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Agawam School Committee candidate Q&A, part 1

Date: 10/11/2023

AGAWAM — In advance of the town election, Reminder Publishing sent questionnaires to candidates on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Each of the seven candidates for the six available seats on the School Committee was given the same list of four questions, to be answered in 75 words or fewer. The first two questions and answers are being printed this week. The third and fourth questions will be printed in the Oct. 19 edition of the newspaper.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order. Incumbents are marked with an asterisk (*).


Budget growth

Is the School Department budget growing too fast or not fast enough? What do you say to local property owners worried about their tax bills?

Shelley Borgatti-Reed*: Our superintendent and her staff work very hard to maintain a level-service school budget each year, which is not an easy task with the rising cost of inflation. I, too, am a property owner and worry about the affordability of our tax bills. We strive to be fiscally responsible meeting our students’ needs and maintaining our excellent teaching staff, as educating our children is one of the most important functions of our society.

A.J. Christopher*: The school budget has only grown incrementally, keeping pace with covering increased costs of goods and services and salaries. The school administration has demonstrated sizable effort in securing ESSER funds and a recent “Dreamers Grant” grant for the high school. As a property owner, I worry about my tax bill as well, but I also understand the value of a strong school system and the positive effects on property value.

Dawn DeMatteo*: Our school administration, led by our Superintendent Sheila Hoffman, develop and implement a fiscally sound budget each year.

Catherine McDougal: The School Committee has done a great job over the past six years to keep budget increases down while meeting the needs of students and staff. It’s important to keep in mind that APS employs nearly 400 teachers, plus numerous staff who are essential to keeping our schools safe, clean and running smoothly. I don’t like it when my taxes go up, but I’m glad the money is being invested back into our community.

Christopher Pass: This candidate did not submit responses in time for the deadline.

Michael Perry*: Although our town’s overall operating budget increased 4.9% from FY 2023 to 2024, the School Department’s budget increased just 2.5%. Pandemic-related ESSER funding was invested in technology, safety and staffing needs which will benefit the district into the future while avoiding unfunded liabilities. As a member of the committee’s Budget/Finance Subcommittee I have worked closely with school administrators to monitor spending and help ensure our students and staff have the resources necessary to succeed.

Wendy Rua*: As a taxpayer myself from a two-parent household supporting our three children, I understand the obligation for fiscal responsibility. The budget review process led by the superintendent is transparent, reviews every line item for reduction or increase, and gives committee members multiple opportunities to ask questions before we vote. Our budget has not had any major increases over the past several years minus contractual salary increases, special education, transportation or fixed maintenance costs.


Student success

What is the greatest impediment to student success in town schools, and how can the School Committee help overcome it?

Shelley Borgatti-Reed*: I think the range of social and emotional academic needs of our students is the greatest impediment to student success, especially after the pandemic. We are actively working to overcome it by assessing those needs and providing more programs and support to our staff and students. We also continue to assess the curriculum and provide the needed professional development to our staff to assist them in meeting the needs of all students.

A.J. Christopher*: What’s most concerning, facing all students, are outside distractions and stresses they face with social media and society. Students dealing with these levels of stressors and pressures don’t begin and end at school, it permeates their entire daily events. This social media-driven environment is such a relatively new issue that exploring ways to navigate through it and provide a stable and focused platform to learn and thrive in is our most important challenge.

Dawn DeMatteo*: Improving student success is a top goal for all educators and administration. Student success takes on many forms like, but not limited to, meeting academic and curriculum goals and developing social skills. One thing that School Committees could do is to urge Massachusetts to develop an alternative to the high-stakes MCAS testing.

Catherine McDougal: The current high school does not meet state standards and we are in danger of losing accreditation, which would make AHS diplomas worthless to prospective colleges and employers. The School Committee can be a champion for the high school building project and ensure that students can receive a 21st century education and are equipped for success after high school, whether that be in college or heading into the workforce.

Christopher Pass: This candidate did not submit responses in time for the deadline.

Michael Perry*: Student success requires a combination of many factors, including high quality educators, adequate facilities, dedicated administrators and adequate funding to ensure needs of the district are met. While Agawam is fortunate to have all of these factors in place, we must foster greater engagement with families to work in partnership for the benefit of students. I believe School Committee members can and should act as a liaison between the district and parents/guardians.

Wendy Rua*: For years, I have opposed the overreliance of high-stakes standardized testing. Given they provide only one indicator of student achievement and require that teachers “teach to the test,” they inhibit the creativity and autonomy of the outstanding teachers in our district and limit robust curriculum development. I long for (and advocate for) the day when we will evaluate students and teachers with a creative and varied method of assessment.