School Committee Candidates Questionnaire, 2017
As President of the Newton Teachers Association, I am requesting that you answer the following questions. After reviewing your responses to these questions, the NTA Executive Committee may make candidate endorsements in some of the races. Be aware that we may share your responses with our members.
I am requesting that you return the completed questionnaire by Tuesday, October 10th.
Thank you for your consideration.
Name: Cyrus Karl Vaghar
- Tell us about your background and why you are running for School Committee.
I am a former student (NNHS class of 2015) and lifelong resident of The Garden City. Currently I am in college, expecting to receive my bachelor’s degree in December 2018. To put it simply, I am running for School Committee because we need more diversity on it, and I would like to do my part and represent those who currently have no vote on the Committee, the students.
- How do you understand your role as a member of the School Committee? What does the School Committee contribute to running the Newton Public Schools?
Besides the direct powers given to the School Committee (hiring and firing the superintendent, review the budget, education goals etc.), a School Committee member must be both approachable, yet ask tough questions that need to be asked. The School Committee, as a whole, has a tremendous power over the workings of the school, which take up more than 50% of the city’s budget. A School Committee that votes 9-0 on almost every decision seems to be limited in using their powers for the greatest possible good or worse, is not being transparent.
- What do see as the strengths of the Newton Public Schools?
The NPS are ranked as one of the best school districts in the state, which is only possible after decades of hard work by many individuals. Our students are obviously very intelligent. Our parents are generally highly educated and respected in the community. Our support staff always gets the job done. Lastly, our teachers are some of the brightest in the workforce.
- What are your concerns? What do you think needs to change?
When I started this campaign, I knew I was running for one group of people ahead of all others, not because I believed they were worth more or better than anyone else, but because they were not and still are not getting the representation they deserve. This group is the students, who do not have a vote on the School Committee.
Budget wise, we also need to review our practices. The rate of spending is clearly unsustainable and our unfunded pension liability is troubling: Home values are increasing, but the taxable base cannot keep up. I am very concerned that the ‘bubble will pop’ and the schools could sharply fall over a short number of years.
- Why are you qualified to serve on the School Committee?
I was a student in the schools (Cabot, Bigelow and NNHS) for more than a decade. That experience may not be the norm for School Committee candidates, but I certainly would bring a diverse and unique voice to the School Committee. I also work as a second-generation licensed Realtor in the city, and have a solid understanding of building trends. Lastly, I have a strong connection to the students, knowing and having met with many personally and being mutual friends with many more. I could get long neglected students, from many disciplines, to share their voice on the School Committee.
- What is your position on outsourcing the work of the Newton school custodians?
Unlike my opponent, I do not support the direct outsourcing of custodians, however, I support the will of the citizens of Newton, which include many custodians, first. I believe contract negotiations needs to be open and transparent, with reasonable goals expected of either side. As I have long said, I do not support custodians receiving more than double the pay of teachers with Masters degrees. Overtime pay must be discussed, thoroughly reviewed and compared to those of other departments in the city.
- What is your position on health insurance coverage for NPS employees?
I am against the idea of privatization, even though some feel the other way. The recent ‘health holiday,’ which added money back in the schools, shows that the current system is working, albeit not perfectly. I would definitely look at surrounding districts, like Cambridge, as well as groups like the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC), to find best practices and continually review how we can best manage health insurance.
- What would you do to close the funding gap the Newton Public Schools anticipates in FY18?
After receiving the endorsement and support of veteran NNHS English teacher George Bower, it became clear that the NPS are top-heavy with administrators. A textbook example is the former Day Middle School principal being forced out after mishandling multiple anti-Semitic graffiti incidents, only to land a cushy new job at the education center. Additionally, I have reviewed the city budget and spending for security has gone up 10x in the last decade. I support the elimination of wasteful expenditures through budget vigilance and line-item examination.
One of the biggest differences I can bring to School Committee is the ability to count on students for answers. No, we cannot expect students to solve where money is being improperly spent, but we can and will find out what programs are working for them through surveys, testimonials and available data. The cutting of the Latin program is a recent example of how NOT to cut programs, angering many because of the way it was poorly implemented.
- We are in the last year of a three-year contract between the Newton Public Schools and the Newton School Committee. If you were on the Negotiations Team for the Newton School Committee, what would your priorities be in these negotiations?
Just a few years ago I remember my teachers at NNHS bravely walking into school in their bright yellow T-shirts, asking for a living wage. I supported them then and I do now. It is vitally important that we do not let it get to that point again.
My biggest priority would be to solve this before a contract expires, as no teacher should have the stress of working without a contract. Teacher pay needs to be addressed. Newton is not keeping up when compared to surrounding cities and towns. Benefits, including 401K matching and pensions also need to be maintained, if not increased. This is an area where I would not make any decision before speaking to parents, educators and experts in the field, as the consequences of a wrong choice could be devastating.
- If there is anything else you consider pertinent to your candidacy that you would like to share, please feel free to do so.
I have received the endorsement of many current and former teachers, like George Bower of NNHS, mentioned above, and Debroah Linder of NSHS. I have also received the endorsement of the SPED Brothers group, the only coalition of special education students in The Garden City.
Above all, I support a progressive curriculum that provides the opportunity for all students to have college-level courses in high school, as many neighboring school districts do, and which are widely accepted at colleges and universities across the country, such as UMass Amherst and Brandeis. I also support a basic financial literacy class for all high school students, so they know simply life skills, like how a credit card works.
We have knocked on over 3,000 doors, more than any School Committee candidate, in Newton.
If you have any more questions about our campaign, please check out my campaign website or give me a call anytime at 617-823-2556.
School Committee Candidate, Ward 2