratively to balance perspectives to create strong long-term policy. The first step to effective education is effective communication.
MARK JONES: I invite you to vote for Mark Jones in the May 15 Stow Town Election, and allow me to continue to serve on your behalf, and allow me to apply my experience as non-profit board member, financial advisor, community planner and citizen to the challenges of the Nashoba Regional School Committee.
Best Regards, Mark Jones
http://markjones-stow.com; <[email protected]>
ELAINE SANFILIPPO: I am running for School Committee because there is more we can do to prepare students for productive, healthy and happy lives. Through delivering a balanced educational system (as I described in my introduction), our students will be better prepared for the future.
I have served on the Board of Directors for a non-profit and understand the responsibility of advisement and oversight. My background in financial analysis and long-term strategic planning can improve upon recent financial transparency efforts to get to a place of fiscal strength. I am also a parent, with a vested interest in the success of our schools, which will provide balance to our decision-making process. I believe that my energy and dedication to the mission of our schools will contribute to progress and move towards a shared prosperity in our community.
I look forward to working with the other School Committee members, NRSD administration and staff, town government, and directly with the residents of Stow to address our current and future challenges, and ultimately drive our schools forward.
Thank you for your consideration. Please remember to vote on May 15th.