Eight compete for seven seats on Pawtucket School Committee

Eight compete for seven seats on Pawtucket School Committee

PAWTUCKET – All seven of the incumbent Democrats on the Pawtucket School Committee are running for re-election on Nov. 3 along with independent challenger Rodney Barber, with the top seven vote-getters each earning a seat on the board.

There were no Democratic challengers in the primary election on Sept. 8. The seven incumbents are current Chairman Gerard “Jay” Charbonneau, 48, of 284 Daggett Ave.; current Deputy Chairwoman Erin Dube, 38, of 311 Vine St.; Joanne Bonollo, 62, of 407 Grand Ave.; Kimberly Grant, 51, of 189 Woodbury St.; Joseph Knight, 66, of 100 Fortin Ave.; Stephen Larbi, 31, of 45 Sherman St.; and Roberto Moreno, 26, of 48 Greeley St.

The seven ran as a team during the 2018 election, where top vote-getters included Bonollo, Grant, and Dube, with all winning candidates receiving between 11.6 percent and 14.8 percent of the vote. Charbonneau, who’s been on the School Committee for six years and five as chairman, said that the seven of them are running again as a team. All seven agreed that they make a good team and collaborate well, with several praising the diversity among members. Bonollo, who’s pursuing an eighth term on the school board, agreed that they work well together but said each member is an individual and “we all kind of run on our own.”

Barber, 65, of 99 Riverview Ave., said his motivation for running for School Committee is to improve safety for children in schools. “It’s always been my belief that safety is always number one,” he said, adding, “If we educate our children right and keep them safe (that) will help the city in the long run” by attracting new families and businesses.

While Barber has never held political office, he has run unsuccessfully for positions in the past, including for Pawtucket City Council in 2016 and 2018 and for the House District 62 seat in 2014.

Barber, who said he has past experience on the school facilities subcommittee, told The Breeze that he feels “pretty good” facing off against the seven incumbents. He said most of them are good people with good hearts but he thinks some of them let politics get in the way sometimes and are beholden to the Democratic party. “I’m not beholden to anybody,” he said, adding that he promises politics, favoritism, and complacency will have no part in his decisions.

The seven incumbents cited their work to improve school facilities, with all saying they’re happy about the previous renovations at Potter-Burns and Nathanael Greene Elementary Schools as well as the ongoing progress at Winters Elementary School and future planned projects at several of the other schools.

Moreno, who’s running for a second term having been first elected in 2018, said he’s humbled and fortunate to serve as the chairman of the school facilities subcommittee and if re-elected is “looking forward to continuing to advance these projects.”

“We want to continue … renovating and rebuilding every school in this district,” Charbonneau said. “The need for buildings that are representative of 21st-century learning is long overdue in Pawtucket.”

Charbonneau noted another issue is improvement of test scores among students in the district, which he said he’s confident will happen soon. “We need to start seeing results,” he said.

Recognizing that voters will likely take the school reopening plan into consideration this year, the incumbents said that it was a tough call but they stand by their unanimous decision to only open four schools for certain populations of students to return to in-person learning, especially as numbers of those infected begin to increase again.

“I hope the voters would realize that we did what was best for our children,” said Knight, who’s running for a fifth term.

Bonollo, who’s on the wellness committee, said she hopes eventually they can transition into a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning for all students and teachers, but “I don’t know when that’ll happen.”

In terms of virtual learning this school year, Dube noted that the district is light-years ahead of where it was in the spring and said she’s very impressed by Pawtucket.

First elected in 2018 and seeking a second term, Larbi said his time on the school board has taught him that his experience as a man of color born and raised in Pawtucket is valuable and needed. “I want to make sure that our politicians reflect our community,” he said.

Grant, who has a daughter with special needs in the school system, said she’s seeking a third term on the committee because “I feel we can always do more … for all the kids. … I want to be the voice of children who do have special needs.”

Dube, who is the chairwoman for both the policy and wellness subcommittees and is seeking a fourth term on the school board, said she takes her work very seriously and thinks she brings a unique voice as both an educator and parent.

“I think that this committee has made progress (in the past two years) and that if all goes smoothly (at the polls) … I think that that progress will continue for the next two years and beyond,” Moreno said.