Saturday February 16, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- For a fourth consecutive Town Meeting Day there will be one odd man out after the votes are cast for the Bennington School District race.

This year, incumbent Jackie Prue is seeking a second term while newcomers Jackie Kelly and Kelly Kennedy are also vying for one of the two vacant three-year seats.

In addition to Prue’s seat, the seat held by Laurie Cohen is also up for grabs after Cohen declined to seek a third term on the board.

Jackie Prue

Prue, who works in developmental services at United Counseling Services, said she has enjoyed her first term on the BSD board and is seeking re-election because there is still more work to be done.

The most pressing issue the board will face following the election, Prue believes, is garnering support for an addition to Bennington Elementary to alleviate a shortage of classrooms in the district as population is projected to rise in coming years. The board has discussed various ways of addressing the problem -- such as tuitioning students to neighboring elementary schools or sending the fifth grade to Mount Anthony Union Middle School -- but Prue, like others on the existing board, believe the addition that is expected to range from $5.6 million to $6.2 million is the best solution.

"If we start sending students elsewhere we have to come up with money that we’re going to be losing to other districts," Prue said. "Financially, it just will not work as far as I can see."

Prue believes her experience on the BSD and previous tenure on the MAU school board has given her a good understanding of the functions of school boards and education funding, which she believes will be important in coming years.

Prue also said she understands the importance of balancing costs with educational needs, which will remain one of her priorities. "I have rental property so I don’t get the (tax) deduction most people get for their houses, so I know what raising the taxes does for the tax bill," Prue said.

Another challenge Prue said the board will have to address is meeting the needs of an increasing population of children with special needs.

"There’s so many different variables with kids with autism and developmental disabilities ... but every child is a singular person with needs that have to be met singularly," Prue said.

Jackie Kelly

Kelly is seeking her first stint on a publicly elected board and believes a fresh perspective could bring positive changes.

"I kind of feel they need a different opinion," she said.

A retired teacher at the elementary, middle school and college level in cities across the country and world, Kelly moved to Bennington three years ago and immediately became involved in the community. She belongs to the Bennington Arts Guild, volunteers through Vermont Reading Partners to help tutor students at Molly Stark Elementary, and is involved in the town’s recreation task force.

Kelly has a doctorate in curriculum, a master’s degree in reading, and degrees in elementary education and technology, which she expects will help the school board.

Her classroom experience, she said, also gives her a good balance between the importance of funding essential programs in schools and limiting the burden on taxpayers.

"I understand what teachers need in their classrooms and as a taxpayer I certainly understand my pocket and what comes out of my pocket and how those things are gelled together," she said.

Kelly believes BSD has to do something to avoid overcrowding classrooms, however she does not agree that asking taxpayers to approve a bond to fund an addition is necessarily the route the board should be exploring.

"It’s critical, you don’t want classrooms crowded to the point where teachers can’t teach," she said. "One option I don’t favor is rolling out a bond and building more. I think somehow or another there could be another fit."

Kelly Kennedy

Kennedy, a lifelong Bennington resident who has coached basketball at Mount Anthony Union Middle School for nearly 30 years, decided to run for the board after a long, confusing and frustrating process to ensure his two autistic second grade children are receiving the appropriate educational opportunities.

"In order to try to get to an understanding of why some of this frustration is what it is and maybe help rectify what is causing it, I decided instead of complaining about it to step up and see what I could do," said Kennedy.

Kennedy, who works as an operations manager for a logistics firm, also wants to focus on improving communication and collaboration between school districts and between the schools, community, and parents. Another priority would be to publicize the many positive things happening in Bennington’s schools.

Kennedy said balancing spending and education in a budget is important, however he sides more heavily on providing the optimum education opportunities for children.

"A board can’t be made up (solely of people who don’t) want to spend. It needs a mix. I respect those people on the board that are looking out for (cutting spending) ... but on the same token sometimes you need to spend a little bit to get the resources to bring in good stuff," he said.

The addition to Bennington Elementary is one area Kennedy believes spending could be saved, however he said he would have to learn more about every option that has been on the table before choosing one to deal with the incoming population.

"I would like to explore to see if there are other options. I don’t necessarily think at this point it really is the best interest of everybody to just put a bond out without exploring all the possibilities," he said.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi