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Incumbents Sweep City; GOP Keeps N.J.

Upset likely in tight race for School Committee

By Marc J. Ambinder and Jacqueline A. Newmyer, CONTRIBUTING WRITERSs

In a down-to-the-wire School Committee race, Robin A. Harris, a sixth-grade teacher at the Benjamin Banneker harter School, was poised to upset committee incumbent Alfred B. Fantini, an unofficial tally of votes showed last night.

The initial count of No. 1 votes gave incumbent Alice L. Turkel, a member of the liberal Cambridge Civic Association (CCA), 2,565 votes, the most of the eight contenders for the city's school board in yesterday's election.

Another CCA member, Susana M. Segat, received 2,581 votes. David P. Maher of the moderate Alliance for Change party followed with 2,152 votes. Voters cast 2,046 ballots for Joseph G. Grassi, another Alliance candidate; 2,026 for E. Denise Simmons of the CCA; and 1,972 for Harris, also a CCA member.

Fantini and challenger Charles L. Stead Sr., both endorsed by the Alliance, received the fewest votes, 1,740 and 953, respectively.

Challenger Harris' apparent victory would give the CCA a two-seat majority on the Six-member committee.

Under the city's proportional representation electoral system, the ballots of the candidates who garner more No. 1 votes than a certain quota are passed on to the next highest-ranked candidate on those tickets.

Analysts predicted last night that the ballots of the two top vote-getters, Turkel and Segat, will be reallotted, mostly to Simmons and Harris.

The results of this vote reassignment--which will be finalized today--are expected to secure positions on the committee for incumbent Simmons and challenger Harris, although a surprise cannot be ruled out.

"I'm feeling much better," said Harris, reacting to the news that she may have regained the seat on the committee that she lost in the 1995 election. Her seat was taken by Segat.

Harris enjoys support among current members of the committee.

Fantini, who along with the other Alliance candidates did not attend the vote tabulation at the Cambridge Senior Center last night, was unavailable for comment early this morning.

CCA President Geneva T. Malenfant offered a reason for Fantini's poor showing.

"I didn't see any sign of Fantini doing anything until maybe a week before the election," she said.

According to preliminary figures, more than 16,000 votes, several hundred fewer than in the last election, were cast in the School Committee race, according to the preliminary tally.

"There were very few issues out there," said John O'Sullivan, president of the Cambridge Teachers Association (CTA).

The board's most public accomplishment last term was the selection of a popular new school superintendent, Bobbie D'Alessandro, to succeed Mary Lou McGrath.

Josie P. Patterson, parent of a Cambridgeport sixth grader, expressed support for D'Alessandro, formerly the superintendent in Fort Myers, Fla.

"I think she has a lot of experience in dealing with equity issues and distribution of resources," Patterson said.

Still, Turkel said she believes the committee must address the performance disparities among Cambridge's 15 elementary schools.

"In this little tiny city, 6.5 square miles, we have schools that are not doing well," she said.

Patterson's 11-year-old son, Jamie, complained about his school's "messy" bathrooms and inadequate technological resources.

"I think we need more computers," he said. "We have one in each classroom, and then we have a couple of junky, old Apples."

Committee member Simmons said she recognizes that budget resources could be apportioned to achieve higher efficiency.

Accordingly, Simmons said she convinced the committee to submit this year's budget to an audit. Three-quarters of the committee's current $87.2 million budget goes to paying teachers' salaries.

Low Voter Turnout

Issues facing the new committee include finding a home for the Cambridgeport School, currently located in temporary quarters.

Robb W. Johnson, a Cambridge parent active in local politics, said he is concerned about "finding a permanent home for Cambridgeport."

Malenfant noted that, despite low overall voter turnout, "turnout in the Maynard school district was high because there's been controversy about relocating the Cambridgeport school into the Maynard School."

The incumbents voted on this move last term, specifying that planning efforts should occur this year to smooth the school merger.

Another factor may have contributed to lower turnouts.

Although the Alliance is somewhat more conservative than the CCA, the resolution of the previously divisive rent-control issue has brought the two parties together, Turkel said. "They are [now] very similar in ideology," she said.

Still, the effects of the abolition of rent control following a 1994 state referendum have remained a concern for some voters.

"The big challenge in Cambridge...is dealing with the reduction in diversity," said Chris T. Carter, father of a King Open School nine-year-old. But Saundra M. Graham, an activist, former Massachusetts state legislator and longtime observer of Cambridge politics, said the current School Committee is well-equipped to handle diversity challenges.

"I think they have more progressive attitudes around quality-of-life and school issues," said Graham.

Teachers' Union

One incumbent, Segat, has distinguished her-self with a progressive and autonomous reputation. But her outspoken views have drawn criticism. "Claiming independence doesn't do anybody any good if you can't reach consensus," parent Patterson said.

Critics have also complained about Segat's allegiance to the teachers' union. But, according to Simmons, it is this tie that may have earned Segat her large proportion of the vote.

"She has a lot of very strong union connections, and it may have boded well for her," Simmons said.

Graham said she worries that teachers unions, including the CTA, are "too big for their own good." She targeted the recent introduction of faculty peer review, which she said is too teacher-friendly.

But Bill Morris, a film teacher at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, said the policy is fair.

"We adopted it, but it was proposed by the [outside] administration," Morris said.

O'Sullivan, the CTA's president, said the peer-review plan was primarily a collective-bargaining issue. The unions had to become involved, he said, because peer review is a condition of employment for the teachers.

In addition to union conflicts, the newly elected committee will face another challenge in adapting to the Massachusetts 1993 education-reform inititiative.

This measure gave school committees the man-date to raise test scores but denied them power to carry out this task.

"They stripped them to a point where some towns have cut their school committees," said voter Paul A. Walsh.

SCHOOL COMMITTEE RACEA. Fiona McKinnonGraphicName  #1 VotesAlice Turkel  2,656Susana M. Segat  2,581David P. Maher  2,152Joseph G. Grassi  2,046Denise Simmons  2,026Robin A. Harris  1,972Alfred B. Fantini  1,740Charles L. Stead, Sr.  953Source: Cambridge Election Commission, unofficial first tally of No. 1 votes, based on 42 of 42 voting precincts reporting

Under the city's proportional representation electoral system, the ballots of the candidates who garner more No. 1 votes than a certain quota are passed on to the next highest-ranked candidate on those tickets.

Analysts predicted last night that the ballots of the two top vote-getters, Turkel and Segat, will be reallotted, mostly to Simmons and Harris.

The results of this vote reassignment--which will be finalized today--are expected to secure positions on the committee for incumbent Simmons and challenger Harris, although a surprise cannot be ruled out.

"I'm feeling much better," said Harris, reacting to the news that she may have regained the seat on the committee that she lost in the 1995 election. Her seat was taken by Segat.

Harris enjoys support among current members of the committee.

Fantini, who along with the other Alliance candidates did not attend the vote tabulation at the Cambridge Senior Center last night, was unavailable for comment early this morning.

CCA President Geneva T. Malenfant offered a reason for Fantini's poor showing.

"I didn't see any sign of Fantini doing anything until maybe a week before the election," she said.

According to preliminary figures, more than 16,000 votes, several hundred fewer than in the last election, were cast in the School Committee race, according to the preliminary tally.

"There were very few issues out there," said John O'Sullivan, president of the Cambridge Teachers Association (CTA).

The board's most public accomplishment last term was the selection of a popular new school superintendent, Bobbie D'Alessandro, to succeed Mary Lou McGrath.

Josie P. Patterson, parent of a Cambridgeport sixth grader, expressed support for D'Alessandro, formerly the superintendent in Fort Myers, Fla.

"I think she has a lot of experience in dealing with equity issues and distribution of resources," Patterson said.

Still, Turkel said she believes the committee must address the performance disparities among Cambridge's 15 elementary schools.

"In this little tiny city, 6.5 square miles, we have schools that are not doing well," she said.

Patterson's 11-year-old son, Jamie, complained about his school's "messy" bathrooms and inadequate technological resources.

"I think we need more computers," he said. "We have one in each classroom, and then we have a couple of junky, old Apples."

Committee member Simmons said she recognizes that budget resources could be apportioned to achieve higher efficiency.

Accordingly, Simmons said she convinced the committee to submit this year's budget to an audit. Three-quarters of the committee's current $87.2 million budget goes to paying teachers' salaries.

Low Voter Turnout

Issues facing the new committee include finding a home for the Cambridgeport School, currently located in temporary quarters.

Robb W. Johnson, a Cambridge parent active in local politics, said he is concerned about "finding a permanent home for Cambridgeport."

Malenfant noted that, despite low overall voter turnout, "turnout in the Maynard school district was high because there's been controversy about relocating the Cambridgeport school into the Maynard School."

The incumbents voted on this move last term, specifying that planning efforts should occur this year to smooth the school merger.

Another factor may have contributed to lower turnouts.

Although the Alliance is somewhat more conservative than the CCA, the resolution of the previously divisive rent-control issue has brought the two parties together, Turkel said. "They are [now] very similar in ideology," she said.

Still, the effects of the abolition of rent control following a 1994 state referendum have remained a concern for some voters.

"The big challenge in Cambridge...is dealing with the reduction in diversity," said Chris T. Carter, father of a King Open School nine-year-old. But Saundra M. Graham, an activist, former Massachusetts state legislator and longtime observer of Cambridge politics, said the current School Committee is well-equipped to handle diversity challenges.

"I think they have more progressive attitudes around quality-of-life and school issues," said Graham.

Teachers' Union

One incumbent, Segat, has distinguished her-self with a progressive and autonomous reputation. But her outspoken views have drawn criticism. "Claiming independence doesn't do anybody any good if you can't reach consensus," parent Patterson said.

Critics have also complained about Segat's allegiance to the teachers' union. But, according to Simmons, it is this tie that may have earned Segat her large proportion of the vote.

"She has a lot of very strong union connections, and it may have boded well for her," Simmons said.

Graham said she worries that teachers unions, including the CTA, are "too big for their own good." She targeted the recent introduction of faculty peer review, which she said is too teacher-friendly.

But Bill Morris, a film teacher at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, said the policy is fair.

"We adopted it, but it was proposed by the [outside] administration," Morris said.

O'Sullivan, the CTA's president, said the peer-review plan was primarily a collective-bargaining issue. The unions had to become involved, he said, because peer review is a condition of employment for the teachers.

In addition to union conflicts, the newly elected committee will face another challenge in adapting to the Massachusetts 1993 education-reform inititiative.

This measure gave school committees the man-date to raise test scores but denied them power to carry out this task.

"They stripped them to a point where some towns have cut their school committees," said voter Paul A. Walsh.

SCHOOL COMMITTEE RACEA. Fiona McKinnonGraphicName  #1 VotesAlice Turkel  2,656Susana M. Segat  2,581David P. Maher  2,152Joseph G. Grassi  2,046Denise Simmons  2,026Robin A. Harris  1,972Alfred B. Fantini  1,740Charles L. Stead, Sr.  953Source: Cambridge Election Commission, unofficial first tally of No. 1 votes, based on 42 of 42 voting precincts reporting

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