GROTON -- With the decision by Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee member Jon Sjoberg not to seek re-election, anyone interested in replacing him has a rare opportunity to conduct a campaign without having to face an incumbent.
Candidate Brian Leblanc is employed as a software engineer looking forward to the day when his two-year-old son enters the school system.
"I always knew that I wanted to do some form of public service once my wife and I put down firm roots in a community," revealed Leblanc. "I sought out and received an appointment to the town scholarship committee last September. I found it interesting that there was not much interest in the race for School Committee despite the current issues...
A native of Gardner, Leblanc and his family moved from Chelmsford to Groton in 2013.
"My wife and I fell in love with the town of Groton the first time that we drove down Main Street," said Leblanc. "The strong reputation of the public schools is one of the primary reasons why we chose to raise our family in the town of Groton. We want to be part of a community that values education."
"I'm a property owning taxpayer just like the majority of the other citizens in town. I recognize that we do not have unlimited funds to contribute to the school department. However, I feel that we have an obligation as a community to provide the best possible education to future generations."
If elected, Leblanc would enter a situation from which the school district will still be recovering; one in which an accounting error left its budget short by $2.7 million for 2015 alone.
"We may have learned something from this experience and I think it brought a lot of people together. I think everyone in town would like to see more stability with the level of service provided to students as well as in their tax bills. I know the override caught us by surprise and we weren't thrilled at the prospect of suddenly paying higher taxes.
"I also think there is a human element that is often overlooked when it comes to school or municipal budget discussions," continued Leblanc. "The primary role of the schools is to provide an education to the residents of the two member communities and not to provide jobs. However, the administrators, teachers, and other staff members all depend on their jobs as a means to provide for their families just like anyone else. I think they perform at a higher level in a stable operating environment and they deserve it as much as the students."
"My experiences in business, education, family and life have taught me that the most successful groups and individuals are constantly trying to improve regardless of recent results," said Leblanc. "The school committee should constantly be evaluating itself and the district for opportunities for improvement. I've found that sometimes there are more opportunities for improvement following a success than a failure. We live in a very competitive world. This is the kind of attitude and desire for success I would bring to the school committee if elected."
Affecting school spending is the issue of enrollment, which has been in decline at Groton-Dunstable for the past several years.
"I can understand why some people might struggle with the thought of decreased enrollment and why this doesn't always translate into reduced costs for the school department," mused Leblanc. "You have to stop and think about what type of expenses are incurred by the school district. Some costs such as heating, electricity, and building maintenance are not affected by small enrollment changes unless an entire building is eliminated. Other expenses such as teachers' salaries are not affected by small changes in enrollment unless class sizes are reduced enough to justify reduced staffing. Reduced staffing is sometimes not achievable due to no teachers retiring or no teachers retiring in positions that can be safely eliminated without eliminating entire programs. The total expenses of a school district are also sometimes affected by increased enrollment by special education students which is typicality more significant than what is spent on other students. There are many factors that contribute to the total costs incurred by a school district and it's not as simple as the number of students enrolled."
"Class size clearly makes a difference in an educator's ability to effectively teach and a student's ability to learn," said Leblanc. "As a school committee member, I would rely on the superintendent, administrators and teachers who are professional educators to provide fact-based guidance when determining appropriate class sizes in the district. I would also listen to the feedback provided by parents regarding whether or not they feel their children's needs are being met."
About program offerings, Leblanc said, "I've always been a believer in leaving no stone unturned when it comes to seeking out new opportunities. However, you do need to consider if you are spreading your efforts too thin and not effectively pursuing the programs with the greatest possible benefits for the district. I think you need to take a holistic approach when evaluating government programs or grant opportunities and not lose sight of your goal which is to provide the greatest possible returns for the district."
Cognizant of his status in the race as a newcomer, Leblanc urged residents to get to know him as a neighbor and a candidate.
"I would like the voters to seriously take the opportunity to get to know me between now and the election," Leblanc said. "I'd be more than happy to meet with any local groups or individuals between now and the election as well as after the election if I'm elected. I humbly ask for their vote on May 20. Please take a look at my campaign website and follow me on social media: http://www.brianleblanc.com.
Town Election is May 20.