Town to pick new School Committee members amid budget crisis

The race for School Committee is one of the hottest contests in the town’s June election, with four people vying for two seats. A fifth candidate, Karen Tal-Makhluf, dropped out last week. She was the first person to announce a run back in March.

“Since then, I have been encouraged to see four other candidates enter the race. Since I have no wish to detract from these candidates’ efforts and because I will also need to be traveling during much of the campaign season, I am publicly withdrawing from this year’s School Committee race effective today, but I look forward to continuing to help move our community forward both as a volunteer and as a parent,” Tal-Makhluf wrote in a statement.

The remaining School Committee candidates are Paul Baker, incumbent Sarah Gold, Brian Ota and former School Committee member Jennifer Schaeffner.

The School Committee faces tough challenges as the district and the town grapple with a budget crisis. In fact, if town voters reject a $2.5 million override on the June ballot, Schools Supt. John Buckey says more than 30 staff positions will be cut. Also, several programs will be canceled, including freshmen sports.

Here’s a quick look at each candidate:

Paul Baker

Paul Baker

Baker has lived in Marblehead for 22 years and is the head of school at the Devereux School in town and the Devereux at Waring School in Beverly. He is also a board member at the Marblehead Community Charter Public School. Baker has two sons: a freshman at American University and a sixth-grader at Village School.
Baker proudly supports the override.

“I’m happy to share that I voted for the town override and am delighted that the warrant article passed. Allowing the entire town to vote on such an important question at the June ballot is essential. Marblehead can no longer rely on ‘free cash.’
“Our town and our schools don’t deserve additional funding, our town and our schools need additional funding and I will be campaigning to ensure that the override does pass on June 20.”

Sarah Gold

Sarah Gold

Sarah Gold has served five years on the School Committee and says she’s looking forward to continuing her work there.
“I look forward to addressing the structural deficit and taking the feedback from district administrators, educators, parents and taxpayers to make sure the children of Marblehead receive an exemplary education in a way that doesn’t overburden residents,” said Gold, who also supports the override.

“As a mental health therapist and current school counselor, I am also laser-focused on ensuring that the Marblehead Public Schools continue to provide robust behavioral support to students in the post-COVID landscape,” she added.

Brian Ota

Brian Ota

Ota served as Glover School principal for five years before being let go last June. Previously, he worked as assistant principal at the Village School and the dean of students in the Dennis-Yarmouth School District.

“One of my goals is to continue building a collaborative working environment within the School Committee, school administration, Select Board and Finance Committee to ensure our students receive the very best education,” said Ota, who will vote for the override.

While working in Marblehead schools, Ota says he accomplished a lot at the district level.

“I led a team of principals to develop the first District Curriculum Accommodations Plan which defines best teaching practices to ensure all students — general education and special education — get what they need to be successful. I took over the math adoption committee that replaced the longstanding outdated math books. I was an instrumental member of the District Safety Committee updating and rewriting the safety protocols and helped bring the ALICE protocols into the district.”

Jenn Shaeffner

Jenn Schaeffner

Schaeffner is hoping to return to the School Committee, where she served five years. She lists several goals for her new term, including “Stop and reverse learning loss” and “Insist, starting immediately, on a zero-based budget that creates budgets for each school building from scratch based on existing student headcount, needs and appropriate staffing levels.”

Schaeffner says she supports the tax override “in large part because I am unwilling to punish our children for the misdeeds of adults. If the override doesn’t pass, the School Committee will have to revisit the budget in late June. The currently proposed cuts are not likely to be the final ones, and I commit to reevaluating all options in order to remove the cuts that most directly impact student outcomes.”

Stay with the Current for complete coverage of the town’s June 20 election, including the permanent tax override, and races for Select Board, Board of Health, Light Commission and more.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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