Too Many Questions – Not Enough Answers

Who ever knew there would be so much to talk about in Southbridge? We have the landfill, we have the church/school/chairman thing, we have the new state school receiver being suspended for unknown reasons and the upcoming town elections. Where does one begin?

Town Hall Southbridge, Viewed from Dresser Street

Southbridge Town Hall

Since election day is just around the corner, why don’t we start with that? I attended a candidate’s debate Thursday night with three out of four of the candidates for the Town Council showing up and three out of four candidates for the School Committee showing up. Now considering each race has three seats to be filled should I vote for the candidates that showed up? Wouldn’t that be easy?

I have to say I was actually pretty impressed with the debates and how they were handled and how the candidates handled themselves. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, after all this is Southbridge and you there is a history of fisticuffs in the McKinnon chambers every now and again. I knew Mr. McKinnon and he must turn over in his grave anytime something like that happens. Now when I lived in Sturbridge that would never happen…oh wait it did. I also realized that this was the first time I had ever been to the upper level of the Town Hall and I never realized what an awesome room it is. Loving local history and the buildings in town I spent a lot of time looking at the awesome craftsmanship in the room. Can you tell I am avoiding issues like who to vote for?

The problem with picking candidates is I still don’t know which one I like the best. They all said the right things, or at least the things I would have expected to hear. But as with every election, whether local, state or national, what they say and what they do can be completely different. Until I attend Council and School Committee meetings and actually see what gets done and by whom, then I will be better qualified to pick.

The debate did give me a chance to learn a little more about some of the issues facing our town. I learned some interesting things I didn’t know before. For example, I didn’t realize how much money the Southbridge School system will lose because of school choice and charter schools. This system is rigged against poorer towns and towns with sub-standard school systems. And it really hurts me to use the term sub-standard for the same school system that provided me with a first-class education. Yes, I will admit that several years ago I supported school choice, but that was when I was in another town. Who knows what happened with our schools, I don’t think it happened overnight, but changing school administrators like sheets in an hourly motel doesn’t help. Why would good teachers want to come here or stay once they are here? There is no direction. Where does the blame lie for this turnover? Personally, I have to point to some members of the school committee, both current and past. I have to agree with this statement from the “Southbridge  Turnaround Plan”:

Who knows what happened with our schools, I don’t think it happened overnight, but changing school administrators like sheets in an hourly motel doesn’t help. Why would good teachers want to come here or stay once they are here? There is no direction. Where does the blame lie for this turnover? Personally, I have to point to some members of the school committee, both current and past. I have to agree with this statement from the “Southbridge  Turnaround Plan”:

Leadership and governance in the Southbridge Public Schools is also a major area of concern. Since 2010, the district has had 7 superintendents, 7 high school principals, and 43 individuals in the 9 top school and district leadership positions. – Southbridge Turnaround Plan

And now that the state-appointed receiver has been suspended there is the potential for more turnover. So that makes eight. Eight “bosses” in seven years. And we wonder why there is a problem?

The other major issue facing the town is the lack of new businesses coming into town. Whether the landfill closes or stays open, the town will need to increase its tax base. New and expanded business will also mean more jobs, new jobs could mean more people coming into town, and more importantly, I believe, will mean more jobs for those who are here, breaking what seems to be a cycle of poverty in this town. I have yet to read the latest “Economic Development Plan” but will report on it soon.

This question was asked of the council candidates at the forum: “What needs to be done to develop a better economic base?” Listening to the answers is when it hit me. Everything in a community is tied together, especially in a small community such as Southbridge. It is a simple model really. Without good schools, there will not be a reason for people to come here other than the already disenfranchised. Without job opportunities and good jobs, there will not be a reason for people to stay here. Without businesses contributing to the tax base the schools will never have the funds they need to get better, and we will continue to lose children (and money) to other school systems.

What is the answer? Is there one? What can be done? We will continue to explore this in future posts, but for now, there is one thing we can do:

Get Out and Vote on June 13th and then Participate! Be a part of the solution, not the problem!

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