The East Providence School Committee candidates from Ward 2 and At Large squared off Monday evening, Oct. 15, at the Cape Verdean Progressive Center in the debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters RI.
The candidates were last on the program, but what they were expected to say apparently convinced most of the 100 or so voters to stick around. Marie Hennedy, who served as moderator for the League of Women Voters, said she had never seen so many people for a debate of School Committee candidates in her many years of handling these types of public sessions.
Anthony Ferreira and the only School Committee incumbent to seek re-election, Stephen Furtado, in Ward 2, and Joel Monteiro and Ronald Warr Jr., the At-Large candidates, sat side by side at a table.
The Ward 2 candidates got the same six questions. The At-Large candidates got a different set of six questions. Each candidate made opening and closing statements.
Ferreira and Furtado dueled first. Then Monteiro and Warr took their turns answering and responding to the questions written down on index cards from the floor.
How would the Ward 2 candidates balance the needs of special education and general education students?
"It's all spelled out for us," said Furtado of special education students. "We're required to provide certain services. There is no give or take. That doesn't exist. We need to treat all children with the same respect."
Ferreira said all money should be applied equally to help all students.
How would Ferreira and Furtado prevent deficits from accumulating in the future?
Cut expenses and pay bills on time, Ferreira said. Don't put bills on the back burner and pass them on to the next School Committee.
"Accurate budgeting," said Furtado. "With accountability for all kids. And get the proper information from the administration."
Do they favor consolidation and regionalization of services?
"For purchasing, absolutely," said Furtado. "I favor joint purchasing agreements."
Ferreir said he, too, supports consolidation, especially for contracts for bussing.
Furtado and Ferreira were asked to prioritize all-day kindergarten, sports or a longer school day.
"All-day K is a must," said Ferreira. The others should remain in the discussion.
"All-day K is definitely a must," agreed Furtado. "It's the solid foundation for all pupils. Sports must remain in the discussion."
Do they favor pay-for-performance for teachers?
"Who and what defines performance?" said Furtado. "We need a fair evaluatioin system. There are so many variables to consider."
"Yes, pay for performance," said Ferreira. "There are ways that exist to do it."
Do you intend to address the lack of technology in the schools?
"We need to put money in the right spots," said Ferreira. "All kids should get the same equal education across the board."
"By leaps and bounds," said Furtado, "we have put more technology in classrooms."
It will be particuarly necessary as the district segues from NECAP assessment tests to PARCC test, he said.
Furtado opened and closed with statements that stressed the need for all-day kindergarten and School Committee members who will "fight for kids and the things needed for kids."
"Good schools equal good real estate values," he said. "Investing in education is the key."
Ferreira opened and closed by saying that the Budget Commission is in place only because the School Committee accepted deficit spending, which led to state control.
"We need to work as one unit," he said. "We need to push issues with the state."
Monteiro and Warr both stressed their experience in business, as parents and as coaches in their opening statements.
"I think I have the skill set to contribute and make a difference," said Monteiro.
"I look for the best in everybody," said Warr. "And if the environment is good, the kids learn better."
How would they address inequities in Title 1 program -- funds targeted to high-poverty schools and districts to provide educational services to students who are educationally disadvantaged or at risk of failing to meet state standards?
"Communication, set expectations and manage each school differently," Monteiro said.
"Everything comes down to budgeting," said Warr. "We need to budget better."
Do they have the experience needed to hire the next superintendent of schools?
"As a small business owner," said Warr, an attorney with a family practice, "I have have hired people on merit and their qualifications."
"I have quite a bit of experience hiring people," said Monteiro. "Then you need to make them accountable."
Does the school curriculum need changes?
Monteiro said the School Committee should rely on experts to handle curriculum. Warr said the administration must make the appropriate courses available, not the School Committee.
Do they have financial management and budget experience?
"I manage a law practice, primarily in real estate," said Warr. "I have made tough decisions."
Monteiro said he currently manages a $7 million budget. And, he said, he has managed tight budgets.
Do they favor "rubrics" -- which attempt to communicate expectations of quality around a specific task on a scale of 1 to 4 -- as a grading system?
"I'm not a big fan," said Monteiro. "But I need more information on rubrics. I'm willing to look at the pros and cons."
"Teachers tell me they have difficulty giving 4s, which indicates a student has gone above and beyond," Warr said.
How would they prevent future deficit spending?
"We need to budget with expectations," said Monteiro, "and then monitor and understand revenues and what's coming in. Set realistic expectations and hold them accountable."
Administrative contracts "put the School Committee behind the 8 ball in the past," Warr said. "We need realistic numbers. We need to match salaries to the size of the school district."
In closing, Monteiro said: "We're in tough times. The Budget Commission will make decisions that we need to come behind together for the children. We have children with different needs. It is our job to educate them and leave them better off then when they came in."
"Schools effect everything," Warr said in closing. "Our homes will be appraised higher. They're the foundatino for everything. We need to fund schools better in a responsible manner and then track the money."
The debate was being recorded for broadcast this weekend, Oct. 20 and 21, at 1 and 8 pm on Cox channel 17 and Verizon channel 25 or 24. Check your listing.