Response to Newton Patch Questions

Hello Voters,

Running a campaign includes managing an overwhelming array of details. One detail that got away from me is my response to the Patch Questionnaire sent earlier during the campaign season. Please read my responses to the questions here. And please consider entrusting me with your vote tomorrow!

(Remember that all School Committee seat are at large so you can vote for one candidate from each ward).

Best regards,

Steve Siegel
Candidate for Newton School Committee, Ward 5

Q: Why are you running for election?

I am running because I am convinced that I can make a strong difference in advancing the work of the school committee. I have the skills, energy, curiosity, and engagement with others to be effective at dealing with our biggest current challenges. These include fixing our broken school buildings, changing the funding model for our classroom and administrative technology so we can provide equal access for all, and strengthening our STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) offerings and student interest.

Q: What is your background in local government or community involvement and how will it help you in this seat? Do you have other experiences that will help you in the position?

I am an elected member of the Oak Hill School Council that advises the principal. My daughters attend the 7th and 10th grades at Oak Hill and Newton South. I am a volunteer elementary school math tutor, and I have been active on a variety of PTO projects. These experiences give me an intimate exposure to what is happening today within our classrooms, and provide me with valuable perspective to bring into School Committee deliberations.

In addition I have worked directly with Mayor Warren, leading a team that studied the state of maintenance in our school buildings. I served on search committees that resulted in the hiring of our building commissioner, DPW commissioner, and director of maintenance.

I have been a period guest op-ed writer in the TAB on topics ranging from getting our school lunch program in the black to lessons learned from the NNHS process.

Q: With Newton facing several tough budget seasons in the recent past — and likely several in the future — what do you feel needs to be cut, added or changed in the budget to keep the city’s finances balanced?

Education is Newton’s brand, and cuts will erode it. We must work better with the resources we have, and try to enhance our budget using whatever means are available.

Innovative approaches to be more efficient such as the co-taught classroom model may reduce SPED costs. Night-shift maintenance crews may help extend scarce maintenance dollars. More intuitive elementary math curriculum may reduce the need for expensive math coaches. We must constantly identify creative approaches to do more with the same dollars.

Simultaneously, we must look to increase resources from non-traditional sources, such as private donors following institutional fundraising models. Partnering with area institutions and businesses may provide funding, staff, and expertise into our classrooms. Aggressive pursuits of grants can be beneficial if they are well-managed to prevent program stops and starts.

Q: What is the most important issue Newton faces today?

Now that we have a new teacher’s contract, the most important issue we face is the fixing of our school buildings. Twelve of 15 elementary schools are in need of repair, renovation, expansion, or reconstruction. Our 2007 school Long Range Facilities Plan effectively inventoried our building conditions and recommended four buildings for replacement. But there was no funding plan, and no full context for citywide projects, making citywide support unlikely. The Mayor’s 5 year capital plan, being introduced for the first time on November 7th, should begin to address some of these critical deficiencies for the first time.

One of the two main city charter responsibilities for the School Committee is to make recommendations regarding school facilities. Facilities issues are discussed at pretty much every public meeting and they are the subject of much private discussion as well. My 30 year career as a structural building design engineer gives me knowledge, perspective, and insight into design, funding, and construction issues that can be an invaluable contribution to the knowledge base of our Committee when engaging in facilities discussions.

Q: If elected, what is something you are going to focus on in your position for the next two years?

• Facilities, per my above answer.
• Strengthening appropriate technology funding and use in our classrooms.
• Reinforcing offerings and increasing student enthusiasm in STEM careers.

Q: Name one thing the residents of Newton may not know about you.
I am a strong advocate for life-long learning. I support my employees by paying for their continuing education, and I am a student myself, having taken up piano for the first time when I was 44.