Colchester Board of Education will seat all candidates
By Merja H. Lehtinen - ReminderNews
Colchester - posted Tue., Oct. 29, 2013
The four candidates on the ballot for Colchester Board of Education are all assured seats, regardless of the numbers on Nov. 5. Only one candidate is new – the rest are incumbents.
Returning are Republican Ronald Goldstein, a local lawyer and developer currently serving as chairman, and Democrat Don Kennedy, an IT global expert for an insurance company. Kennedy has served on the board since 2008, when he said he “filled in for a partial term by a former member, and then ran in 2009 for his current four-year term.” He is now vice chairman.
Also returning is Republican Mitchell Koziol, a technology expert in the health insurance industry. At a recent tri-board meeting, Koziol said he wants the future solutions proposed by the board to be “smarter,” and to take time to consider new data and cutting-edge technologies.
Many incumbents were surprised by the failure of the recent bonding referendum for a mixed-use, three-story building housing a renovated middle school, senior, youth/community centers, administrative, and social services offices for $57 million. There is now consensus to do a survey to find out why it failed and how townspeople would prefer to address the various needs.
Newcomer to the Board of Education will be Colchester Independent Party’s Michael Voiland, an IT insurance industry expert, who has coached wrestling at Bacon Academy for the last 17 years. He said the $57 million price tag for a mixed-use plan is what caused concern among many voters.
“I believe I have a conservative financial approach and a common sense way of addressing issues and an open mind,” said Voiland. “The building committee should have been charged with more than one option. Voters did not see any other options. They did not want to spend $57 million on that one option.”
During their last terms, Goldstein chaired the personnel committee, which approves school hiring and appointments, and acted as the liaison to the boards of finance and selectmen. Kennedy headed up the budget committee. Koziol served on the policy committee.
The Board of Education is an elected, non-paid board that often meets twice a month or even more during the budget season and before major events of academic or other concern. They plan for everything from heating and cooling costs to the salaries of teachers and staff. The BoE’s portion of the annual budget is nearly 78 percent of Colchester’s spending plan. When school enrollment changes suddenly, or there is an emergency, funds for unanticipated expenses must be reallocated within a budget year or seek help from the general fund.
Due to state law, a community cannot direct what line items the Board of Education funds in an annual budget; it can only accept or reject its proposed spending plan. The exception is for mid-year emergency issues that arise; then the Board of Finance must recommend to the Board of Selectmen whether mid-year requests for a line item by the Board of Education be approved.
Volunteer boards do not get paid for serving the community; however, the BoE’s role is to provide local oversight and planning for a public school system largely controlled by the state Board of Education and federal Department of Education. State and federal mandates cover the common core curriculum in a broad sense, as well as facilities of all schools which receive state and federal funding. Colchester has received grants and funding from both, so it is held accountable at all levels.
Physical classrooms and buildings are the obligation of the local townspeople, however, these local costs can be offset with state and federal grants as well as by bonding or borrowing to amortize high-cost capital needs over a long period of time, usually twenty years. It was the latter that threw the current Board of Education into a quandary when an October referendum to bond $57 million for capital improvements for a mixed-use project, including a school, failed to pass.
The current board met as a tri-board of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance in recent weeks and decided to listen to people for guidance on how to best approach capital improvements.
The Board of Education presented a united front that it was in support of a mixed use plan. With only one newcomer on the already assured board, it is unclear what new position they will take.
The new boards are scheduled to meet Dec. 11 as a tri-board to determine how to meet immediate repair needs since the bonding failed. According to Goldstein, money will be allocated in the upcoming 2014-2015 budget to address immediate needs.
“Moving forward, the town recognizes the need to do some work at the middle school that is acceptable financially as well as programmatically,” said Goldstein.
Much now depends on the message voters send at the polls by who is re-elected or elected to competitive seats on the Board of Selectmen, where an outcome is not assured.