WALLINGFORD — All 13 Board of Education candidates had the chance to discuss issues at a recent forum hosted by the Wallingford Community Women.
A panel of reporters and high school students asked candidates questions about a variety of topics during the forum, held at Town Hall on Wednesday. Here is a sample of their answers.
Democrat Bryan Rivard was asked whether the school district should continue with the Mastery Based Learning System, despite complaints from some parents.
Rivard said people often jump to conclusions “based upon what they understand about it.” If elected, Rivard said he would monitor the burden that the system places on teachers and inform parents about its value.
“It’s not just words or flavor of the week.”
Republican Ray Ross was asked if there are ways the school district can save money without impacting the quality of education. Ross said it can’t be done easily. “Everything they do now impacts it whether it’s directly or indirectly.” As an example, Ross said cutting down on maintenance would “impact the quality of the building.”
“We’re pretty much on track as far as I’m concerned … Our board currently, in my opinion, is operating on a bare bones budget, and they’re doing a good job,” he said.
Democrat Kathy Castelli was asked whether the school district would benefit from consolidating Sheehan and Lyman Hall high schools.
Castelli responded “there are a lot of advantages to not” consolidating the high schools. Castelli said that by keeping two high schools, the district can offer more opportunities to students in areas like sports and music, which “would not be available to as many students if the schools were combined.” She added that she doesn't know if “anyone has actually run the numbers to see how much it could save or end up costing.”
Republican Roxane McKay was asked if she thinks the district’s graduation requirements are adequate and if she would be in favor of adding requirements for work study.
McKay said she believes Wallingford has some of the most stringent graduation requirements, adding that she “would never want to reduce that.” McKay is not sure internships or work study should be required “based on all the demands (on) students.” She also said she wants students to have the opportunity to explore personal interests. “I think right now the balance we have is appropriate,” she said.
Democrat Michael Votto was asked what measures he would propose to curtail drug use by students based on 2013 and 2015 surveys that showed about 17 percent of Wallingford high school students used marijuana in the last 30 days.
Votto said the district needs to “continue many of the things we’re already doing” — including collaboration with other organizations in town. Votto said “teacher and parent involvement is very important.” He said the district needs to teach parents to detect whether their children are using drugs or not.
Republican Erin Corso was asked how she would ensure Wallingford students are adequately prepared for college entry exams and the college selection process.
“In Wallingford, our curriculum is also aligned with Common Core, so in theory, things that you are doing in your classes … should align very well with the SAT and the ACT,” she said. Corso, who works as a high school guidance counselor in Ansonia, encouraged students to utilize free SAT and ACT preparation resources. She said the college selection process “should be vetted out with guidance counselors, hopefully starting at ninth or tenth grade.”
Democrat Tammy Raccio was asked where she thinks the school district can improve.
Raccio responded that the school district has done a “fantastic job putting technology into the schools.” While the majority of teachers have learned to use the technology “so it complements their classroom every day,” Raccio proposed the district establish a program so teachers who excel with technology can coach teachers who struggle. She added the district needs to ask itself “can we really afford to take a teacher out of a classroom to go be a coach?”
Republican Karen Hlavac was asked whether the district needs to do more to retain administrators.
Hlavac said the district has had a number of administrators leave recently for a “number of different reasons.” She feels it’s natural for an assistant principal, for example, to look for a principal position and “sometimes that will be in another district.”
She thinks Wallingford has great administrators and that sometimes other districts will try to lure them away.
Democrat Patrick Reynolds was also asked about continuing with two high schools.
Reynolds said each high school has unique programs and qualities. He also pointed out that the district can’t shut one school and transfer those kids to the other school. Reynolds said given the state of Connecticut’s economy, he doesn’t know if there’s enough money to build a new school. While he thinks it’s worth studying, Reynolds doesn’t foresee the school district consolidating the high schools in the near future.
Republican Shauna Glidden was asked whether the Board of Education made a mistake by not outsourcing the food services program earlier this year.
Glidden said it’s “too early to make that determination” and that the school board “will have a better understanding of whether that was the wrong decision” later this year. Glidden doesn’t think the board made a mistake given the program’s performance so far this school year, which she said was promising.
Democrat Nick D’Agostino was asked about how to handle any future cuts in state aid.
D’Agostino said depending on what the cuts are, “ideally we don’t have to” directly impact students. D’Agostino proposed the town could use money from its reserve fund to offset a cut. He emphasized the importance of limiting the impact of cuts on education. “A town’s only as strong as its school system,” he said. “The minute we start jeopardizing that, we’re going to jeopardize a lot more of our future.”
Republican Louis Czerwinski was asked whether Wallingford spends too much or too little on education.
Czerwinski noted that the school board’s budget makes up about two-thirds of the town’s overall budget, which he said is “middle of the road” compared to other towns. Czerwinski said “it comes down to value and are we getting the best value for the money that we’re spending.”
Democrat Patty Pursell was asked whether the school board can continue to approve wage increases to unions as part of collective bargaining given fiscal constraints.
Pursell, a former Wallingford teacher, said she’s been a part of contract negotiations on behalf of teachers in the past. She said a couple of factors come into play during negotiations, including whether the town can afford wage increases and what is happening in other districts.
“You have to have some sort of reasonable wage increase … because if you don’t, it will go to mediation, it will go to arbitration,” she said. She believes that the state’s budget challenges will impact future negotiations.