LYNNFIELD — The Town Election on Tuesday, April 9 features a three-candidate race for two seats on the School Committee that have three-year terms.

The three candidates running for a three-year term are School Committee Chair Kate DePrizio, Planning Board Chair Brian Charville and School Committee member Jim Dillon.

Voters in all four precincts will cast their ballots at Lynnfield High School from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on April 9.

The Villager asked the three candidates to answer three questions. The following are their responses.

What do you think are the most pressing issues facing Lynnfield Public Schools, and how should the School Committee address them?

Kate DePrizio: Over the next year, the most pressing issues that Lynnfield Public Schools will face include a superintendent search, negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement, and assertively and proactively addressing all student needs. It is essential to address all of these pressing issues in an open, transparent and collaborative manner.

The superintendent search requires a broad committee with key representation from all stakeholders in the community. The committee will need to work together closely, with distinct purpose, to continuously refine the interview questions, ensuring sufficient responses in order to distinguish and discern the quality and character of the candidates; allowing us to find the right person for Lynnfield. Successful negotiations of the collective bargaining agreement require open dialogue and a strong rapport. We need to prioritize how to meet key needs wherever possible and in cases where more compromise is needed to identify creative and collaborative solutions.

To best address student needs, we need to view the issue through a wide lens, combining data-driven research, academic assessment, student agency, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the every day needs expressed inside our buildings.  The School Committee must maintain its focus on rebuilding, which includes the following: Addressing staff and student morale and culture, redirecting Tier 1 supports appropriately to ensure that all students are having their needs met both academically and emotionally, prioritizing class size for our youngest learners, tackling mental health issues in all schools, most notably at Lynnfield High School, and continuing to inspire and challenge our students toward excellence through electives and class options throughout the district.

As chair of the committee, I appreciate that the balance between pressing issues and the management of ongoing need is the absolute key to providing the district with stability and continued success.

Brian Charville: Staffing, budget and overall excellence.  The district faces a crisis of administration. The former superintendent, who had gotten good reviews, departed under pressure a few months later. The interim superintendent is doing three jobs – superintendent, finance director and special education director. The Lynnfield Middle School and Huckleberry Hill School principals are doing two jobs – principal and classroom teacher. The search for a permanent superintendent is postponed to next school year. There’s a first-year principal at Lynnfield High School. The assistant superintendent of teaching and learning is in his last year.

Is this acceptable to the town?  Is this shakiness what we aspire to?  God bless the interim superintendent and the principals for stepping up to fill roles, but the School Committee (SC) must be more aggressive in ensuring that each of these roles is adequately staffed.  Why have them in the budget if there is not a need for a full-timer in each of them?  How can we expect improvement at LMS when the principal is spending 80 percent of his time teaching a class of specialized learners?  And at HHS, when the principal is spending 90 percent of her time doing the same?  We can’t.  The SC must make backfilling these roles our immediate priority.  My business experience tells me that you can’t have critical roles unfilled and expect the organization to improve.

A basic value proposition of Lynnfield is at risk: Come here and get great schools. The SC’s budget proposal leaves so much to be desired. I don’t want LPS to be like the Red Sox of late, where the status quo is acceptable to leaders and the gist is “you get what you get, figure it out.”  The SC should tell the town exactly what is needed to have an excellent district, not try to solve for a fixed percentage increase.  Let me be clear: Retaining the librarian role at LHS is a priority for me. Do you know of a stellar high school without a librarian? I don’t.

Lynnfield has a choice to make: Are we satisfied with LHS’ test scores, rankings, culture and college admissions?  Are we satisfied with SSS and HHS having fallen from their top 10 rankings a few short years ago?  Are we satisfied with a broad decline in student behaviors? Mistreatment of teachers? Destruction of school buildings?  Are we happy with Latin no longer being taught at LHS, especially when it can be so helpful to specialized learners?  If yes, this budget proposal might be for you.  But if you, like me, aspire to providing K-12 health education, taking foreign language instruction seriously at all levels, creating students with character across the board, adding Advanced Placement courses and creating better college opportunities, then we have to be more aggressive in showing the town what those things cost.  Let’s bring a menu to Town Meeting and decide what we value and are willing to pay for.  Especially with increasing special education costs, we can’t expect the education of the rest of the school population – general education – to be of the same level of excellence it previously has been if we’re not willing to keep spending on general education to the same degree.

The SC must be circumspect enough to say, “This is where the schools are, this is where we’d like them to be, this is how we get there.”  I personally don’t think our schools are as good as they can be.  I know that they can be better, and I hope that we make the choices now to ensure that their best days are ahead of them and not behind.

Jim Dillon: I believe the two most pressing issues for the School Committee will be to choose a new superintendent, and to take a close look at school culture. As the educational leader of the school district, the new superintendent will have a profound impact on students, teachers, administration and our entire community. I have worked closely with nine superintendents, and I believe that my experience as a teacher and principal will be invaluable when selecting the next educational leader of our district.

We will be diligent in our search for the right person for our next superintendent. The successful candidate will have the necessary skills and knowledge, and a track record of outstanding performance in past positions.  We will look to this individual to communicate ideas and information effectively, involve teachers and administrators in decisions around teaching and learning, and use data to drive decision-making. The new superintendent will take responsibility for everything that happens in the district, someone who can inspire and motivate, but also hold people accountable. A successful candidate will not accept “just good enough” or district shortcomings, but rather work relentlessly to continue improvement. The litmus test for making any decision is “what is best for the students?” It will be the job of the School Committee to support and challenge that superintendent to bring our schools to the next level.

The second issue requires a close look at school culture, which is often referred to as the hidden curriculum, because it significantly impacts everything that happens in the school. Our principals have reported increased behavior and mental health issues among our students. Research indicates that a child’s brain development thrives when they feel safe and are with adults who care about them. The committee will need to work with Interim Superintendent Geary and staff to ensure a healthy environment exists in our schools. Mutual respect, kindness, empathy and other virtues need to be a living breathing reality in our schools. We need to improve. Next year, I will advocate for the committee to review policy around school culture.

What is your take on the School Department’s proposed FY25 operating budget? How should be the School Committee handle future budget seasons?

Charville: The FY25 budget leaves a lot to be desired.  Clearly, more must be spent if we want LPS to improve rather than tread water.  Have you ever known schools to improve when less money is spent on them?  I sure haven’t.  This isn’t like Ford Motor Company, where the company’s stock price improves after cost cuts are announced. We can’t cut our way to greatness. We can’t aspire to have appropriate K-12 health education, or Latin and Italian, or robotics and computer programming, or better college counseling, and not be willing to spend what they cost.  And we can’t expect parents always to pick up the bill for tutoring and extracurricular instruction that matters.

The SC’s proposed cuts aren’t cutting flesh, they’re cutting bone. Sure, on paper the budget increase might be 3-4 percent, but when the costs of special education are going up well over 5 percent, especially the costs of sending students out-of-district who need certain services, then a 3-4 percent overall increase means net cuts to general education.  The SC touts this budget proposal as adequately staffing populous elementary grades, but that isn’t laudatory – that should be a given.  What about everyone else?

The interim superintendent said it himself when discussing the five roles proposed to be cut from Central Office (a significant percent of all the roles there) – all of their work still has to be done. It will just have to be picked up by others. Nursing. Data entry.  SPED instruction.  Does anyone among us believe that that actually will occur?  That substitute nurses’ cost less in the aggregate, or provide any where close to the same level of care as regular nurses?  That an already overworked school administrative assistant can ensure the same quality and quantity of data entry as a full-time specialist in this day and age where data entry and performance indicators are so important?  Or that our instruction of students with special needs will improve by us asking 11 teachers at LMS to handle it rather than 12?  There just have to be more fulsome, honest conversations about what things cost. This is by no means a criticism of special education – we have moral and legal obligations to provide it, and we always will.  But with special education costs increasing like they are, we must continue to support general education itself, otherwise general education will keep being asked to do more with less and to bear the burden of higher SPED costs.

The SC should handle future budget seasons by starting them sooner.  Conveniently in this situation, the interim superintendent is also the finance director, he’s been through budget seasons for years, and so he knows or should know when and how to start them.  I feel very strongly about starting the process with what I’d call the “Cadillac budget” – take extensive input from the public and list everything we want to provide in LPS.  And then work back from it, striking the balances that must be struck to educate, publicly, 2,100 students.  Begin with all the AP classes, STEM education, language instruction and ideal student-teacher ratios we’d love to have, and then figure out what reasonably can be provided by a public system of our size.  We have to come to grips with the fact that LHS enrollment is falling – just how great can a public high school of 550 students actually be?  Let’s make it desirable for students to attend LHS rather than private schools, and let’s get LHS enrollment back up to 600-plus so we can justify more there.

Dillon: When the School Committee began developing the school budget for FY25 (next year), contractual obligations and new special education out-of-district tuition and transportation costs represented a 5.5 percent increase. The Select Board was recommending a 3 percent increase for the schools for FY25. We are only one town department, although the largest. Some may not know that in addition to the school budget number — and unlike in many communities — the DPW budget absorbs the schools’ energy, building and grounds, and busing costs and the town absorbs the schools’ health insurance costs.

With fixed costs increasing the budget by 5.5 percent, the School Committee reviewed what Interim Superintendent Geary and building principals identified as additional items critical to maintaining excellence in education. Subsequently, despite the already large increase, we added four elementary teachers, two paraprofessionals and a district-wide behavior analyst, reinstated funds for positions eliminated under the Vogel administration, and added a partnership program with the New England Center for Children (NECC) that will allow us to maintain a functioning Differentiated Learning Program for our very needy students. This pushed the increase to over 8 percent, north of $2.5 million.

So, how can we committee members address this budget disparity? One option is to ask for the money without regard for the fiscal condition of the town or needs of other departments. The second option is to work collaboratively with the town to find ways to cut costs, so that when the time comes for an override, residents will know that its budget request comes from a fiscally responsible School Department. If you ask for an override every year, I’m afraid the schools could become “the boy who cried wolf.”

The School Committee chose to look for offsets having the least impact on direct instruction for students with a stated priority to protect the classroom. I know as a former grade 8 science teacher that school can be more difficult for a student who is reading below grade level and struggling with mathematics. The development of those skills begins in the early grades. I believe that by adding kindergarten and grade 1 teachers, the committee kept in place the critical class size criteria. And, with the help of $260,000 from the town for the NECC program, the committee has reduced the increase to 3.9 percent.

There are a number of new additions in this budget. I would strongly argue that it represents a “value added” for Lynnfield Public Schools. The mission of the Lynnfield Schools is to “support and challenge all students to meet their full potential as individuals and as citizens of the global community.” Future budgets must support the mission of our schools so that our students will continue to thrive.

DePrizio: In my three years of experience as a member and now chair of the School Committee, the FY25 budget has been the most transparent, collaborative and effective budget process that I have participated in. We brought back a line item budget to provide clarity on our financial decisions as well as facilitate a more detailed discussion with the community.  I have led the committee, in consultation with principals and staff, to openly advocate for needs, discuss concerns, and share decision-making considerations.  Together, we have addressed student-facing needs in a meaningful and impactful way, all while setting up the district for future growth.

This was a difficult budget season with a condensed timeline and hard choices.  In our initial discussions with the town, we were asked to keep our budget to a 3 percent increase.  As we worked together, I encouraged the School Committee to be thoughtful and ingenious in our approach and reevaluate everything. This yielded solutions like a renewed focus on sponsorship opportunities as a source of revenue as well as the partnership with New England Center for Children (NECC) to address our DLP student needs and redirect resources to all students. Working collaboratively with the town, advocating and explaining these emergent needs, allowed us to agree upon a 3.9 percent budget increase. As a committee, we also added a district BCBA, interventionists at the elementary and middle schools, two kindergarten teachers and paraprofessionals, a first grade teacher and a part-time clinical evaluator while cutting 22 percent of central administration.

In the future, collaborative and strategic planning between the School Committee, Select Board and Finance Committee is crucial to effectively address and plan for the growing needs of Lynnfield Public Schools and the town of Lynnfield. Additionally, positions in the district that do not function efficiently must be reimagined to address student and district needs while leaving room for our continued student growth.

What skill sets will you bring to the table when the School Committee and the Lynnfield Teachers Association begin collective bargaining in the fall?

Dillon: I have a good deal of experience bargaining teacher contracts. I have bargained five contracts with the Lynnfield Teachers Association during my 15 years as a member of the Lynnfield School Committee. I have also bargained four contracts representing teachers during my teaching career.

I have found that bargaining is more successful when the teachers believe that the people sitting on the other side of the table truly understand and appreciate what they do for the students and for the community. Likewise, it can be equally successful when the teachers understand that the School Committee does not have unlimited resources. I have worked on contracts where teachers and committee members have acted in good faith to achieve an agreement acceptable to both. Conversely, I have seen situations where one side will not compromise at all and will work to impose its will. This of course is a prescription for disaster. Problems can also arise if either side is trying to “win” in negotiations. Inevitably, the contract will not settle and the process will only create feelings of resentment. I believe to be successful in bargaining, you must be able to see the situations from the other person’s point of view.

The Lynnfield community values its teachers. The School Committee should work to achieve a teachers’ contract that allows us to be competitive when hiring new teachers, and a contract that allows us to retain talented teachers. It is disingenuous to demand high levels of performance for students and not expect to compensate teachers fairly.

The committee must balance the school district needs with what the town can bear, and with the needs of other departments. The schools are only one department and the town has many other needs. We also must remember that portions of our schools costs, like busing, custodian services, and grounds and maintenance, are actually borne by other Lynnfield department budgets. When we say we have great schools, we are really saying we have great teachers. I know how demanding that job is, and I am truly confident that we will be able to work with the Lynnfield Teachers Association to achieve a fair collective bargaining agreement.

DePrizio: We need someone with historical knowledge of the district, a good rapport with staff, Lynnfield Teachers Association and town administration and experience in negotiating and in navigating legal matters.  We need someone who prioritizes open communication, is strategic and most importantly motivated to do what is best for the district and all of Lynnfield. That person is me!

In 2021, I negotiated my first collective bargaining agreement as a School Committee member. More recently as chair, I have led the School Committee to adopt new legal counsel, negotiating a resolution with former Superintendent Vogel’s contract at a fraction of its remaining value. I continue to work closely with legal counsel regarding multiple ongoing existing district matters.

I am a proven collaborator and strong communicator able to work with town administration, LPS staff and the community to achieve results for Lynnfield.  Some examples of this can be seen through my work in collaborating with administration, staff and the town on this year’s challenging school budget, in co-leading the town’s public safety campaign in support of our first responders, and even before School Committee as the president of Together We Grow advocating for school expansion.

As both a parent and a committee member, I have prioritized relationship building with teachers and staff, actively listening, discussing and advocating for their needs. By building this rapport, I continue to have very effective and open dialogue with them equipping me with key insight to understand and address district-wide issues.  I embrace challenges and difficult conversations in a uniting way, prioritizing meeting key goals and identifying where compromise is possible.

Charville: I am a lawyer and a businessperson.  I run a real estate and construction company with 25 employees and countless vendors and subcontractors.  Every single day, I am either in or advising clients who are in very fraught, high-stakes business negotiations and situations.  It’s what I do.  I’ve always said that going to law school didn’t teach me law as much as it taught me risk management.  If I’m not thinking of possible consequences of specific agreements then I’m not doing my job.  In a negotiation like the upcoming CBA with the LTA, we have to be ready to play chess, not checkers.  And don’t be fooled into thinking that the SC hires lawyers and negotiators to handle the negotiation and do the thinking for them – they don’t.  The SC itself is right across the table from the LTA and their very experienced MTA advisors, lawyers and negotiators.  Who do you want representing the town and LPS on your side of the table?  I suggest I would be a great fit for it.

The new CBA is going to have to very carefully balance Lynnfield’s fiscal realities with teachers’ desires and a much different American job market than the one that existed just a couple of years ago.  More Americans are choosing not to work, or to retire earlier than we used to, or to pursue a career other than teaching.  Fewer workers and many open jobs combine to push wage growth and to make education a sector like many others where wages are growing year over year faster than they used to, or maybe ever have.  My company now has to pay entry-level laborers close to $30 per hour when not that long ago it was around $20.  It’s economic reality – we can’t aspire to have the best schools, which of course means having the best teachers, if we’re not keeping up as a competitive employer of educators, including benefits.

Which is not at all to say that the upcoming CBA is a blank check – absolutely not!  Going into it, I expect the interim superintendent to develop detailed wage studies for the SC so we know going in exactly how competitive LPS is with its peers in terms of teacher and paraprofessional pay and benefits.  The SC must be cautious of student-teacher ratios, their precedential effects and their positives and negatives.  And we must work with the teachers to decide what matters most in the negotiation and triage from there. Is it paraprofessional pay? Is it paid family medical leave? Is it teacher pay?  A baseline of trust and shared values will be critical to the negotiation.

I’ve been asking about communication between the SC and LTA, and been surprised to learn that there is very, very little communication between anyone besides the superintendent and the LTA president.  If the communication gap between the SC and LTA continues, then there will be little or no rapport or familiarity when the negotiation begins, which in my experience is a way to ensure that the negotiation starts off on the wrong foot and isn’t as productive and rational as it could be from the outset.  And with that, you see the best things that I’ll bring to the CBA negotiation (and the SC) – fresh thinking, not being wedded to the way things were done in the past, intelligence and realism, and a focus on what really matters.

Thank you for your consideration – please visit www.briancharville.com to see more of my ideas.  I ask for your vote on April 9.