BRATTLEBORO — When David Schoales heads out to one of his many meetings, his 18-year-old daughter will joke, "Oh, dad's going out to save the world."
"That's kind of what I try to do," Schoales said. "I'm trying to go out and make it a better place."
Being on the Brattleboro Town School Board, Brattleboro Select Board, Windham County Hunger Council, Windham Solid Waste Management District Board of Directors, and Fit and Healthy Kids Committee drove his decision to run for the state Senate. He's registered as an independent.
"It became obvious that poverty has become a huge problem and the efforts to help people out of poverty are not being very successful," he said. "It needs a lot more coordination and it needs to be a lot more effective. I think that needs to come from the state."
Schoales is looking to for ways in which the Department of Corrections, Agency of Human Services and Department of Labor can better work together to help families find a way out of poverty. "And I can't do that from the Select Board seat," he said.
Recent laws around school governance, recycling and universal pre-k were not "well crafted" and "don't achieve their goals," according to Schoales.
"I believe it is because our legislators don't talk to us, the people on the ground who are doing the work. They take testimony from experts and lobbyists, but don't come home and talk to us. I will come home and consult with citizens and add their wisdom to the conversation," Schoales said, pointing to universal pre-k and dual enrollment for high school students as two initiatives aimed at providing more opportunities to low income people that have not "really worked that way. We're going to have to rework those laws."
He has been vocal about his opposition to Act 46, which calls for school districts to consolidate with goals around addressing declining student populations, improving student equities and finding efficiencies. He said recent mandates and law are "just driving up the property tax and not giving us the promised results."
The Legislature "needs a little shake up," said Schoales.
"We need some new people, fresh ideas, and I pretty much have always been a forward, innovative thinker," he said. "I think my record shows that. I think I can do some good."
If elected, Schoales will leave his posts on the school and select boards for two months. Both terms run out in March.
In Schoales' view, poverty leads to additional expenses in the schools, drugs, crime and a low-skilled workforce. It slows down economic development, he said.
Another concern for Schoales has to do with state colleges. He wants to examine ways in which the costs can come down so higher education can become more affordable.
"Our kids continue to leave and our businesses have trouble growing and the population continues to get older despite younger people moving into the area," he said. "We really need to coordinate efforts better to attract businesses and also help local businesses expand."
Schoales was on the Select Board when the town worked with other groups to ensure G.S. Precision kept its manufacturing plant in Brattleboro as the company planned its expansion. But as long as there are homeless people and a high level of poverty, he said, there will be difficulties in getting businesses to want to move to the region.
Being on the WSWMD board is rewarding for Schoales, he said, because it is "a large, diverse board, yet we still manage to find our way to solutions that benefit all the towns."
Schoales lobbied to the WSWMD board and state senator at the time Peter Galbraith for getting a large scale solar project on the landfill in Brattleboro. Act 99, a state law about power energy, specifically mentions siting of a group net metering project on a capped and closed landfill in Windham County. Now, municipalities that are members of the district are being invited to take net metering credits associated with a 5 megawatt solar array being planned.
Another solar project Schoales touted his involvement in was the one benefitting Brattleboro elementary schools. That marked the first contract between a school or municipality and the solar provider in Vermont, he said.
Coming to Vermont in 1970, Schoales was seeking an education. He went to Antioch Putney School of Graduate Education. He later held jobs in Boston, Mass., and Philadelphia, Pa., for a few years.
"But then I've pretty much been here ever since," he said. "I was up north for a few years but I never left Vermont."
His wife and daughter were born in Vermont. Schoales grew up in western New York.
Schoales owns a small woodworking business. His products are marketed at the Brattleboro Farmers Market.
His passion for politics and community service come from a lifetime of working, he said. His resume includes jobs as a carpenter, stitcher at a sewing factory and ship builder.
"Both of my folks worked for a living. I'm just used to being around working people and seeing how the system doesn't always support them," Schoales said. "Now it's becoming harder and harder for people to support themselves through their work. I have a real respect for regular working people and a desire to make sure the system works fairly, particularly for people that work really hard."
Issues have become clearer for Schoales as he navigates decisions for the town and schools. He's in his fourth year on the Select Board and he served on the School Board for about nine years.
"I see how unable they are to respond to the extent of the needs of families in our schools," he said, referring to the Department of Children and Families. "I've seen real of evidence of that. I've seen the effect of the work the police force has to deal with; the effects of drug crimes and drug abuse, all of which are results of people in poverty. I'm seeing the limits that the bureaucracies of the system impose on the people who are trying to help, trying to do good work."
He hopes to expand the focus by introducing new services. Instead of only getting a kid into day care or finding food and shelter, he said, maybe a mother can get assistance with laundry so she can enroll in a course at a community college.
Acknowledging incumbents do not "typically lose their seats in Vermont," Schoales said he has a challenge ahead of him: Jeanette White, D-Putney, has held a seat representing the Windham District for 14 years.
"I think I have a little over 400 signatures," Schoales said of his petition to gain entry on the November ballot. "I got signatures from pretty much every town in the county and got a lot of really positive feedback. People are saying the Legislature really needs a shake up. People who have been up there really need to be replaced."
White told the Reformer, "It is good to see folks interested in serving."
"Public service is really rewarding," Schoales said. "You're solving problems with good-hearted people. I don't think there's work that's better."
More information on Schoales' campaign can be found at daveforvtsenate.com
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.