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School Committee Candidate Jim Dolan

Facing budget cuts and an increasing budget deficit, Jim Dolan says it's time to bring an economist to the School Committee's table.

In preparation for the upcoming town elections, Arlington Patch sat down to talk with all of the candidates running for major office. We've been bringing our readers profiles on all of the different candidates, giving you an inside look at their backgrounds, experiences and their views on the issues.

Jim Dolan is one of four candidates running for . Dolan faces current School Committee Chairman Joe Curro, School Committee member Leba Heigham and retired teacher and former teacher’s union leader Bill Hayner in the race for School Committee. Voters will choose three candidates who will each serve a three-year term.

Background and Experience

A three-year Arlington resident, Jim Dolan works as an economist for SDI, a government economic development agency in downtown Boston. He served as the chairman of the Arlington Town Republican Committee from November 2009 to February 2011. He is a product of the Massachusetts public school system and the son of a 30-year public school teacher.

On the Issues

Patch: The most hotly contested issue the School Committee faced this past year was the budget deficit. How do you think the committee should handle the district’s budget deficit?

Jim Dolan: "I think first thing we need to do is restore a culture of transparency and accountability. People lose faith when they don't trust where their money is going and they can't see how their money is being spent. When we have a $1.5 million deficit because we spent money from a fund that did not have money in it, that strikes me as a systemic problem. With that type of economic mismanagement, you need an economist more than ever. I don't think an override is necessarily the solution. We need to think outside the box on this. I think we can look to the voluntary sector; we have a wealth of resources in this town and so far we haven't tapped into the skill base of our community. We can also pool our resources with other neighboring towns who are in the same boat that we are, and we can combine AP classes to stretch our dollar for the most value. In these hard economic times we have to put schools back on a sustainable basis."

Patch: Residents and town officials also expressed concern with the committee’s communication methods about the budget deficit. If elected to the committee, what specifically will you do to improve communication and the relationship between the committee and the town?

Jim Dolan: "I think we can have a lot more of our budget documents online so people can see line by line where they're money is  going. Some progress has been made there, but not nearly enough. There have been wildly conflicting statements about when we knew what (about the budget deficit). We also have an issue where $51,000 has gone missing from the athletic fund and we've never gotten a satisfactory answer on that. I think we need to start by having more transparency and accountability on the committee."

Patch: After the sports fees debate this past year, the committee voted to form an athletics subcommittee. If elected to the committee, what specifically will you do to maintain and fortify the relationship between the school committee and the athletic community?

Jim Dolan: "I would love to say I will reduce fees or even eliminate them if I'm elected, but I can't make that promise. I think it's important that someone on the Finance Committee oversees how that money is spent. In the past there has been a process of diverting money from the athletic fund into the general fund, and that will not happen under my watch. We need to end that process."

Patch: The Arlington School District faces cuts to staff and enrichment programs this year. If these cuts are made, what should the committee do to support the affected schools?

Jim Dolan: "Unfortunately these cuts are unavoidable. I think what we should do is direct the superintendent to cut administrative positions before we go to the teachers. The teachers are the ones on the front lines doing the work every day. In order to keep class sizes low and keep teachers in the classroom, I think there are several administrative positions we can cut or combine. For instance, I think that we can hire a part-time CFO, someone who is already an accountant in town, to take care of the school's budget. That way we can save on the current CFO's salary, not to mention the benefits package, since the person in this position would not be a full-time employee. Another place we can look to cut is the assistant principal position. They do great work and they add a lot of value to the school system, but in this economy we simply can't afford to keep all of them."

Patch: What about your experience and background makes you the best person for this job?

Jim Dolan: "During this recession and with the budget in dire straits, there is no better time to have an economist on the committee. We need someone who can go through the books and ask the tough questions. We need someone who knows how to maximize the value of our tax dollars. As the son of a 30-year public school teacher, I know what skilled professionals teachers are and how much they impact the kids in their classrooms. It's our job to put the schools on a sustainable basis so that they have the resources they need to carry out their vocation." 

Check back with Arlington Patch for more candidate profiles before heading to the polls on April 2

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