The Shelton Herald sent questions to each Board of Education candidate. These are the responses from the Democratic Board of Education candidates. Responses from the Republican candidates will run on Friday, Oct. 25, online. There are 15 candidates (Republican and Democrats). Voters are to select no more than nine. Candidates are in alphabetical order. Incumbents are noted.

Wayne Bragg (D)

What are your thoughts on the budget, and how spending could be done more efficiently?

First, we must recognize that budgeting is an ongoing process of control that entails planning, reviewing, analyzing, and monitoring activities that ensure objectives are being met and spending problems are corrected. 1.) This year, A&T discussed ways to increase budget oversight by analyzing city department spending on a monthly basis to highlight performance issues. That initiative must be implemented. 2.) In business, efficiency in spending is monitored by performance measures and metrics. Today, there are no metrics associated with the budget that allows either A&T or BOA to evaluate how well departments are performing. Metrics such as # days to issue a permit or # inspections performed should be used in every department to drive accountability.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

To have improvements in student achievement and performance we must first have a safe and secure environment that is free of harassment. To that end, I would like to review the current policy on bullying to confirm that current policies are clear and well communicated and provide opportunity for interventions. This is particularly key given the national increase in cyberbullying. We must review the policies, training, and administrative support to ensure the successful implementation of anti-bullying policies.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between the Board of Education and Board of Aldermen? What can be done to improve that relationship, and how important is that when coming forward with a budget proposal?

The recent meetings between the two boards show that there is an interest at improving lines of communications and understanding. But the lawsuits must be dropped. These are contributing to the overall negative image of the city and the education system. The BOA and BOE must work together continuously to ensure that we are properly aligning and allocating the resources needed to ensure student success. My suggestion is to start by collaborating on the education strategy and develop key assumptions well before the budget process begins. Essentially, the current process is backwards. Waiting for approval as the last step just creates frustration and misunderstanding; my goal is to move the review process to the front and eliminate the surprises.

What is the best course to achieving the superintendent’s goal of being in the top 25 percent?

The Next Generation Accountability System provides a more complete picture of a school or district and recognizes that the student is more than a test score. This system identifies not only academic progress but also physical fitness, access to arts, absenteeism, and career readiness. The superintendent’s goal is to achieve 85% on this index. We must undertake a comprehensive review of the information and develop a strategy that allows the BOE to identify the objectives and the resources necessary to achieve that goal. Reaching the top quartile in performance will make Shelton more competitive with surrounding communities and benefits the entire city.

Dave Gioiello (D), incumbent

What are your thoughts on the budget, and how spending could be done more efficiently?

Most of the spending goes to employees. The BOE must prioritize spending based on the needs of the students. Often that leads to conflicts as each student should be provided for as best we can. We have looked at ways to save money, but often it requires us to spend first in order to save later. Hopefully, we can make our case on spending and savings to the Board of Aldermen and that will result in more spent on specific goals that we both agree upon.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

One comment made at the recent BOE meeting struck home. We have a more diverse student population and thus our staff should more closely reflect our student population. I would hope we could hire more minority teachers, but always hire the most qualified first.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between the Board of Education and the Board of Aldermen? What can be done to improve that relationship, and how important is that when coming forward with a budget proposal?

As the member of the BOE who meet with the president of the BOA, I think I know and understand a path forward. We need to make a business case for additional funding. Tie new expenses to better test results. That is what might help sell any increases. However, given the state of the city fiscally, new money for the BOE will be a struggle.

What is the best course to achieving the superintendent’s goal of being in the top 25 percent?

The top 25 percent is a great goal. We need to convince the BOA to get on board and show how additional money will get us there and the benefit to the city and residents that do not have children in the system.

Amanda Kilmartin (D), incumbent

What are your thoughts on the budget, and how spending could be done more efficiently?

To suggest ways for the district to spend more efficiently is to suggest that the current spending is inefficient, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We are already operating on a bare-bones budget, spending significantly less per pupil than nearly every other district in the state. Yet every year we are forced to make difficult cuts, prohibited from expanding sorely needed programs and resources, and faced with having to ask families to financially subsidize virtually every extracurricular activity in order to avoid having to eliminate entire programs.

I am open to finding ways to streamline departments and/or processes to find savings that wouldn’t negatively impact our students or teachers. I’d also like to continue moving in a paperless direction, which may help reduce costs related to printing and copying. But neither of these will not save us the hundreds of thousands of dollars we’re forced to eliminate from the proposed budget each year.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

The primary mission of the Board of Education is to “prepare all students with the necessary skills and knowledge to become responsible and successful citizens of a global society.” It has become clear recently that in order to truly accomplish this, we need to increase our focus on the social and emotional growth of students. This would include looking at ways to increase mindfulness, empathy and cultural sensitivity, as well as reviewing current disciplinary policies and procedures.

It was also recently brought to my attention that, while families who are celebrating Jewish holidays are able to keep kids home from school without penalty, there are often field trips or important exams that take place on those days, forcing parents and children to choose between their religious practices and important school events. I will be proposing that we develop a policy requiring that schools must consider — and honor — these holidays when constructing their academic and extracurricular calendars.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between the Board of Education and the Board of Aldermen? What can be done to improve that relationship, and how important is that when coming forward with a budget proposal?

Improved communication between the Board of Ed and the Board of Aldermen isn’t just something that’s important, it’s mandatory. Without it, there can be no progress and the financial cuts to our schools will be so deep that program eliminations and declining test scores will be the legacy Shelton leaves to its children. Over the course of recent conversations between the BOE and BOA, one of the major issues that’s come to light is the fact that the BOE budget is prepared and presented in a way that is completely different from the way the city prepares and reviews its budget. This has made the budget difficult to understand for those on the outside, and that lack of understanding has led to deep mistrust. Our finance director, Rick Belden, is actively working to change the format of our budget so that it mirrors the city budget and makes each line item easier to track and understand. This should go a long way towards re-establishing trust where the numbers are concerned.

We’ve also gotten agreement from the BOA to dedicate 10 minutes of each of their monthly meetings to presentations from our schools and students, so that they are kept up to date on the amazing things that are happening. Additionally, the BOA and BOE will be conducting quarterly joint finance meetings, so that questions and concerns are addressed more frequently, and discussions are ongoing, rather than annual. I am committed to each of these solutions, am hopeful that we will see improvements that stem from these efforts and will continue to work to find ways to continue to build bridges between our two boards.

What is the best course to achieving the superintendent’s goal of being in the top 25 percent?

For our kids to be competitive with their neighbors — let alone the world at large — we need to stop playing catch-up. We can already see where the continual cuts, increasing class sizes, and limited access to resources such as technology, tutors, school counselors, etc. is having a negative impact on test scores and student morale. If school were football, we wouldn’t cut the defensive coordinator, strap old leather helmets on the players’ heads and expect them to go out and win a Super Bowl. Yet this is what we’re doing to our kids.

I’ve heard the “back in my day” arguments against investments in technology — someone recently argued that blackboards and chalk worked great and never needed updating (I am not making that up). However, the world, the global economy, our access to information and the way we learn and communicate, is dramatically different than it was even just 10 years ago.

I’ve been asked by aldermen how something like Chromebooks will directly improve test scores, which is akin to asking how textbooks will directly improve test scores; or how additional funding will directly improve test scores. The truth is that none of these things can independently elevate a student’s grades; but they are the 21st-century tools that can get us there. They are the access points to a world of information, to personal academic assistance, to greater attention in the classroom, to increased communication and collaboration. They are the tools we need in order to achieve our goal of ranking within the top 25 percent of statewide academic performance.

Kate Kutash (D), incumbent

What are your thoughts on the budget, and how spending could be done more efficiently?

Our spending is as efficient as it can possibly be. We have consistently cut to the bone over the last 10-plus years as we repeatedly have our funding requests cut, even in light of contractual settlements and rising expenses. How many more supplies can we cut, how many staff can we cut, how big can our classes get? We are already doing an excellent job at financial efficiency and our financial staff consistently searches ways to save money on energy, to reallocate qualified expenses to grants and research other cost saving measures.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

Policy ideas usually come about through a need that is noted due to an issue that arises in the course of dealing with situations related to doing business, running the school system, or as a result of a change in legislation at the state level. I have been chair of the Policy Committee for the last four years and if reelected and reappointed as chair, will continue to advocate for policies that do not micromanage those we hire to manage our school system, but support their needs. In the coming months we are looking at revising building usage fees to align with neighboring towns and to help supplement our limited funding. We will also look at whether a policy is needed to establish clear protocol for investigating situations that arise with students in our schools. Sometimes, someone might call for a policy but it is better handled by adding the situation to administrative regulations due to it possibly needing frequent revision and/or input from administrative staff. Something else that arose recently came about when a school wanted to establish permanent recognition plaques for donations to its new playground. However, this is against a standing policy. We will take a look at and revise that policy (#1325) in the coming months to possibly allow such recognition due to our continuing needs for funding, especially for bigger projects.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between the Board of Education and Board of Aldermen? What can be done to improve that relationship, and how important is that when coming forward with a budget proposal?

The Board of Education has always been open to communication and improving our relationship with the Board of Aldermen. We recently established the concept of quarterly meetings to elaborate upon details with regards our spending the funds we are given. The relationship needs the cooperation of the Board of Aldermen as well as a positive attitude and backing from the mayor. Our budget proposal is always clear, but not supported from the city side. Positive attitudes and making education a priority, not doing more with less all the time, should be the priority.

What is the best course to achieving the superintendent’s goal of being in the top 25 percent?

We are already showing significant progress toward meeting this goal. However, we will be blocked more and more as time goes on if we are faced with the limited funding and budget cuts we currently deal with. Class sizes grow with new enrollments and we cannot afford to add teachers to create additional classes. The larger the class size, the harder it is for a teacher to get to each individual student to adequately meet their needs. We cannot keep cutting needed supplies, technology, textbooks, staff and the like and expect our children to grow their learning. In short, the best course to achieve this goal is making education in this city a priority and to fund it appropriately.

Diana Meyer (D)

What are your thoughts on the budget, and how spending could be done more efficiently?

I feel the budget allocated to education is lacking in the town of Shelton. We have all seen the statistics that Shelton is on the very low end of per pupil spending in the state. As a result, classroom sizes are increasing, there is pay to participate, textbooks are in bad shape with outdated information, and the list goes on. The current board has done a very good job of making the most of their budget. Perhaps we should look at some of the services to determine if they should or should not be outsourced. While the current bus situation was supposed to be a large savings because it is no longer outsourced, have we really saved the money that was expected? The stories that were shared at the BoA meeting of 9/12/19 have made me wonder if it was worth it. There has been some outsourcing of transportation and drivers that has cost the city more money. While it has been said the city will “eat the cost,” it is really the taxpayers or other city departments that end up eating the cost. Money will have to be allocated from other departments to make up for the added expense or the mill rate might face more increases.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

Diversity education/awareness is something that has recently been recognized as a need in our school system. The city has become much more diverse and we need to educate the youth to understand more about those from different backgrounds. I always say knowledge is power. When we send our kids off into the world, whether it is to Shelton or beyond, we want them to recognize and celebrate the differences in people. Last year, SHS had a small cultural night featuring displays, food, and music. What a wonderful way to learn about diversity! I would love to see more positive events like this celebrating the differences while educating the students and families. It would be wonderful to find a way to get approved guest speakers of diverse backgrounds to come into the schools to share their cultures.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between the Board of Education and Board of Aldermen? What can be done to improve that relationship, and how important is that when coming forward with a budget proposal?

The relationship has become toxic over the years. There is huge mistrust. The relationship is vital in the budget process. I think a step in the right direction was made in the last year with the quarterly meetings of the two boards. Using the theme that knowledge is power, I think the BoA needs a better understanding of the schools and where the resources are lacking. I want the BoA members to be a part of the school community. This could be done in many ways: attending sporting events, attending club events and competitions, reading to elementary school children, sharing their experiences on career day, or even being guest speakers about diversity/cultural topic. How can you judge what is a valid use of money if you have not spent anytime in the school system?

Patti Moonan (D)

What are your thoughts on the budget, and how spending could be done more efficiently?

The city budget for 2018-19 shows three departments that are carrying surpluses of $2.5 million. This budget does not show a breakdown of revenues and expenses in these departments, making it difficult to understand how these surpluses came about. I believe with an increase in transparency and stronger operational metrics, it will be possible to determine if there is money already available to reallocate toward the education budget. There is a possibility that taxes may not need to be increased in order to provide much-needed additional funds towards the education budget.

What major policy ideas would you push during your term?

I am a strong proponent of the preschool program for children with special needs in this town. This program is essential in order that children with learning differences be front-loaded with the services they need to be successful in school later on. The goal is to address concerns early on in order that the need for services becomes less and less as a child progresses through the educational system. I also am in strong support of tightening security and safety in the schools, keeping class size at 25 students or below, and providing students with the most up to date technology for learning so they can be given the tools to compete with their counterparts throughout the nation and the world.

What are your thoughts on the relationship between the Board of Education and the Board of Aldermen? What can be done to improve that relationship, and how important is that when coming forward with a budget proposal?

A collaborative relationship between the two boards is critical in order to ensure adequate education funding. Transparency and open and frequent communication between the two boards will be necessary in order to achieve this goal.

What is the best course to achieving the superintendents’ goal of being in the top 25 percent?

Research has shown that well-funded school districts have students who perform better on standardized testing. Investing in limiting class size to no more than 25 students, providing for needed math and reading specialists and access to tutors, offering numerous AP classes and giving Shelton students the most up-to-date technology available for learning is how Shelton public schools will achieve top 25 percent status.