By John Toole
---- — PELHAM — Less than three weeks before Town Meeting, this town of nearly 13,000 residents has two pending School Board vacancies and only one candidate.
Incumbents Andy Ducharme and Rob Hardy are stepping down, but only Tom Gellar signed up for the available three-year terms.
From Main Street to Town Hall and the school district, people are waiting for someone to step up and run.
“I certainly hope that another candidate steps forward and would encourage anyone interested in serving on the board to let the public know that,” School Board Chairman Brian Carton said, “and to share with voters some information about themselves.”
The board has a lot of important work ahead, so there’s a chance for someone to make a difference in the community by serving.
School officials are pointing toward bringing a high school renovation and expansion project before voters next year.
Meanwhile, after years in a combined district with Windham, Pelham is becoming a standalone School Administrative Unit of its own this summer.
“It’s a chance to have a positive impact on something that you care about,” Carton said.
“There’s a lot to learn, and it’s a lot of work, and it takes some patience, but in the end a School Board member does have a chance to make a positive difference,” Carton said.
Hardy agrees the opportunity to shape the future of local schools is there.
“We need leadership-driven people to step up and drive the solutions needed to the polls,” Hardy said. “The high school is paramount and needs to be put on the front burner.”
Ducharme said there is important work to do. Besides the high school issue, he said the school district will deal with evolving policies, technology and safety matters.
“If there is anyone out there that believes that they can put the time in and be a true advocate for the students of Pelham, they can make a difference,” Ducharme said.
Gellar got his name on the ballot in the closing moments of the filing period back on Feb. 1.
He formally announced his candidacy to residents in a posting on the town’s electronic message board last weekend.
Gellar, a database developer, moved to Pelham with his family seven years ago. His children attend the high school and middle school.
Gellar is active with a Pelham civic group, ACES – Awareness for Community and Education Support.
“If elected, I intend to approach issues with an open mind,” Gellar told residents.
“Although much of my opinion has been shaped by my experiences as a parent and taxpayer, I believe it’s equally important to listen to and understand all perspectives if we are to move forward,” he said.
Gellar said the district needs to deliver a 21st century curriculum in a quality environment, while remaining mindful of the tax burden.
Hardy has served three years and pushed a high school project with Ducharme that was narrowly rejected by voters. For him, the challenge and service were worthwhile.
“Personally, my first year on the board is where I felt my contribution was most needed,” Hardy said.
“As chairman, I had to run a meeting while not allowing attacks to be levied against fellow board members as well as not reacting to those directed at me,” he said.
“It was not easy, but phone calls and emails from the public and backup from Andy always kept me going,” Hardy said.
Hardy believes that election moved the town from negative to productive politics, and set the stage for last year’s approval of most ballot questions.
Hardy said he will be among those watching to see if officials who have advocated a high school renovation meant what they said.
“Did they mean it? If so, it should be a breeze to pass,” he said.
For Ducharme, who also served three years, personnel moves in his time on the board resulted in the biggest success story.
Ducharme points to the appointment of Superintendent-elect Amanda Lecaroz, who succeeds the retiring Henry LaBranche this summer, and the way business administrator Adam Steel has earned credibility with the Budget Committee.
“This leadership team is energetic, compassionate, enthusiastic and all on the same page with each other,” Ducharme said.
The town won’t be left with just a four-member School Board, no matter what happens with Town Meeting voting March 12.
The board is empowered to fill vacancies by appointment, should voters fail to fill the slot by write-in.