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EDITORIAL: Jokela Right Pick for Fitchburg

December 14, 2018 GMT

Though blessed with three outstanding finalists, the School Committee couldn’t have found a more uniquely qualified candidate to take over the Fitchburg public schools than its choice, Acting Superintendent Bob Jokela.

Five of the seven school board members selected Jokela over the other educators recommended by the search committee, Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche and Hopkinton Student Services Director Karen Zaleski.

School board members had thought enough of Jokela’s abilities to name him acting superintendent after longtime schools’ chief Andre Ravenelle announced his intention last spring to retire in October. Jokela had previously served as assistant superintendent of finance and operations,

Pending successful contract negotiations, Jokela will assume the superintendent’s role on July 1.

Jokela mentioned meeting students’ social and emotional needs, creating equity across the district’s elementary schools, and improving the middle and high schools as top priorities of his administration.

After Monday’s vote, School Committee Vice Chair Peter Stephens indicated Jokela possessed the requisite managerial and budgeting experience. That expertise should help him successfully cope with the fiscal challenges Gateway Cities like Fitchburg face.

In the current environment, a superintendent’s financial acumen might be more important than knowledge of curriculum and other educational matters. We need only look at the serious funding problems Lowell schools face that led to the firing of School Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui.

School board member Sally Cragin capsulized why Jokela’s unparalleled background in the Fitchburg school system made him the right choice. From his time as a student to his managerial roles, “Bob has been an integral part of every aspect of the Fitchburg Public Schools.”

We agree, and wish Bob Jokela nothing but success in his new endeavor.

Pro-business climate aids taxpayers

While no homeowner enjoys opening that quarterly tax bill, Leominster residents at least can take consolation in knowing they sustained a lesser hit, thanks to the city’s healthy commercial and industrial real estate market.

City councilors on Monday opted to keep the city’s single tax, which figures to increase tax bills by $127 annually, based on the median single-family home assessment of $258,300.

That’s because while residential values did increase, they were surpassed by both industrial properties, which rose 20 percent, and commercial space, which soared 22 percent.

As a result, industrial properties will likely see a $1,981 increase in average tax bills while commercial tax bills will grow by $3,059.

Maintaining a solid tax base is key to a community’s fiscal health. Increased values indicate a desirable community in which to work and live, which means Leominster must be doing something right.

Many cities operate with dual tax rates, which usually place a disproportional revenue burden on businesses. While it’s not the only factor, an unfavorable tax climate can discourage businesses from expanding or relocating.

Currently 77 percent of Leominster’s taxes come from residential properties while the remaining 23 percent is paid by industrial and commercial properties.

There are only two certainties in life -- but only one we can control. Sound municipal management attuned to its community’s quality of life can help minimize tax increases, somewhat.