2009-11-19 / News

Brennan looks back at years on school committee

By Eileen M. Daly

William “Bucky” Brennan William “Bucky” Brennan William “Bucky” Brennan may have served the Jamestown School Committee for eight years – but even he acknowledges that those years of service got off to a rather rocky start.

“I was the only Republican on the committee and I probably took the hardest tack on the issues, mostly by questioning the value of what we were spending on,” he said.

In fact, Brennan said, spending and a quickly increasing budget were the propelling forces behind his first run for election to the school committee.

“I was frustrated with the lack of accountability, and the pace and size of the budget increases,” he said.

Now, with the recent election of a new school committee, Brennan reflected on his years of service, including some important lessons learned, accomplishments made and dreams left incomplete.

From the start, Brennan was concerned with what he perceived as a lack of understanding of the necessity and importance of maintaining school facilities from an infrastructure standpoint.

“For the first four years, I really focused on that. It paid off,” he said, referring to a savings of some $250,000 that occurred as a result of his and others’ efforts to move the repair of the Lawn Avenue School roof in a different direction.

“I am very proud of that,” he said. “We worked really hard on it. We put together a committee and some of the people in town helped out.”

But the fight to control spending was not without acrimony, according to Brennan. “During the first six years, we struggled really hard to control the budget. At that time, there were doubledigit increases,” he said.

Brennan attributed much of the animosity that occurred over budget issues to an administrative team that did not respond well to questioning.

“The superintendent at that time expected to make all of the decisions and not to be questioned. Anyone who did question those decisions was not treated well,” he said.

Brennan also said that even before he ran for school committee, he faced opposition from those that disagreed with his perspective.

“I had begun to question some of the financial issues at town meetings,” he said. “Some of the people who disagreed with me put a group together to stop me from getting elected.”

In response to that opposition, some of Brennan’s friends saw an opportunity to tease him about it.

“They made some pretend signs that read ‘Mothers Against Bucky Brennan,’” he said.

But despite the opposition, Brennan remained committed to his beliefs.

“The first two years, maybe even a little longer, were really difficult,” he said. “We were like the poster child of a school committee that didn’t get along.”

Still, Brennan got some satisfaction from seeing some of his ideas, including the roof repair savings, come to fruition. Another idea that resulted in considerable savings – and that Brennan is proud of initiating – involved his foresight regarding changes in Jamestown’s school population.

“I began saying that Jamestown’s population was declining when no one else was saying it or planning for it. It meant closing some classes and it was a very difficult time. The community was yelling at us, but I turned out to be right,” he said.

Brennan also took some hits for his propensity for questioning the escalating costs of special education.

“I got a lot of glares over that, but I always took the attitude that things should be questioned,” he said.

Brennan acknowledged that questioning special education spending is a particularly diffi cult thing to do because it is often misconstrued as attacking the vulnerable. Never one to shy away from difficult issues, Brennan pressed forward despite pressure to back off.

“After a while, they just got used to it,” he said, referring to his continued objections to, and questioning of, school department expenditures. “Eventually, everyone just expected it.”

One example of Brennan’s steadfast commitment to such issues involved his yearly objection to the student assistance counselor’s position.

“I just never understood why we need this position,” he said. “There is no accountability, no way of knowing what this person is doing and why it is necessary. The whole thing is just really fuzzy.”

A certain level of frustration, however, is something Brennan had to get used to during his years of service on the school committee. He served as liaison to the North Kingstown School Committee for three years, a duty that proved to be one of his more difficult and frustrating obligations.

“The few times that I tried to assert myself and try to bring reason back to the North Kingstown School Committee, the limited role I played as a liaison was used to stifle my responses,” he said, referring to his time in North Kingstown as “interesting.”

Although he was able to establish some positive relationships with many of the parents there, which helped him feel more connected to the community, he described the recent events between the North Kingstown School Committee and the administration as “sad and unfortunate.”

“It was all unfortunate and unnecessary,” Brennan said, adding that no one – including Keith Kenyon, Gerry Foley or James Halley – has been accused of any criminal wrongdoing. “It could have been managed much smoother, without the harm to morale. None of them deserved it.”

In summing up his work on the Jamestown School Committee, Brennan said the part he played in helping Cathy Kaiser assume the role of chairperson was “the best thing I ever did.” He had nothing but high praise for Kaiser, referring to her as, “the best chairperson of any school committee ever.”

Brennan said he will miss the relationships that he developed with Kaiser and the current school committee members, adding, “They are all really nice people and I will miss seeing them.”

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