TEWKSBURY — Last week, the candidates for this year’s Board of Selectmen and School Committee races met virtually for a Candidates’ Forum, sponsored by the Town Crier and moderated by Paige Impink.
In the School Committee Forum, candidates Jamey Cutelis (incumbent), Bridget Garabedian, Nick Parsons, and Deb Wall were participants. Questions asked of the candidates ranged from constituent relations, special education services, the district’s budget, and cultural diversity.
When asked what the school district is doing well and what can be improved upon, Cutelis was the only candidate that did not touch on a specific critique. Garabedian noted that communication generally needed to be reformed, while Parsons and Wall both addressed the need for teachers’ voices to be heard.
Wall specifically addressed that district communications could take on an “us vs. them” tone, a critique shared by the Teacher’s Association in the fall.
The candidates were also asked about potential district initiatives to promote and address cultural diversity within the student population. Cutelis noted that plans are already in motion to address diversity, with the assistant superintendent holding presentations for staff during professional development days.
Garabedian spoke in favor of a district-wide effort for cohesive transitions between schools as students age throughout the public school system. Parsons emphasized the need to embrace differences and emphasize equality in order to foster a learning environment in which students feel safe.
Wall advocated for district wide policy that embraces cultural representation, saying that students need to see diversity in action for an accepting community to be fostered.
On a similar topic, candidates were asked during the “Lightning Round” segment whether or not they supported state legislation to prohibit the use of Native American mascots in public schools.
While Parsons and Garabedian said they would be in support of this legislation, Wall and Cutelis did not support it.
In the Board of Selectmen’s Forum, candidates Mark Kratman (incumbent), Todd Johnson, George Ferdinand, and James Mackey III participated. Question topics ranged from affordable housing, Route 38 infrastructure, senior citizen tax relief, and accessibility.
When asked about economic development along Route 38, the candidates emphasized the desire to drive small businesses to town. Mackey emphasized the need to fill empty storefronts, while creating a community culture supportive of small businesses.
Johnson discussed changing zoning-bylaw policies in order to allow for town center development. Kratman said that the current focus of the board was to finish up construction around Main Street, so that focus can soon shift into bringing more businesses in.
The candidates were also asked about the town’s tax rates. As many residents are often frustrated with their tax amounts, the town’s tax rates are actually decreasing while property value rises. To better explain this, Johnson stressed explaining the value of what the taxes pay for to residents, since town’s taxes pay for projects voted on at Town Meeting.
Kratman also noted that tax dollars are spent through projects approved at Town Meeting, while also addressing that the town’s budget could be monitored and changed as needed. Mackey advocated for improved transparency, so residents can more easily understand where their money is going, and where spending cuts can happen. Ferdinand emphasized his previous support of projects increasing town revenue.
During the “Lightning Round” segment, all candidates said they were in support of continuing to allow constituent call-ins and emails during meetings, in order to allow for increased accessibility.
When asked whether they would support the board’s name being changed from the Board of Selectmen to the more inclusive “Select Board,” Mackey, Johnson, and Kratman said they would be in favor. Ferdinand was the only candidate to dissent.
Candidates were also asked which infrastructure project the town should tackle next. Ferdinand, Johnson, and Kratman all included sidewalks as part of their answers, while Mackey stressed taking on water main breaks and general water infrastructure.
To hear the Candidate’s Forum in its entirety, it can be streamed on YouTube through the Tewksbury TV channel.
The annual town election will be held on Saturday, April 10, 2021, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. With any questions, contact the Town Clerk’s Office at 978-640-4355.