Candidate Q & A: Paul Baker, School Committee

The following represents the candidate’s responses to the Current’s School Committee-specific questions.

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Years in Marblehead: 19 years

Occupation/education: Head of school at Devereux School and Devereux@Waring. Bachelor’s degree in history and English from the University of Alberta, Canada. 

Appointed positions and/or elected offices: 

I am coming up on seven years volunteering as a MCCPS Board trustee. During this time, I have served as vice chair and clerk of the board as well as chair of the Governance, Personnel, Communication and Development Committees.

What are the three reasons/issues motivating your decision to run for election

1. As a new citizen, to be able to give back by volunteering my time and energy within our community.

2. Our administration and staff /faculty need individuals who will listen to, support and advocate for their needs. 

3. To, hopefully, leverage the knowledge and experience I have garnered from my time as a trustee at MCCPS.

Is the general override for the $2.5 million supplemental budget going to pass? If it doesn’t, how should the School Committee respond?

Yes! It has to pass. Our town has put off the inevitable and buried our collective heads in the sand. It’s time to pay up. If we don’t pass an override this year, there will be an even larger ask next year. Through our reliance on “Free Cash,” our town has received, in essence, “something for nothing.” The “Free Cash” has gone and it’s time for all of us to pay our share or face up to the austerity measures that will surely follow. It’s complete madness to continue to practice the same old “tried and true” measures while staring into a financial abyss and yet expect a different outcome. 

Should there be a “no” vote, Dr. Buckey, and the current SC have clearly and succinctly laid out the scenario regarding staffing and programming at the building level. Should this unthinkable situation arise, I would fully expect both the town and SC to push for an override in 2024.

What is your understanding of recent trends with respect to parents sending their children to private schools instead of keeping them in Marblehead? If you see this as a problem, how will you address it on the School Committee?

Full disclosure: I was one of those parents. My oldest son, who has ADD, was coming to the end of his sophomore year when Covid hit. He struggled terribly during those last few months of school. We enrolled him at the Waring School where he was able to be in school 50% of the time and then full time for the remainder of his high school years. 

The same is true of our younger son, his last few months of third grade were not fulfilling and we were fortunate to enroll him at D@W for 4th/5th grade.

Both schools had much smaller enrollment numbers as well as the staff, flexibility and means to provide, at short notice, what a large district could not. .

I believe that the sheer number of private schools in the area, combined with the general wealth per capita of Marblehead residents, will always lead to some families choosing the private option. The relatively recent opening of Penguin Hall, and also St. John’s Prep expanding to 6th grade has further exacerbated the issue. We can attempt to stem the flow by making sure that our administration and our faculty have the funding and tools they need to provide the best education possible.

Many Massachusetts public school districts are doing more to promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Is this an important issue in Marblehead? Why has funding for a DEI coordinator and DEI programming been so controversial?

Sadly, a DEI coordinator is a must for our, and all, school districts. It’s definitely an important issue in Marblehead. I believe the controversy around DEI programming and the hiring of a DEI coordinator to be centered around our schools’ budget issues. Our administration has emphasized and recommended that a DEI coordinator should be hired. So too has the Marblehead Racial Justice Team. However, it would appear that the optics of hiring for an additional “administrative position” concurrently with proposed personnel cuts at the building level was a step too far. When the override passes, and if I am elected, I will advocate for a DEI coordinator to be hired for the next academic year.

There’s a perception in town that there are “factions” on the School Committee. Is this accurate and, if it is, what can be done to make the SC more harmonious and effective? 

Generally speaking, there are always going to be factions on committees, and especially so within smaller committees. I truly believe that a committee can be both harmonious and effective with a greater number of members. At MCCPS, a minimum of nine/maximum of 15 trustees is mandated in the bylaws. I have shared the table with as many as 13 fellow trustees during my seven years and although factions have “evolved,” the Board has, mostly, remained respectful and effective.

As evidenced by the seat unfortunately vacated by Emily Barron, I don’t believe it to be a “best practice” to have only five members. The remaining members were split between filling her seat or soldiering on with four members. In effect, this left our school committee at an impasse during a critical time (think budget, high school principal, assistant principal) and was not resolved until the appointment of Tom Mathers as an interim member in late February.

Personally, I would advocate for a seven-person School Committee. Aside from minimizing the possibility of factions forming, a seven-person School Committee would allow for work to continue should a member, or two, have emergencies/fall ill/vacations/family events etc.

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