HARWICH — After more than an hour of discussion among the four candidates vying for a vacant seat on the Monomoy Regional School Committee on Monday night, selectmen and the Harwich members of the regional panel chose Tina Games to fill the position.
The school committee seat became available after member Steve Craffey resigned Nov. 27, saying he had taken a new job in which he will be doing a lot of traveling and would not be able to attend many meetings.
State law requires the position to be filled on an interim basis until the next annual election through a joint vote of the board of selectmen and Harwich members of the regional school committee.
Four candidates came forward: former selectmen Linda Cebula and Dana DeCosta, Games, chair of the cultural council, and Charles Gruszka. The four candidates fielded three questions relating to their interest in the position, how their backgrounds would benefit the school committee, and what direction and improvements they see as needed in the system. Additional questions were posed during the interviews.
“I'm a satisfied customer,” Games said of her experience with having two children in the Monomoy district. She particularly praised the efforts of teachers who worked to understand the “learning style” of her son. She also said her daughter is being recruited by one of the most prestigious women's colleges in the country.
Games said she would be an advocate for the schools, and with her education and years of experience in the communications field she said she could be a good bridge between the school committee and the community.
“I understand advocacy, I know how to advocate, which is a role I intend to play in this position,” she said. Games also said she is “fiscally responsible” and emphasized the need to pursue grants and creative funding sources.
Monomoy Regional School District does a lot of things well, she said, including academics and athletics, but she added it needs to do a better job in messaging, emphasizing more community engagement, particularly with residents who do not have children in the system.
Cebula, a certified public accountant said she would be “a fresh set of eyes on the school committee.”
She would have the ability to look at all sides of the issues. She also committed to run for the unexpired term in May. As a member of the board of selectmen, Cebula said she was part of the school regionalization effort, seeing it through to a successful district. When asked about the financial impact of increasing budgets, she said the town has been very generous, “but we have to start thinking about living within our means and doing what we can with the money we have.”
DeCosta, chairman of the finance committee, said could step right in because of his 30 years of service in many capacities to the town. He also pointed out his two sons went through the Harwich school system.
“I know I can help improve the presentation of the Monomoy Regional School District's operating budget,” DeCosta said. Of the top 20 schools in the state the size of Monomoy, the district is 18th highest in spending and needs to do a better job utilizing its funds, he said.
Gruszka said he had a 34-year career as an educator in the Wachusett Regional School District, with the last 24 years as a pre-K through eighth grade principal. He said he has been a part-time resident in Harwich since 1971 and moved here full time in 2015.
“I'm a service oriented person contributing my talents to the community,” Gruszka said, noting his attendance at school committee meetings, budget sessions and strategic planning forums. He said he has two grandchildren who are school choice students in the district. He said nothing affects students more than the budget the district has to work with, adding, “I'm looking at the first adequate school budget I've seen in decades.” He praised the communities for their funding commitment.
All the candidates praised the educational performance of the district and had individual insights into ways of improving student experiences.
Three candidates were nominated for the interim position at the end of the interviews: Cebula, Games and Gruszka. At the conclusion of the first round of voting Cebula and Games were tied with three votes. The tie was broken in a second ballot with Games receiving five votes to Cebula's three. Games said she would be a candidate for the unexpired term in May.