Candidate questions board’s openness

Tiapa

MILFORD – Of the four people vying for two seats on the Milford School Board, only one is criticizing the way the new superintendent of schools was hired.

Dr. Jessica Huizenga was hired last year after serving as Milford’s interim superintendent for a few months. Holleigh Ciardelli Tlapa, who started a write-in campaign shortly after the filing period closed, questions the board’s hiring process as well as some of the superintendent’s decisions.

“I believe our new superintendent has some terrific ideas, but many residents feel blindsided by the way she was hired,” without input from the community, said Tlapa in an email.

When he announced Huizenga’s appointment in September, board Chairman Ron Carvell said the board was skipping a time-consuming and costly search because board members were impressed by her “energy, determination and deep devotion to excellence in education.”

Incumbent Len Mannino has served on the board since 2006, and he defended the hiring process, saying it is “a primary function of the School Board, of which the members are elected and representative of the community. Board meetings are open to the public, televised, and reported on by an independent press.”

Hannon

Since she was hired, Mannino said, Huizenga, “continued strengthening new relationships by engaging and partnering with business leaders; civic leaders; faith based leaders; state representatives; members of industry, business, parents, students, teachers and administration.”

The other incumbent, Bob Willette, a 13-year school board veteran, also disagrees that residents were blindsided, saying in an email that the school board has been very transparent.

“One the many responsibilities entrusted to the school board by the townspeople is the hiring of the superintendent,” he said in an email. “All school board meetings are public, and residents are encouraged to attend and voice opinions and concerns. To be transparent and in compliance with state law, board meeting agendas are posted in advance and the public is encouraged to participate. Furthermore, Dr. Huizinga was available at six school board meetings prior to being offered a contract, at which time the public had the opportunity to meet and voice questions and concerns.”

Candidate Michael Hannon, a member of the school budget committee and a lacrosse coach, said in a phone interview that he understands that residents want the hiring process to be done as it has in the past, but he also understands that the board was under time constraints, and to hire someone with Huizenga’s knowledge and experience they had to act fast.

“We put board members in positions to make decisions, and we have to trust them,” he said.

Mannino

The two incumbents have been generally supportive of the wide-ranging changes the superintendent has made over the past six months. Hannon sees Huizenga as having a vision for the schools, and the big picture is becoming clearer to him.

“I don’t like to see teacher cuts,” he said, and his biggest worry is having sufficient resources at the high school, but “we do need some changes to move from very good, to the best of the best,” he said.

Tlapa said she decided to join the school board race after noticing “a sense of unease among staff and students alike over the course of this past academic year. I became concerned with the direction our district is taking, in the sense that it is beginning to focus more like a corporate entity, and less like an educational powerhouse.”

In a statement, Tlapa, who has a child in each of the four schools and works as a business teacher at Souhegan High School, proposed changes to Milford’s teacher compensation system and suggests methods of combating vaping and bullying. She supports the continuing focus on career education and strategic planning, moving to an hours-based academic calendar and exploring start-time changes.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

Willette

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