Opinion

A tidal wave in Saugus 

Twelve candidates are seeking five seats on the Board of Selectmen in Saugus and 11 candidates are seeking five School Committee seats. Far from being dead or on life support, democracy has attracted a crowd in this year’s town election and local voters will have their hands full on Nov. 5, picking the people they want to represent them.

Town Clerk Ellen Schena said she hasn’t seen as large a crop of selectmen candidates since the watershed 2015 town election that saw voters take aim at local elected offices and throw out the old and usher in the new.

Veteran School Committee Chairwoman Jeanette E. Meredith offered a similar observation about heightened interest in the committee election. She said the committee race historically attracts six or seven candidates. A straight-forward, no-nonsense elected official, Meredith offered an understatement when she characterized the tone of the committee race as “pretty contentious.”

Saugus politics has always been generously spiced with colorful personalities and multiple agendas in play among candidates contending for town office. The June decision by public school administrators to terminate school custodians’ jobs prompted the disgruntled custodians and their supporters to promise a wholesale change in the committee’s composition in November. 

But the biggest voter-produced change is likely to be in the committee’s gender orientation. Members Lisa Morgante and Elizabeth Marchese are not seeking reelection, leaving Meredith and Linda Gaieski as the two women committee members and the only women on the committee ballot. 

Selectman Mark Mitchell is not seeking reelection. But the selectmen’s ballot is an all-star cast of local political personalities with a candidate for voters of every political stripe. We wonder if voters will look beyond the tendency to love or hate familiar names on the ballot and weigh the candidate crop against Saugus’ prevailing issues. 

The list of the town’s top concerns is a long one. Town Manager Scott Crabtree has assured residents that Saugus is in good financial health. But local taxpayers should carefully examine the veracity of that claim when they go to the polls.

School Committee candidates’ positions should be weighed against the ambitious multi-phase plan to rebuild and reorganize the public schools. Impressive in its size, the new middle/high school is only the first step in a plan that includes closing elementary schools and consolidating elementary education in town. Voters who carefully examine the reorganization will want to ask how revamped public schools and a reconstituted School Committee will address pressing educational needs, including low middle school state comprehensive assessment scores. 

Voters examining the selectmen’s ballot should consider the future of development in Saugus, especially on Route 1, and contemplate how development will be a continued source of property tax revenue so vitally needed to pay for town services, including schools, public safety and safe roads.

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