MANCHESTER, NH — Change in Ward 7 is inevitable this year, as long-sitting Ward Alderman Bill Shea has announced his retirement from the city side of politics, and three-term school board member Ross Terrio has decided against a fourth term.
Instead, Shea will seek election to the school board seat, and Terrio is rising to the challenge of ward aldermen.
We caught up with Terrio and Shea a few weeks ago to talk with them about their mutual decisions. Since then two more candidates in Ward 7 have announced — Brenda Noiseux will oppose Terrio for alderman, and political newcomer Chris Potter is preparing to challenge Shea for the school board post.
Ross Terrio, ‘Time for a Change’
After serving six years on the Board of School Committee Ward 7 representative Ross Terrio has decided to switch things up this election cycle,
“I had three kids go through the school system and thought it was time for a change,” says Terrio, who said he was waiting for Shea to step down from the board of aldermen before stepping up.
Terrio, who served two years as a state rep, says he was initially moved to run for school board following a stint as a classroom teacher’s aide. He felt he could contribute something as a board member, and maybe make a difference around recurring and long-simmering issues, like overcrowding. In the past two years the school board has finally moved the needle on that front, with a redistricting effort currently underway.
Terrio felt now was a good time to bow out, and says he’s now ready to see what he can do to help on the city side.
“I still care about the schools. It’s the lynchpin of the city, as everyone has said ad nauseam. We know the city and schools go hand-in-hand, but my youngest will be graduating next year and while I’m still worried about the schools, I’m more worried about the city as a whole,” says Terrio, a 22 year resident of the city.
Terrio has learned a valuable lesson about public service — as one of those who felt like once elected to office he could fix everything that he perceived was wrong.
“It’s so easy to think that way, and I would encourage anyone who’s critical of elected officials to see what it’s really like. Unless you’re a dictator, change doesn’t just happen. You’re one of 15 people, whether on the school board or board of aldermen, and you have to convince a majority that your way is right,” says Terrio. “I’ve been crestfallen at times when I thought I could get enough people to agree with me on something — and it’s a nice feeling when you do — but a lot of times you’ll be in the minority with only four of five people agreeing with you, and your motion goes down in flames.”
Terrio admits getting things accomplished on the school side has been frustrating. He views the board of aldermen as less politically polarized and is interested in rolling up his sleeves.
“If you look at our tax rate for the city, it’s one of the lowest for spending per pupil, but if you go to the NH Department of Revenue, you see we pay too much for city services compared to what other cities and towns are spending. We pay above average for city services and below for schools,” says Terrio. “There could be a fundamental structural good reason why the tax rate is imbalanced, but I would look at leveling out the tax rate to address the imbalance.”
Terrio says his experience on the school board has also taught him that there is no magic wand when it comes to fixing chronic issues like homelessness or the heroin crisis, but an elected official must do more than tread water.
“There are problems that money can’t fix, but your job as an elected official is also to prevent things from getting worse, and currently homelessness and the heroin crisis are killing the quality of life in the city,” Terrio says.
Over the weekend Ward 7 resident Brenda Noiseux announced her intention to run for the Ward 7 Board of Aldermen seat, as well. Noiseux ran two years ago against Shea. You can read more here about Noiseux, here from a 2017 candidate interview.
Bill Shea: Back to Education Roots
Retiring from the Board of Aldermen was not a quick or easy decision for Bill Shea. For the past 24 years he has enjoyed working for constituents but has also felt increasingly the pull to do something more to help the school side.
His decision to run for the Ward 7 school board seat is grounded in his passion for student success and what he perceives as the need for his educational experience on the school board.
“I taught for seven years and was principal for 32,” says Shea, who also has contributed his expertise to issues involving students in crisis. His heart has always been moved by the needs of children, and retired from his post as principal of Hallsville Elementary in 1996 when he was first elected to the Board of Aldermen.
Over the past two years he’s heard the outcry for staffing, curriculum, technology, professional development and teaching materials in the city’s schools, which year after year go unmet.
He has been struck by the inability of the school board and teacher’s union to come to an agreement, and even reasoned that maybe, if the contract is still unsettled on election day, he might help negotiate an agreement as a sitting school board member.
But he’s most interested in what he can do for the students.
“My thinking is there are a lot of kids who are in fifth to eighth grade that have to go along to get along, and sometimes if we can identify certain children as exceptional, as a result we could help them reach their full potential,” Shea said.
To that end he would advocate for more enrichment, such as a middle-school program for gifted and talented students that would give them more opportunities for success in AP courses once they reach high school, or for clubs that allow teachers and students to connect beyond the classroom in areas of interest that can spark interest in future careers.
“When I taught at Wilson school we had a science club, and the children that were in my science club were brighter than me in science — they were kids who got into Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, kids whose interests were nurtured in a deeper way because they had an opportunity,” says Shea.
Over the years he occasionally still hears from students who’ve thanked him for the time he invested in them, and how it changed the course of their lives.
“If you can impact children in a positive way, you are changing the world,” Shea says. “I know just as we have kids who are gifted and in need of enrichment, we have a growing number of students with special needs, and we must provide them with the services they need. But we can’t continue to neglect the students eager and ready to learn.”