Jen Myers' summary in today's Lowell Sun gives a nice rundown of last night's Citywide Parent Council-sponsored event at Little Auditorium at Lowell High School. Richard Howe served as moderator, while two leaders from the CPC posed questions to the candidates.
The "red flag" rebuttal system mentioned in the article was modeled on the NFL system whereby coaches can challenge referees' calls by throwing red flags on the field. For each of the rounds in which candidates were randomly selected to answer individual questions, each member of the panel was given two red flags. A red flag could be thrown any time a candidate wished to respond to, or challenge, another candidate's answer. If multiple flags were thrown during or just following a candidate's answer, the flag-throwers were prompted to speak in the order in which they threw their flags. As in football, where a play can no longer be challenged once the ball for the next play is snapped, the window of opportunity for flag-throwing ended once the next question was asked.
Red flags could also be used for a 'response-to-the-response' -- Alison Laraba used this to clarify her remarks about whether professional, outside negotiators could be used in contract negotiations, for instance.
The red flag system seemed like a great way to provide real debate and challenge, as opposed to a blander question-response-move on type of format. The two-flag-per-person-per-round limit, coupled with the strict adherence to time allowances for responses, kept everything moving crisply.
As for the substance, candidates were uniformly passionate about the criticality of the current budget environment on the schools and their students, all were very supportive of the Superintendent (although Ms. Faticanti made a couple references to Scott's initially-high 'learning curve,' and Mr. Leahy acknowledged having not been supportive at first, though changing opinion later).
Faticanti also drew the question about bullying rules across the district, and stated in her response that some principals don't see safety as "a big deal." In reference to the food service budget, she mentioned that we don't seek to make money "when we feed kids" and that a budgeting tweak whereby insurance costs for that program could be rolled into the general budget would change the perception of the food service program as being a budgetary drain.
Several candidates mentioned the need to partner with UML, Middlesex, and various community non-profit groups to address certain shortfalls. Several also praised Lowell as an exemplary urban district, noting recent test score gains and also noting the cultural and linguistic diversity experienced by a Lowell public school student as a major intangible benefit of the system.
I noticed during the introductions that Jim Leary and Alison Laraba referred to themselves as "blow-ins," despite all their years of living here and various forms of service to the city during that time. That does make Mr. Leary (and potentially Mrs. Laraba) rare among our elected leadership, but my constructive advice (in the off chance they might be listening) is this -- there's no need to repeat pejorative epithets that most people might not be all that concerned with in any case. As a fellow person who-didn't-draw-his-first-breaths-along-the-banks-of-the-Merrimack (I refuse to use the 'b-word') I'm still of the belief that the extreme self-consciousness about that is the near-exclusive province of the non-natives themselves.
In other words, you don't have to start dropping the 'r' from the middle of words, or make things up about yourself, but you also don't need to be apologetic, or defiant, or even emphatic, about something like that.