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Martin elected Greenfield school board chair

GREENFIELD — Looks like Mayor Martin is going to be Chair Martin.

The School Committee voted 5-1 Thursday to make William Martin this year’s chairman — the first time a Greenfield mayor has been elected to the position.

Member Daryl Essensa cast the lone dissenting vote, with Martin abstaining.

The Greenfield charter was changed last year to remove language that said the chair had to be an elected School Committee member. Essensa said that she believes this was a mistake and it’s a conflict of interest for the mayor to chair the school board.

Member John Lunt, who has been chairman for the past three years, clarified that he was voting for Martin but was against setting a precedent that the Greenfield mayor always serve as chair. Mayors of other cities — like Chicopee, Northampton and Springfield — chair their school boards.

Former mayor Christine Forgey served as chairwoman for a period of two weeks during the 2007-08 school year after the resignation of chairman David Lanoie.

“I don’t think there’s any conflict. ... The mayor is always trying to balance things within the community,” said Martin, following the meeting. As school board chair, he said he will now also do this on a more focused level, balancing the interests of the school board members.

Martin said he wants to focus on safety in the schools, following state guidelines, examining the budget, increasing transparency and preparing for maximum enrollment.

He has been a school board member since he was elected mayor in 2009, and chaired the negotiation subcommittee this past year.

A school board of “two teams”

Francia Wisnewski was elected unanimously as the board’s secretary.

But Martin had to break a tie for vice-chair, choosing Maryelen Calderwood over Essensa.

Calderwood received support from Wisnewski and new member Margaret Betts. Essensa got the backing of Lunt and new member Donna Gleason.

That vote, as well as a 15-minute debate over the location of future meetings, suggested that this year’s school board will feature a stronger divide of differing opinions than last year’s board.

Last year’s board had four members who often voted in solidarity. This year’s board leans more toward a 3-3 split, with the potential for the mayor to break many ties.

“You’ve got a new board with varied interests,” said Martin, after the meeting. “There’s clearly two teams and I’d like to make us one team.”

“I think there are definite priority interests on the different groups,” he said. “So if those priority interests are taken care of, there’s nothing left to do but work together on something else.”

In other business, the school board spent 45 minutes discussing next year’s budget. While the School Committee approved a $17.1 million allocation in the spring, it needed to approve a lower amount of spending since the town’s allocation for the school department ended up being $16.5 million.

Members discussed a school security issue that had been brought up in the spring after a stranger wandered into the Greenfield Middle School one morning. The school board had voted for a policy review and superintendent report to be presented at this meeting. Hollins had a report ready but it wasn’t on the agenda and members felt that more should be done ahead of next month’s meeting.

Martin will make subcommittee appointments by next month.

Future meetings will be held at Greenfield Community Television’s office, and there won’t be a set yearly review of this location — which was the main issue at debate during the school board discussion.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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