BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — School Committee Chairman Eric Crane once served on the same school board at the same time as a person vying for one of two seats in Tuesday’s election, Jack Billings.
Crane, 53, a near lifelong resident, is the longest-serving member of the present School Committee, but back in 2000, he was the newbie, and Billings was not that far behind. Billings, an educator by profession, had been elected that May and Crane, who is also an attorney, was appointed in October 2000 to fill out a vacancy. Billings would go on to serve one term. Crane has been on the board ever since.
If Crane and Billings win in a three-way race for two seats, which includes a challenge by town political newcomer Jeff Kay, Billings and Crane would be going back to the future.
“We didn’t always agree on everything, but by and large it was OK,” said Crane, a former Town Meeting member, of his time with Billings on the school board. “I worked with Jack as well as anybody on the School Committee.”
It was just after the first debt exclusion for the high school failed, Crane said. During his first years on the School Committee, the attacks of Sept. 11 happened, the economy went into a tailspin, and the board had to make tough decisions on its budget.
“We had financial challenges,” Crane said, “and those were the first years the MCAS test became a requirement for graduation.”
The year after he was appointed, Crane ran in 2001 to fill out the remainder of Charlie Trasher’s term through 2002.
He then had to run again for re-election in 2002. He won again in 2005, 2008 and 2011.
During his tenure, the town has renovated the Holten Richmond Middle School, and, most recently, renovated Danvers High in a $70 million project.
Crane said the town now needs to turn its attention to renovating the Smith School, which was built in the early 1970s without walls between classrooms.
“No school nowadays works well with an open floor plan,” said Crane. The town has for the third year in a row applied to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for state funding.
“It’s up to the state as to whether it becomes a priority,” said Crane. “You keep working with the MSBA, you keep applying every year,” said Crane about pushing the project forward.
Crane, a 1978 graduate of Danvers High, is a strong believer in public education as a builder of a strong middle class and an educated work force.
“I think that a strong public education system is key to our advancement as a town, as a nation, as a state,” Crane said. “If you get a decent public school education, a good public school education, you have a chance in life.”
After high school, it took Crane eight years to graduate Salem State with a degree in English after his father died of heart attack. He had to work and attend school part-time. He later attended Suffolk University’s law school to earn his law degree. He now works for Travelers of Massachusetts in Danvers. An affordable state college system helped him get ahead in life, he said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
About Eric Crane
Address: 165 Old Burley St.
Family: Two grown children, Victoria, 22, Melanie, 20.
Occupation: Works for Travelers of Massachusetts, also an attorney