Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD The School Committee and the Westfield public school system has had their work cut out for them in the wake of this year's budget crisis and shortfall, especially being short one committee member.
Last weeks preliminary School Committee election narrowed the field to two candidates Jeffrey Gosselin and Laura Kaye Maloney for the November ballot.
Gosselin, who received 234 votes and Maloney, who received 276 votes will be running to fill the two-year vacancy left by former School Committee member Sharon Merlo-Gosselin, who passed away in July.
Merlo-Gosselin's son Jeffrey is currently serving on the School Committee as a special appointment until the November election.
"My mother expected my sister and I to step up to the plate and accept those civic responsibilities," Gosselin said of his choice to run a sticker campaign for his mother's committee seat. "I wish to continue my mother's initiatives because [Westfield residents] did vote for her in 2005 and she did win that seat by a large majority. But she was not able to fill that obligation for the last two years."
Gosselin added that he would like to continue his mother's commitment to early childhood education programs such as Head Start, which provides specialized literacy services to economically disadvantaged children.
He said he would also like to promote his mother's dedication to the "professional development of teachers and the profession as a whole; to keep teaching as a profession and not just let it go into the part time labor force but to make teaching a special gift and talent with professional development workshops."
When asked about the shortfall in this year's budget, Gosselin said, "We've been there before and it's not unusual in Westfield or any community of this size to have some budget issues. I think it's more of a management issue and managing money."
However, he added that he is encouraged by the large number of grants still being received by the school system to supplement the shortfall.
While Gosselin said that he was the only School Committee member who did not vote for the 20-cent increase to the school lunch, he added that he is committed to providing students with healthy meal plans.
"I just can't do that to the working people and their children," he said of increasing the price of school lunches.
Because of Gosselin's experiences on the "sidelines" of his mother's campaigns as well as his teaching experience at Westfield State College and bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, he said he believes his experience "sets him apart from other candidates."
Maloney, who is running for School Committee for the first time this year said she believes her message is getting across to voters in large part due to her door-to-door campaigning.
She said through these interactions she is able to hear the wants and needs of Westfield residents. Maloney said she is finding that the "budget crisis is something everybody is concerned about."
Maloney added that she is exploring ways to off-set costs as many parents are eager to donate their time in the classrooms or services to aid in school repairs and even donate supplies for students.
"That's not going to save us tons of money but it will help," she said.
Maloney said she would like to have more private grants and fundraising efforts to help supplement the shortfall.
She said residents are also eager see the city "keep its commitment" to completing the renovations to the High School.
Maloney said she is very interested in offering more children in Westfield early childhood education services "to get more of our children excited about learning and discovery."
She said she is also committed to providing the healthiest school lunch menus possible with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
When asked about the increase in lunch price she said, "Anyone is concerned that a child wouldn't be able to afford [school] lunch and no one wants to see that happen. The School Committee does a great job reaching out to students that qualify for reduced lunch or free school lunch."
Maloney said she is not only reaching out to other parents in the Westfield school system she is the mother of three children attending public schools in Westfield but also to all other residents who may eventually have children attending the schools or grandchildren.
She received her bachelor's degree in political science from Westfield State College in 1992 and since then has worked in multiple capacities within the Springfield public school system, Westfield State College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
She said her experiences within the field of education and also as a mother of children enrolled in Westfield public schools gives her the knowledge and understanding of the needs of quality childhood education.
For more information about this year's elections call the Westfield City Clerk's Office at 572-6235.