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David Schoales: Issues are problems to be solved, not fought over

BRATTLEBORO—Longtime town School Board member David Schoales, fresh from pitching state Rep. Valerie Stuart a new tool to assess students’ math skills, sits in the foyer of Academy School and reflects on his run for Selectboard.

Schoales, one of six candidates running for a one-year seat, said the campaign was running faster than he’d expected.

A fellow resident recently asked Schoales his position on Building a Better Brattleboro attempting to divest ownership of the Robert H. Gibson River Garden.

Schoales said he thought he didn’t need a position on that yet.

Three of the five current Selectboard members are not seeking re-election: Chair Dick DeGray, Dora Bouboulis, and Christopher Chapman.

Schoales said DeGray’s and Bouboulis’ departures seemed like an opportunity for a new spirit of collaboration on the board.

“[It’s] enough of a clean slate to start off with a bit more collaboration,” he said.

If elected, Schoales said, he would draw on his town School Board experience and service on other local boards. In his view, the town can build a culture of improvement.

In an email, Schoales wrote, “From being on the School Board, I see the school district is focused on continuous improvement, and I see the measurable results. I believe the town could make this approach a priority as well, and develop a system for measuring progress.”

The School Board has initiated a number of renewable and energy saving measures in the district, one of which was the installation of a wood pellet-fired boiler at Academy School. The measure will save an estimated initial $6,000, or about 1 percent of the school budget, he said. But, over time, the savings will become more significant.

Brattleboro has done well improving its infrastructure through projects such as the Wastewater Treatment Plant and planned upgrades to the police and fire stations, he said.

Schoales said that, if elected, he would like to help the incoming Selectboard shift the town’s focus to its economic future. Attracting new employers and investors to build the town’s economy can also create a better future for Brattleboro’s children.

Young people will stay if they see they have a future here, he said.

He said he also wants to increase the number of jobs in the downtown area for people living downtown. The community worries about crime downtown, but one of the deterrents to crime is economic stability. People need jobs within their community.

He also suggested it had been divisive and unproductive for past Selectboards to fight over the school budget and whether to purchase a police cruiser.

Overall, he said, the town needs to grow its Grand List.

“We can’t just keep cutting; we need to have services,” said Schoales.

He also said that, as he sees it, a lot of people are worried about economic development and don’t see results.

Schoales predicts that the state and federal governments will continue to cut funding, leaving the town to pay its own way forward in many areas.

“[Economic development] has to be what we focus on,” he said.

Schoales said the River Garden should remain a public community space.

Although he readily admits he hasn’t researched the issue, he supports holding a town referendum. Citizens, not their five Selectboard members, should say whether they’re willing to pay for maintaining the River Garden as a public space, he said.

Schoales also said he wants to see the town communicate better with residents, citing the town website, www.brattleboro.org, as “need[ing] work.” He also said texting and similar approaches would help the town disseminate information more effectively.

Schoales describes himself as an experienced problem solver and someone who listens well and is adept at building relationships. He’s said he’s mindful that whatever is done to one part of a system or community affects the rest.

Issues, he said, are problems to be solved, not fought over.

“On my leadership and policy background, I have served on several boards, and completed all the coursework and comps in the UVM [University of Vermont] Ed[ucation] Leadership and Policy program,” Schoales wrote in an email.

“Job changes and family considerations brought us back to Brattleboro so I was unable to complete the Ed.D. degree,” he said.

Encountering multiple perspectives, even those with which he doesn’t agree, doesn’t put Schoales off, he said, describing himself as always willing to do his homework and put in the time to understand details.

He managed the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market for three years and served as its board president.

He has devoted more than 10 years to health care reform and said he feels the town should move toward more community-based health care. If potential employers knew they could control costs under Vermont’s statewide health care system, they’d be more likely to relocate here, he said.

Schoales has served on the School Board for four years. He said he intends to remain on the School Board regardless of the Selectboard election outcome. According to Town Clerk Annette Cappy, who has fielded a number of questions about the issue, it is entirely legal for Shoales to do so.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #191 (Wednesday, February 20, 2013).

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