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Fit To Be Tied: School Committee, Selectmen Can't Decide Between Two Finalist to Fill Vacancy

Former School Committee member Elizabeth Gibson and Lesley University's Dean of Faculty Lisa Fiore were deadlocked after two rounds of voting.

Elizabeth Gibson (left) and Lisa Fiore, the two finalists for the seat on the Belmont School Committee.
Elizabeth Gibson (left) and Lisa Fiore, the two finalists for the seat on the Belmont School Committee.
And the newest Belmont School Committee member is ...

Come back Friday. 

That's the decision by the committee and the Board of Selectmen this morning, Monday, Sept. 23, after the combined group twice voted the same tally for two finalists in filling the committee vacancy after the resignation of Pascha Griffiths in June. 

The candidate selected will fill the vacancy for the eight months until the April town election where the position will be on the ballot for a single year term. It will revert to a three-year term in 2015. 

Former Belmont School Committee member Elizabeth Gibson, who served from 2003 to 2009, and Lesley University's Dean of Faculty Lisa Fiore each received three votes in the first round in which they were up against three other applicants; Jamie Kang, Clifford Backman and Meg Anderson. 

When the second vote was taken with only Gibson and Fiore on the ballot, the two candidates each received four votes.

The Selectmen and School Committee will meet on Friday, Sept. 27, at 8 a.m. in the Selectmen's Room of Town Hall to decide once and for all who will fill the sixth seat on the board. 

The inability of the committee and board to decide on a single applicant had as much to do with the "the five terrific candidates," each who could be the ideal fit for the board on their own terms, said Mark Paolillo, chair of the Board of Selectmen said before the elected officials voted for the candidates for the first time. 

Each candidate was given the opportunity to make statements and answer questions coming from each member of the combined group. 

Kang, who ran for School Committee in April 2013 and finished third in a three-person race as a MIT graduate, said she would promote innovation teaching in the classroom, using new technology to further learning for both students and teachers as well as bring the perspective of the Belmont student (Kang is a 2009 Belmont High graduate.)

A Boston University history professor with one child still in the district, Backman said he had practical experience in working in committees where you can promote ideas and programs without being disagreeable. He would also step away from bringing in technology to the classroom and spend the money in teaching and existing resources such as expanding library services. 

The only candidate that did not have children who attended the district, Anderson – a live-long educator as a teacher, principal and consultant – would bring the teachers and principals view to the committee. She saw the hiring of a new superintendent as a priority along with adequate staffing and challenging students to be more creative, independent thinkers. 

After the first round of voting, the clear favorites were the veteran School (and Warrant) Committee member and the educator and parent with children in the district with innovative ideas on partnerships between the town and higher education institutions. 

Those supporting Gibson saw her as "ready to hit the ground running," said School Committee member Anne Lougee having the practical past experience in the budget process and was a member of the committee that hired past superintendent George Entwistle.

"It's such a critical time with a budget and a superintendent's search" that it would be helpful that the committee has a person who has been there, said School Committee Chair Laurie Graham. 

Fiore won the support from those who saw her a bringing a current parents view and "a fresh perspective" to the committee, said Selectman Andy Rojas as well as her promotion of establishing partnerships between the district and higher education which Fiore called a "win-win" relationship for all sides. 

While there was a quick discussion after the second vote to allow the school committee tally, which was 3-2 in favor of Gibson, to hold sway, but it was decided that it would not be fair to Fiore since it was the vote of the entire combined group that is required under the town bylaws.

A final decision will be make Friday. 
John Bowe September 24, 2013 at 06:23 AM
OK, Johnathan, I'm agreeing with a lot of that, especially in the bigger picture of Belmont government. There are many holding multiple positions, or moving from one board to another. Examples: Both Sami Baghdady and Liz Allison on Planning Board (PB) and Warrant Cmte (WC); Andy R on BOS and "liaison" to PB; Ralph served on WC, then School Cmte, then WC again, then BOS. Some of that is good (consistency and institutional knowledge), some just stifles new ideas, or even old ideas that are successful elsewhere. I've been told "we do it this way in Belmont" too many times. It was not clear to me which of the 5 were expected to run for the seat at the next election. Was the hope to continue the SC's current path until April, or set someone up who will want to keep the spot, as an elected one? If Gibson is picked, I hope Fiore (even not knowing much about her) considers running in April, or at least is involved in the superintendent search. And thanks, Matt! :-)
Matt Sullivan September 24, 2013 at 07:25 AM
No problem John! Can we talk soon?
Joshua Cooper September 24, 2013 at 12:51 PM
I appreciate the comments made ahead of me, but I feel compelled to comment as well. In my view this issue reflects a simple theme that often arises in local politics. It boils down to a choice. One the one hand there's the "safe" bet, an individual with prior committee experience, one who likely forged relationships with existing and prior committee members. The existing committee feels this individual would "hit the ground running," creating the notion that any alternative would somehow impair any future committee action. On the other hand, there's an individual with a fresh voice, different ideas, and a background steeped in higher education. This individual has served in a unique position where the primary focus is managing interaction between administration and educators. In my opinion, when one takes an objective view of this matter, the decision is quite clear. Dr. Fiore represents everything that a committee member should strive for. She has practical experience working as Dean of Faculty at Lesley University -- a position whose primary objective is to manage relationships between faculty and educators. She has children in the district. Above all else, she demonstrates a passion for education. Perhaps the current committee members are fearful of change -- another common theme present in local politics. In this case, I believe change is needed, and Dr. Fiore will only enhance the committee's role in these tough times.
Jonathan Birge September 26, 2013 at 11:14 AM
Amen, Joshua. If the best the current committee can say about someone is "they've done this before" then it seems likely that this is about personal relationships and not finding the best person. In other words, this is about them, and not Belmont's children. I hope Dr. Fiore is eventually allowed in the club of Belmont politics.
Matt Sullivan September 27, 2013 at 03:53 AM
After much thought and consideration I must say that I agree with the majority of the citizens that have commented on the article. In the beginning off the appointment process I was a vocal supporter of Jamie Kang who stepped up and ran for School Committee during the 2013 Town election. I strongly feel she would have done an outstanding job given the chance. Now, almost a week later we are still without a 6th member of the School Committee. Both Elizabeth Gibson and Lisa Fiore are exceptional candidates. We really can not go wrong with either candidate. After much thought and consideration I must say for the best possible outcome of this appointment process I feel very strongly that the right thing to do is to appoint Lisa Fiore to the School Committee. If Mrs. Gibson decides to run in April I will support her but let's show ALL the residents of Belmont that we are serious about "change". Appointing Lisa Fiore to the School Committee is the right thing for the BOS and School Committee members to do. Sincerely, Matt Sullivan 121 Hammond Rd.

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