Campaign kickoff from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15, on Facebook live feed >>
From a joke about his cat, delivered with a trace of a Long Island accent, to a serious presentation about enrollment numbers, Paul Schlichtman reflects a range of qualities that he has brought to the School Committee over many years.
The incumbent seeks his sixth term in the April election.
Three three-year school seats are up for grabs. Incumbent Bill Hayner has taken out papers; colleague Jennifer Susse is not running. Also seeking to be a candidate is newcomer Liz Exton.
Here are Schlichtman's responses to basic questions to all who take out papers. They have been edited:
Q: In general, why are you seeking this seat?
At this point, I feel energized as a productive member of the School Committee, and I enjoy working with my talented colleagues. We have considerable work ahead of us, including the challenges of recruiting and hiring a new superintendent, and operating a world-class high school in the midst of a construction site. I love the work we are doing together, and I don’t see this as a good time to walk away from the significant tasks we will face in the next three years.
Q: What specific qualifications do you have that support your candidacy?
I have considerable experience in local school governance. I served four years on the Minuteman School Committee (1997 to 2001) and 14 years on the Arlington School Committee. I chose not to run for reelection in 2007, after serving two terms. I returned in 2012 to fill the vacancy created when Joe Curro moved to the Select Board, and won election to the seat in 2013, 2014 and 2017. I have served in Town Meeting for 24 years (1993 to 2003 and 2006 to present).
I have also played a statewide leadership role, having served as president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees in 2004. I have played an active role in reforming charter-school funding and governance, including opposition to Question 2 in 2016, and I am working to reform educator licensure to make it a more professional process that encourages qualified candidates to consider a career in Massachusetts.
I also bring the perspective of a professional educator who has worked primarily in urban districts. I have been an elementary teacher, a high school math teacher, a principal and a central office administrator. My undergraduate degree from the City University of New York had a dual major in elementary education and psychology; my graduate degrees from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education included extensive work in psychology, research methodology and statistics.
Q: What are the key issues you see facing the School Committee?
Before I wrote my response to this year’s questions, I looked back to how I answered the same questions three years ago. It’s amazing how far we have come together, and how our community has met some very significant challenges. Three years ago, I wrote about the need to add classrooms to the Thompson and Hardy schools, to renovate and reopen the Gibbs School, and move toward replacing Arlington High School.
In retrospect, we now know the situation was more serious than we knew three years ago. State data from 2012 through 2018 show that Arlington’s enrollment growth (21.13 percent) was greater than any other city or town in the Commonwealth with a total student population over 100 students. (See a map here >>) It’s a challenge we handled well; the School Committee worked to engage the community as we sought solutions to our challenges. Our work has inspired confidence from Arlington voters; last year, we passed a $207.3 million debt exclusion to construct a new high school, with 77 percent of the vote, and a $5.5 million operating override, with 68 percent of the vote.
This brings us to the two biggest issues on the horizon. First, we need to work with the building committee to successfully run a world-class high school in the middle of a construction site. This will be a tightly choreographed dance, with big plans on a very small site. Second, we are faced with the most important responsibility of a School Committee, the task of hiring a new superintendent. We are grateful to Dr. Kathleen Bodie’s service to Arlington, and we owe it to her and the community to find a successor who is worthy of leading one of the best school systems in the state.
Q: How would you address them?
Currently, I am serving as chair of the superintendent search process subcommittee. We are in the process of selecting a consultant to assist us in the search for a new leader for our schools, and I have been working with my colleagues to craft a request for proposals that emphasizes our desire for community involvement and a diverse pool of candidates.
In the past few years, a considerable amount of my work has been out of the limelight. As chair of the policies and procedures subcommittee for the past two years, we have worked to update the ground rules for running our district. As a member of our collective-bargaining negotiating team, we have moved forward with agreements that we can afford while respecting our employees with a package that is more competitive in the labor marketplace.
As an urban educator, I also view my role as supporting children from families who don’t typically interact with the School Committee, with a special emphasis on the 4.8 percent of our students who are English language learners.
I will continue to work to support our schools and our students with the occasional bold initiative, along with a commitment to the day-to-day work with my colleagues to make the system a better place for all.
Q: What personal background can you provide?
I have lived in town for the past 28 years, and I have always been involved in town governance. I have been an active Town Meeting member, and I have succeeded in writing and advancing warrant articles on a variety of issues, including moving the annual town election from March to April, and strengthening the town’s "dark-sky" bylaw. I have been a member of the Arlington Democratic Town Committee for the past 20 years. I live on Mystic Street with my wife, Rieko Tanaka, who became a U.S. citizen in 2017 and was elected to Town Meeting last year, and with a cat who is very popular on social media.
Past 2 elections
In the 2017 town election, Schlichtman was reelected with 1,902 votes; Bill Hayner got 1,955, and Jennifer Susse 1,984.
In 2014, Schlichtman received 3,102 votes, Hayner 3,131 and Susse 3,646.
This news summary was published Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, and updated March 15, to change kickoff info. All potential candidates in the April election have been asked a similar set of questions. All responses received will be edited and published.
FACEBOOK BOX: To see all images, click the PHOTOS link just below