The same differences of opinion that inspired the crowded pool of School Committee candidates to enter the race for a seat were highlighted in the Times’ first School Committee debate Thursday night.
Hot issues like the future of the Fuller building, the configuration of the elementary schools and the gradually rising state test scores drew in nine candidates for the committee’s six elected seats. The seventh seat on the committee automatically goes to the mayor.
Challenger Jack O’Maley, who rose from a coaching position to an assistant principal position before illness forced his resignation a few years back, said the question of where to temporarily place West Parish students while their school is demolished and replaced with a new $30 million model, sparked his attention.
“The discussion surrounding the students in the West Parish school awoke my energy,” O’Maley said in making his pitch for a seat.
School committee incumbents Melissa Teixeira, Jonathan Pope, Kathy Clancy and Tony Gross at various times each expressed the importance of hearing out community members on issues.
And, though Clancy explained during the debate that Fuller would cost millions to repair and bring up to code, and the committee declared the building surplus this winter, they would still consider it for temporarily relocating the West Parish students during a building transition.
Candidate Michelle Sweet, a former four-year School Committee member, a Gloucester schools graduate and mother, said she visited the Fuller building during a tour recently, and the conditions shocked her.
“It was a complete mess. We went down to the basement where the antiquated oil burners and the pumps were rotting out,” Sweet said. “We’ll have to work together to find the best solution, to explore the options. We’ll absolutely have to have the whole community’s input.”