By Meg O’Neil
When the names of those vying for a seat on the Newport School Committee are submitted next week, there will be one name noticeably absent from the list: current committee chairman, Patrick K. Kelley.
Kelley told his fellow School Committee members of his decision to not run for re-election in the fall prior to their meeting at Thompson Middle School on Monday, June 18.
Elected four years ago, Kelley had been appointed the chairman of the committee for the past two years and will remain on board with the committee until January 2013, when newly elected officials are sworn in.
In an interview on Tuesday, Kelley said that when he was elected to the school committee in 2008, he had two main goals: to find a solution to the elementary school facility problem, and to try and improve the educational and behavioral issues at Thompson Middle School.
“The construction of the Pell Elementary School is well in hand, so I feel as though my first goal has been accomplished,” he said. “Additionally, with the class structure redesign and the appointment of Jaime Crowley as the principal of Thompson Middle School, things are changing for the better there.”
With a sense of accomplishment in his work with the School Committee, Kelley stressed the fact that he was not resigning from his position, but rather was simply not running for re-election.
“I certainly appreciate all the voter support that allowed me to serve for four years, but I have other professional career goals I want to accomplish.”
Kelley’s decision leaves an opening on the seven-member board.
So far, it appears clear that at least one person will add their name to the list of candidates seeking a term on the school committee.
Robert B. Power, a former superintendent of the Jamestown school system and former assistant superintendent and interim-superintendent of Newport schools has confirmed his interest in running for a spot on the board.
“I grew up in Newport and I think it’s important to give back to the community,” Power said. “I realize being on the School Committee is considered a thankless job, and everyone has an opinion on what you vote on, but that’s the nature of the beast.”
No stranger to school operations, Power thinks examining school finances is one of the biggest issues that will be discussed in the upcoming election season.
Power does not favor the idea of the city and school departments combining services, recalling a time nearly a dozen years ago when the city’s finance department was underperforming. “People forget about that time when the city’s finances were in terrible condition. Had the schools been under the city’s finance department at the time, then everything we have would’ve been in bad shape.”
When he runs, Power said he will not seek the chairman position, saying “I’m not running to be the boss, I’m running just to try to help where I can.”
While Power would be a new addition to the ballot list, another committee member is still debating whether or not to seek another two-year term this fall. Jo Eva Gaines has been on the committee for the past 10 years and says that when she first ran for a seat in 2002, she did not want her appointment to be a lifetime commitment.
“I thought 10 years was enough,” she said. “But at the same time, we’ve got some serious stuff facing the committee in the next year.”
According to Gaines, one of the biggest challenges will be ensuring a smooth closing process of the city’s four remaining elementary schools as the student body transitions to the new Claiborne deB. Pell Elementary School in the fall of 2013.
“I’ve been around this area long enough to know that things can change when the people in the seats change,” she said. “In this era of budget cuts and making sacrifices, It’d be hard to see choices made that would undo what we’re worked so hard to get done.”
She says that most of the goals she ran for 10 years ago have been met, but she believes that the schools are still not where they could be in terms of academic achievement. “I’d really like to make sure that does not go south,” she said.
Gaines, and any others interested in running for School Committee, or any other elected office, have until June 25 – 27 to submit their names to City Hall.
While she’s “on the fence, but leaning in towards running again,” Gaines said that she’d like to see more than seven names on the ballot this fall. “I really think there ought to be turnover in the elected offices, and I don’t think anything ought to stay on forever.”