2016-10-27 / Election News

Middletown School Committee Candidates

The school committee candidates were asked to respond to two questions:

#1) In your opinion, what is the most pressing issue facing Middletown schools?

#2) Lately, tensions have been high between the Town Council and the School Committee. If elected, what would you do to improve this relationship? There are nine candidates running for seven open seats on the Town Council, with six candidates seeking re-election. One incumbent, Vice Chair Robert Kempenaar is not seeking another term.

Richard Adams

74, married with two children
Resident of Middletown 35 years
Retired US Navy, Commander
Retired; General Dynamics/Electric Boat, Principal Engineer,
Program Analyst and Manager
Public offices: Middletown Town
Council, 2012-2016; Planning
Board, 2005-2012

#1) I think the most important issue facing the Middletown School System is adequate, sustainable funding. Each year the School Committee produces a budget that almost without exception is a request for a 4 percent increase, the legal maximum. The Town Council then tries to find a way to incorporate this budget request into the town budget and constrain property tax increases to 2 percent or less. This is an unsustainable funding trajectory and will continue to produce School Committee – Council friction. Long term financial planning is required by law, but except for capital spending, is not now a central part of School Committee and Council financial planning. It should be.

#2) Ultimately a good School Committee Council relationship must be based on trust. This will require absolute transparency, open communication and an assumption of good will by both Council and Committee members. Financial or other “surprises” must be minimized or eliminated and a concerted effort made by both the School Committee and Council to understand the constraints and imperatives of each other.

It is not enough to have good personal relationships. An effective Middletown education system can only be built upon unanimity of purpose among teachers, town and school administrators, parents and students. My experience on the Town Council and my service on town committees and commissions provide me with a unique ability to improve the Council-School Committee relationship.

William R. O'Connell

74, married with three children
Resident of Middletown 42 years
Retired Westinghouse Electric Corp.,
US Air Force Reserve Officer
Public offices: Middletown School
Committee member 2008-2016

#1) Many issues face Middletown schools. To meet the demands of high tech today is the importance of computer tech curricula. We must blend fiscal responsibilities with limited tax dollars. We need to continue to get extra help for students in K through 3 when our teachers identify students who need extra help. At this early age the students are very receptive to help. I am glad to see school librarians returning.

#2) Lately, tensions have been high between the Town Council and the School Committee. Yet, I believe a challenge is always a good thing. The "ComputerGate" challenge was a good test for both the Town Council and School Board. The challenge was the fiscal responsibility of the School Board’s expenditure of $1.1 million for computers and other equipment. (The purchase of computers is not yet complete.) The matter was resolved (at some expense) and the School Board now makes certain the council is notified well in advanced of any large purchases.

Kellie DiPalma Simeone

31, married
Resident of Middletown resident
for over 30 years
Raytheon Senior Software Engineer Public offices: Middletown School
Committee member (2008-2016),
vice-chair (2012-2016)

#1) I believe the most important issue facing Middletown schools is the struggle between providing an excellent educational program for all students that is both broad and deep and identifying the resources (financial and otherwise) necessary to support such a program. For the past several years, the Middletown School Department has experienced decreasing state revenue each year as a result of the Rhode Island school funding formula. This year the state’s contribution to Middletown schools is around $1 million less than it was before the implementation of this formula, and we have a few more years of expected decreased state revenue before we expect it to even out. As we contend with this decreased revenue source, Middletown Public Schools must continue to ensure that our existing resources are being used as efficiently and effectively as possible, while striving to find alternative funding sources. It is imperative that despite these challenges, we continue to provide the best possible educational opportunities for our students. Our students deserve our best effort in this area and more.

#2) If re-elected to the Middletown School Committee, I will focus on achieving increased effective communication with all stakeholders in the Middletown Public Schools, particularly the members of our Town Council. It is the responsibility of the members of the Middletown School Committee to ensure that members of the Town Council, as well as other town and school staff, students, families and residents, receive accurate and timely information regarding our schools. I believe that in the absence of frequent and clear communication, individuals are forced to make assumptions or draw their own conclusions based on incomplete information. If re-elected, I would continue to encourage regular discussions between the School Committee and Town Council leadership. I will also work to improve the Middletown School Committee meeting agendas to make them more informative and understandable. In addition, I will research strategies and methods that other school districts have used to engage in effective communication with their communities.

Return to top