WILMINGTON, MA — At the end of last night’s School Committee Meeting, Chair Jennifer Bryson read a short letter from Committee member Steve Bjork announcing that he has resigned from his seat due to increasing commitments in his personal and professional lives Bjork had served on the Committee for seven years, including several terms as Vice Chair.
According to School Committee policy — based on Massachusetts General Law (Title 7, Chapter 41, Section 11) — the remaining six members of the School Committee and the five members of the Board of Selectmen share the responsibility for finding Bjork’s replacement.
The policy reads:
The School Committee will notify the Selectmen that a vacancy has been created within 30 days after it has occurred. After one week’s notice has been given by the Committee to the Selectmen, so that voters of the town may have the opportunity to state their candidacy, the two governing bodies will meet to fill the vacancy by roll call vote.
For election to fill a vacancy, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes of the officers entitled to vote. The person so elected will fill the seat on the Committee until the next town election, at which time a member will be elected to serve the remainder of the term.
The timing of Bjork’s resignation raises complications as nomination papers for the 2021 Annual Town Election, scheduled for Saturday, April 24, 2021, are still available through Friday, March 5, 2021. School Committee member Jo Newhouse, and some of her colleagues, wondered if Bjork’s unexpired term (through April 2023) could be added to April’s ballot. Two School Committee seats for full three-year terms are already on the ballot. Incumbents MJ Byrnes and David Ragsdale are the only two candidates to have pulled nomination papers to date.
Bryson noted that she’s consulted with the Town Clerk, Town Manager, Board of Selectmen, and the School Committee’s Attorney and is committed to following Massachusetts General Law. The current belief is the candidate appointed by the School Committee and Selectmen would run in the 2022 Town Election, not the upcoming 2021 Town Election, as it may be too late in this year’s election process. Bryson asks residents wishing to serve on the School Committee to send a letter of interest to the Town Manager’s Office, directed to Jonathan Eaton, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, 121 Glen Road, Wilmington, MA 01887.
A similar appointment process occurred in 2018 when the late Peggy Kane stepped down from the School Committee due to health issues. Kane announced her resignation on June 13. Three residents — Jo Newhouse, Jesse Fennelly and Scott Trach — submitted letters of interest to the Town Manager’s Office by the July 27 deadline. The School Committee and Selectmen held a joint meeting on August 13 and appointed Newhouse to the Committee in a 9-1-0 vote. Newhouse completed the remaining nine months on Kane’s original 3-year term and successfully ran for election unopposed in April 2019.
Thank You, Steve Bjork
Steve Bjork was one of Wilmington’s most popular elected officials, topping the ticket in two of the three school committee races he was involved in.
Bjork, who grew up in Wilmington (WHS Class of 1986), iss the recipient of the 2013 Good Guy Award, which recognizes extraordinary acts of volunteerism in the community. Bjork has served on the boards of the Wilmington Rotary Club (including President), Wilmington Family Counseling, and Friends of the Wilmington Memorial Library. He emcees the annual Good Guy Award Ceremony and has organized comedy night fundraisers for numerous Wilmington organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, St. Thomas, Wilmington Youth Hockey, and the Wilmington Police Association. He is a past editor of the Wilmington Town Crier and Tewksbury Town Crier and has moderated several Selectmen and School Committee debates in town.
“I have great love for this community,” Bjork once told Wilmington Apple. “I spend a lot of time trying to give back to the town that’s been very good to me and my family. I was fortunate enough to be voted onto the Wilmington School Committee. The impetus for my initial run was two-fold – I had been involved in the Wilmington 4.0 Committee, which successfully promoted the passage of the current high school, and my family had recently welcomed four children who would be attending the school system.”
While Bjork accomplished a great deal with his colleagues over the past seven years, perhaps his most consequential votes were cast in October 2016. While Vice Chair at the time, Bjork was the driving force behind the School Committee “righting the ship” after former Superintendent Mary DeLai’s OUI arrest. DeLai resigned under pressure and Superintendent Joanne Benton was brought back to the district on an interim basis.
It was Bjork, on behalf of the Committee, who read a statement in front of news cameras announcing DeLai’s resignation after a marathon 3.5-hour Executive Session. Later in the month, it was Bjork who made the motion to appoint Benton at Interim Superintendent during an emergency meeting.
“We’re just about to go into the budgeting process, Joanne has done that alongside Paul for a decade. She’s dealt with the town’s side, knows all the players and worked very well with them for a decade. She has a grasp, before evening walking in the door, what the faculty and staff needs,” said Bjork. “Nobody else can walk into this district and participate in the Facilities Master Plan Committee. And we’ll be entering into negotiations for the teachers’ contract very soon. [Joanne] has done that before and, on every occasion, has come up with a mutually beneficial contract. Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s any other choice.”
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