ARLINGTON -- The Arlington School District will hold a special election this Tuesday, May 6, to elect Arlington's fifth school board member, a seat that is currently vacant.
The race features a mix of familiar and new faces, with former Arlington selectman and school board member Gerry Woodard, former Sandgate select board member and former Bennington Rural Fire Department captain Gary Harrington, and Rochester Polytechnic Institute professor Glen Gross throwing their hats in the ring.
This March saw four open seats on the five-member board, with Dawn Hoyt the only returning member. Selectman K. John Smith ran unopposed for an open three-year seat, Nicol Whalen ran unoppossed to finish the remaining two years on a three-year term, and Kevin Smith was elected over Gross and Denise Elwell for a two-year seat. However, no one ran for the fourth vacant seat, which the board decided to fill through election, rather than appointment.
Gross, currently a professor at RPI as well as an associate director of the Archer Center for Student Leadership Development at the college, ran against Kevin Smith in the March's election, but was defeated. He has experience as both a teacher and an administrator at the college level. Gross regularly attends school board meetings, is the father of three children, and has lived in Arlington for seven years.
Harrington has run for select board in Arlington in the past, as well as serving on the Sandgate select board. During his time with the Bennington Rural Fire Department, Harrington rose to the rank of captain, and functioned as the department's secretary and treasurer for years.
If elected, Woodard's time away from the board will have been brief, as he served on the board until deciding not to seek re-election this March. Woodard served on the Arlington school board for eight years, and on the select board for six, and returned to the board last September, when the board voted to appoint Woodard to replace Todd Wilkins, who had submitted his letter of resignation in August. In addition, Woodard has run for the Vermont House of Representatives four times, most recently being defeated by Democrat Cynthia Browning, by a vote of 617-463, in 2006. He also ran for state senate in 2008. In 2012, Woodard was appointed as manager of the Arlington Recreation Center, after the select board took control of the park from the Rec Center Board.
"I think I'm kind of uniquely placed," said Gross on his experience as both an educator and an administator. Gross stressed that, as a small school, Arlington needs to find ways to expand opportunities for its students. "One of my goals would be continuing to find ways to match up our students' skills and interests with opportunities in the community," he said. Gross said that the school had made many strides in recent years to improve the quality of students' high school experience, but there is still room for improvement in helping students prepare for continuing education after high school, whether at college or in a vocation. "There's a real need to help students further their careers," he said. Gross said that his second major goal were he to be elected would be to increase financial transparency in the district, saying, "There's been some problems in the past about how money is spent and how it was accounted for. It's important for school board members, as stewards of the district, to be open about what money is being spent on."
"There is something to be said for some new voices in this town," said Gross, who said that while he didn't mean it as a criticism against those who had served the town for years, there was a tendency in Arlington to hear the same voices over and over again. "Look at my background, as a father of three with experience in education," he said, "Take a chance on some of those new ideas."
Woodard pointed to his experience serving on the school board, and how necessary it would be to have someone with that experience working with three new board members, a new superintendent, and potentially a new financial office. "I've got experience doing budgets," said Woodard, "I'm good at building maintenance, that's really something I prided myself in when I was on the board in the past." Woodard said his primary goal, if elected, would be to keep the district moving forward through this period of transition. "There are a lot of building maintenance issues, and technology moves so fast it scares you," he said, "I'd try to be a good board member, and keep things moving along slowly."
Harrington did not respond to multiple calls requesting comment.
Both Gross and Woodard said that current legislation in the Vermont House of Representatives that would decrease the number of school districts in the state from around 270 to between 45 and 55 had the potential to be either positive or negative. "It's gonna happen some day," said Woodard, "There's a lot of reasons, and some very good reasons, but one thing we'd lose is local control. If we're down to one representative for Arlington, then that's going to be a problem."
"It's real a double-edged sword," said Gross, "You always want to save money, and offer greater opportunities for your students. Consolidation could do that. On the flip side, you have a school in Arlington that's really the core of the community. You want to avoid anything that would break that up, suburbanize us."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB