LANESBOROUGH — A Lanesborough woman with a background in education and a history of advocating against wasteful school spending is seeking the Republican nomination for the Berkshire-region Senate district.
Christine Canning, of Noppet Road, also promises to shake up the political establishment in Boston if elected to the seat now held by Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who is not seeking a sixth term.
"I am running for a multitude of reasons," Canning said in an interview. "No. 1, I see a need for the counties I am representing to improve their educational systems. Right now, I see a lot of corrupt, incestuous and job-embedded practices, where our schools are at Level 3 [in state rankings], some possibly going to Level 4. I see what taxpayers are paying, and I don't feel they are getting value for their money."
Canning said she has been a whistleblower against fraud or regulatory violations concerning funding earmarked for students such as those in English Language Learner or special education programs. She took on the Pittsfield Public Schools while an English teacher at Taconic High School and later reported alleged problems in the Holyoke schools, where she also worked, and in North Adams schools concerning use of ELL funding.
Speaking of the situation in Holyoke, Canning said, "My goal is and always will be as an advocate for children, and when I saw that these people were taking money and promoting their own careers at the expense of these kids who could afford it the least, I couldn't take it. I just started reporting it; just started documenting and reporting. ... And now the state has corrected it."
In Pittsfield, Canning, was a former chairwoman of the Taconic High School English Department when she filed suit against the city and some school officials in 2006, claiming she was improperly fired for repeatedly bringing to the attention of administrators concerns about discrimination, drug use and violence among students.
In 2009, her suit against the city and school officials was settled on the second day of a civil trial in Superior Court.
Of the settlement, Canning said: "I can't discuss a lot of that," but she said her complaints focused on the legal protections for "the health, welfare and safety" of children. She added, "And a lot of people, if you notice, stepped down or were removed."
"In one sense, all of these cases brought me up to realizing how taxpayer money is wasted," she said. "It is not utilized. The levels and practices of corruption, using loopholes, and our inability to check the system. And also because of the nepotism and the good old boy circle that I have found. ... I really felt I am not afraid to take them on, I am not afraid of exposure, and I believe in transparency. And I also think you can do more with less.
"And because I have lived with these loopholes, I know exactly where to look," Canning said. "When you have experienced it yourself, you know exactly how people beat the system."
"I also am very pro-business," she said. "But in order to bring business back into Berkshire County, you need someone who is not just going to say they will listen, but someone who is going to do. And I have a proven track record of doing things."
Canning said that when she realized some state education-related contracts were going to vendors in other states, she decided, "This is crazy."
She said she went to Sen. Downing and suggested what later became the Massachusetts Uniform Procurement Act, which stipulates, "If a Massachusetts company can do the same work as an out of state company, then we have to give them preference."
"I showed him [Downing] what we lost in tax dollars because of this," she said.
Noting the level of poverty and drug use in the region, Canning said, "Because of that, I think if we don't save ourselves now, and go with someone like me who is proven to change things, proven to stand up to people that no one else wants to deal with, then I think Berkshire County really can't hope for more."
The reality today, she said, is that the region is ignored in Boston and "being taken advantage of" by corporate entities like Kinder Morgan, which plans a natural gas pipeline across the county.
"I have worked with people who think the state ends at Worcester," Canning said. "It does not."
She likened the state's allocation of resources to a Monopoly board game in which "you give 90 percent of the properties to from Worcester to Boston and leave us with the other 10 percent, and you see Worcester to Boston getting richer and richer and the rest of the state getting poorer and poorer."
She said of a Kinder Morgan compensation proposal in dealing with property owners along its proposed pipeline route, "They are treating us like the Beverly Hillbillies."
Canning comes by her interest in education naturally. Both her mother and father, John and Kathleen Canning, now retired, had long careers in the field in Berkshire County. Her mother taught languages at St. Joseph High School for many years, and her father is a former principal at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington.
Today, she is CEO of New England Global Network, LLC, an education consulting firm, and develops curriculum and educational training manuals, books and other materials, often under state or federal contracts, including for the State Department involving foreign nations.
Canning is a widow. She married Douglas Wilson, a native of Scotland, who died of leukemia in 2003. She said they met while she was working as an English instructor in United Arab Emirates University in 1999, and they were married the following year.
The couple's two children now attend Mount Greylock Regional High School, Canning said.
Canning is completing a doctorate at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in Educational Policy and Research. She is licensed as a superintendent and holds four professional teaching licenses.
"So I can really work the gamut of where I want in this field," she said.
The 1987 St. Joseph High School graduate said she was Catholic Youth Organization volunteer of the year and won a Rotary Service Above Self Award and was otherwise active in the community.
She holds an English degree from UMass and a master's from West Virginia University in foreign language and linguistics. She also studied at the University of Cambridge, England, Oxford University, England, and Salzburg College in Austria.
Canning said she has been meeting with Berkshire GOP officials as she prepares her campaign and will have a formal announcement in the near future.
Others having announced for the Senate seat, which represents 52 communities in four western counties, are Adam Hinds and Rinaldo Del Gallo of Pittsfield and Andrea Harrington of Richmond. All are seeking the Democratic nomination for the office.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6347.