The questions were thoughtful, and somewhat deeper than last week's newspaper sponsored debate. Again the candidates differed more on style than on substance. Both major challengers, Mike Cahill and Tim Flaherty vow to run a more open and transparent Mayor's office, but don't differ a great deal from Mayor Scanlon on priorities.
The toughest question on education concerned a recent Boston Magazine survey that rated Beverly schools 89th out of 135 Boston-area districts, hardly a resounding endorsement. The candidates were asked to "sell us on why Beverly public schools are the right choice for our children."
While not dismissing the results outright, the candidates attempted to put them in context, and agreed that we have a good school system, but must aim to make it better.
Scanlon suggested that as a city, Beverly has a steeper challenge in these types of surveys than smaller, more affluent towns, but said we still should strive to do better overall:
Within the sample that you cited, the city of Beverly is within the top third of the cities. Most of communities on there of course are towns. I’ve often said that Beverly is a city that thinks it’s a town, and I think pretty much everyone in Beverly wants to rank well against any of the towns. I think the impact of [the high school], now nearly complete, will help because it’s a better place for learning. And I think the project to do the middle school will certainly help because right now that school is very crowded.Flaherty, who has four children in the Beverly schools, said that the curriculum could be improved, but that overall he thinks the schools are excellent and improving:
Speaking from experience, I know that they’re saying we’re 89th out of so many schools, while Manchester and Hamilton-Wenham are at 4 and 5 [actually 6th and 9th respectively this year], but to tell you the truth, I’d rather send my kids to Beverly public schools than Manchester or Hamilton-Wenham because I think that we have more to offer.Cahill, a former teacher, said the Mayor needs to take a more active roll, and be a presence in the schools, and work better and more collaboratively with the Superintendent and School Committee:
What we need from our mayor is to be in there learning and celebrating what we are doing right because there is a lot of greatness in our schools. But then where we do fall short, we need to be honest with ourselves and we need to roll up our sleeves and we need to move towards greatness.The two debates, and the overall tone of the campaign, has been refreshing. The candidates and the sponsors of the debates have raised the level of discourse exponentially since previous election cycles. While there is not a great deal of difference in their positions, the ability for the community to hear an open and intelligent discussion of the range of issues facing the city has been welcome.
Yesterday's Salem News has a report on the Forum, and today's Beverly Citizen has a transcript of some of the questions and answers. The video, provided by BevCam is posted below in two parts.
Make sure you get out and vote in next Tuesday's primary. Polls are open from 7am to 8pm.
Disclosure: my business created the Cahill for Mayor website, and has informally advised his campaign on communications and social media.