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.
Current member Leba Heigham is one of four candidates running for School Committee. Heigham faces current School Committee Chairman Joe Curro, former Arlington Town Republican Committee Chairman Jim Dolan 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.
A 14-year Arlington resident, Leba Heigham has been involved in education for the past 18 years. She has worked as teacher, a math program development coordinator, along with a variety of other postions. Currently she is the assistant principal at the Linden School in Woburn, a post she has held for the past two and a half years. Heigham has served on the School Committee for the past three years, and is also running as a write-in for Town Meeting member this year. Heigham’s two daughters attend and .
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?
Leba Heigham: “I think the budget deficit is a problem that’s not going away in the future. In addition to state revenues being down, we also have a formula that says what it costs to educate students that’s not entirely realistic. I think it’s going to be more and more dependent on the Arlington community — and in communities across the state — to go to the voters and ask for an override. I think we need to seek aggressively seek other sources of funding through grants and other sources of revenue. It’s going to be a challenge, but everyone in the state is experiencing it. Hopefully we can get some solutions in place statewide so that the burden is not just falling on individual communities.”
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?
Leba Heigham: “This has a learning experience for us and through our process audit we’ve learned that one the most important parts of the budget processes wasn’t happening: monthly reconciliation. That’s when the town controller, town manager, the schools’ chief financial officer (CFO) and the superintendent of schools meet on a monthly basis so there is a regular communication between those two branches (the school and the town). That in a way was part of the communication issue; we’re parallel bodies. In addition, the budgeting has become much more transparent. Prior practice had larger buckets for different expenditures and there was never a line by line transparency there. Now, the CFO has made the budget more transparent than ever. More budget documents are available online than ever before. We’re working to make all this information as readily available and accessible to the other governing bodies.”
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?
Leba Heigham: “We been moving more toward site-based management, meaning that the principals and staff at the school really have the ability to come before us [the School Committee] and tell us how this needs to work in my building. They are the ones in the classroom, they know best. Another area where we’re hoping to support them, is that we’ve grouped all of our elementary schools together in terms of the budget. There is some flexibility in terms of final enrollment. We’ve also taken inventory of the technology available and we’re looking to help out the schools that are not as technologically rich through the capitol budget, which is separate from the schools’ budget. On a more personal level, we want to let the teachers know how much we appreciate the work that they do. It’s challenging right now, but we’re trying to provide whatever soft incentives we can. We’re hoping to help out the teachers in the classroom with parents and other volunteers from the community. They do great work and we need to support them.”
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?
Leba Heigham: “I would absolutely have that subcommittee reauthorized so that the committee won’t dissolve in the new term. In the past we have had surveys to ask the parents how they feel about certain issues, which we did for the athletic fees. It seems that some of the survey information may not have been consistent with what people wanted. Some people may feel, such as the members of single athlete families, that their perspective was not properly incorporated. As the committee gets reauthorized, I think it’s important that the subcommittee represents the diversity of the entire student-athlete community and that it supports the varying needs.”
Patch: What about your experience and background makes you the best person for this job?
Leba Heigham: “I have a tremendous amount of experience in public education. I’ve worked at varying levels. I stay on top of professional development. I spend a considerable amount of time in classrooms, grades K-8 in my current position. I really feel that I have a good understanding of what’s going on in education. I also have three years of experience on the committee and there is something to be said for that. Seeing the breadth of changes we’ve experienced since I was first elected—the recession, the departure of a superintendent and a CFO— with the inexperienced committee we had in place, it was a challenge. Understanding the legalities, the issues and just knowing which other agencies to contact, there was a tremendous growth curve that came with that. That’s a level of experience that would really help provide more stability to the committee. Experiencing the Arlington School District firsthand as a parent, I have a vested interest. I want to ensure that the schools are able to continue to provide the quality education my daughters are receiving.”
Check back with Arlington Patch for more candidate profiles before heading to the polls on April 2.