WESTERLY — Tim Killam, the School Committee's newest member, says that getting more information about the proposed school building project is one of his top priorities.
"I have a lot of questions for the subcommittee. Not negative things, I just want to know more and present more information to the public," Killam said during an interview on Wednesday. He was referring to the School Building Committee.
The Town Council appointed Killam Monday night after considering a nomination for Michael Ober, one of the other candidates in the running to fill a vacancy created by the death of former School Committee member Patricia Panciera in January. The nomination for Ober was eventually withdrawn when it became clear that Ober's support was one vote short of a majority. The council then voted 7-0 in favor of Killam.
The proposed school project includes plans for a new State Street School building and moving all of the school district's Grades 3 to 5 students there. As an example of the type of information he is seeking, Killam said he wanted to know what effect the change would have on the district's bus fleet and transportation staff, and whether school start times would have to be modified. Grades 3 and 4 are currently spread across the town's three elementary schools. Grade 5 students attend Westerly Middle School.
Two other issues were personal priorities, Killam said: maintenance of school buildings and facilities as well as finding a way to encourage more parent and community involvement with the School Committee.
Killam is married with three children, and is registered as an unaffiliated voter. He said he had heard from most of the School Committee members after his appointment. "I want to sit down and meet with each of them to understand their approach," he said.
Killam helped start the Westerly RI Parent Network on Facebook, a closed group focused on school-related issues. "The goal was to share and discuss concerns without attacking one another," he said.
Killam estimated that the group's membership includes as many as 200 teachers from Westerly and the Chariho region, some of whom he said have contacted him about discussion points posted on the page. "I think they take the information and make changes based on it," he said.
During the council's initial discussion on Monday, Councilors William Aiello, Sharon Ahern and Karen Cioffi each said they favored Killam. Aiello said Killam would be "a fresh face" on the committee. "I prefer somebody without political affiliations and want someone fresh. He encourages and solicits opinions from people," Aiello, a Democrat, said.
Councilors Christopher Duhamel, Suzanne Giorno, and McCuin, all Democrats, each said they favored Ober, a fellow Democrat. Duhamel and Giorno pointed to Ober's prior experience on the School Committee as a deciding factor for their initial inclination. Ober served on the committee from November 1998 through November 2004 and also in 2008. "I believe he came across stronger in the interview process. His experience serving on the School Committee came across and he went deep into all of the questions," Duhamel said.
Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. initially said he preferred Ronald J. MacDonald III but when the field was narrowed to Ober and Killam he went with Killam, saying he agreed that a "fresh face" was needed.
Cooke returned to the council this term as an unaffiliated candidate after having served previously for 12 years, from 2002 to 2014, as a Republican. He called the council's selection of Killam significant.
"I'm glad the days of the political machine are dead. There are four Democrats up here and they don't agree with each other," Cooke said.
Killam will serve until the 2020 election, when voters will elect a candidate to fill the remainder of the unexpired four-year term. The Town Charter calls for the Town Council to fill vacancies on the School Committee until the next general election.
In addition to Killam, MacDonald and Ober, resident Mark Sullivan also asked to be considered as a candidate to fill the vacancy.