The Shelton Herald sent questions to each Board of Education candidate. These are the responses from the Republican Board of Education candidates. Responses from the Democratic candidates ran on Thursday, Oct. 24, online. There 15 candidates (Republican and Democrats). Voters are to select no more than nine. Candidates are in alphabetical order. Incumbents are noted.

John Fitzgerald (R)

No response

James Orazietti (R)

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

One thing we are very good at is getting the most out of our funding with prioritization and innovation. The end user (teachers) are very important in these decisions and should be included in the process.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

I’d like to see BOE members have specific duties focusing on different aspects of operations and chair subcommittees, splitting them from the all-encompassing Finance Committee. It has been done that way in the past very successfully and lends the BOE members to be more publicly accessible.

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?

The hiring of Mr. Belden as finance director was and is a great start to sharing and understanding information with the BOA. All of the BOE members are volunteers and care greatly about our student community while having a responsibility to our taxpaying constituents. So transparency is paramount in the requesting of funds and having everyone on the same page should make for better understanding in putting together a budget.

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

I would think that would be the entire BOE goal also, so supporting our professional staff and having parents and the entire community buy into a program is key. I think you do this by having as many people contributing ideas and then sorting out what has or hasn’t worked in the past along with new proposals for the superintendent’s finalization of a plan.

Ruth Parkins (R)

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

It is incumbent upon board members to adopt a fiscally sound budget. The board must work collaboratively on negotiating contracts, seeking out efficiencies and implementing creative measures when necessary for the benefit of all students and Shelton taxpayers. I believe my many years of leadership and business experience, and willingness to ask the hard questions, will be a positive addition to this process.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

If elected, I will work toward building consensus with all members to implement sound policies that will ensure the success of all students. I will also take a hard look at existing policies, such as the board’s involvement in the interview and hiring process, and push for changes where appropriate.

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?

I definitely think the relationship can be improved and not be so adversarial. As a public relations professional, one of my goals as a board member would be to develop a plan to strengthen relationships and keep the public informed of the district’s successes and challenges. There will always be differing viewpoints, but having good relations will make it easier to come to the table and advocate for the students district wide.

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

I believe the administration should have a solid written plan in place and the board should hold the superintendent responsible for ensuring that the plan is being carried out to produce the intended results.

Ben Perry (R)

No response

Darlisa Ritter (R), incumbent

Ritter answered the questions in one piece.

I would like to share some insights I have developed from my being an incumbent BOE member regarding matters of the budget, policy, the relationship with the BOA, and achieving the superintendent’s goal for SAT score advancement. Please keep in mind while reading my opinions that I also hold the unique position of being the only BOE person of parity to that of the superintendent and his credentials. My background, education, and experience allow me to use several diverse lenses to examine, analyze, research, critique and make recommendations for issues, programs, pedagogy, advocacy for student learners, and fiscal decisions.

The budget: Fiscal accountability is of utmost importance. Simply stated, school finances are about balancing revenues with expenditures to manage school district affairs. Once immersed into the fiscal affairs of the system, however, you find that managing school bookkeeping is a multilayered process that involves grants, deadlines, tax money levied from citizens, contributions and gifts, in-kind services and products, legal restrictions and directions, and other aspects that form a complex array of accountability. It costs money to educate students and every dollar must be considered. However, providing services, supplies and materials, and intellectual processes for our students requires us to do concrete, sequential steps to assess needs to costs. I believe that needs and projected needs assessments must be completed before creating a budget. Several types of inventories should be compiled in every department. These assessments and inventories would act as checkpoints in the budget and allow us to estimate which direction our expenditures and revenues are going. In addition, comparisons by building for employment needs, buildings and grounds maintenance, and prioritization for curriculum, and quantities of supplies and materials should be conducted at least twice yearly for the purposes of evaluating safety, contract compliance, and effectiveness to achieve program goals and objectives. I would also like to utilize more in-house expertise, lessen the costs of outside services, and make grant money more focused on specific goals and objectives. It is also important for taxpayers to hear and see that the BOA have assumed responsibility for many types of capital expenditures not noted publicly.

Policy: Establishing policies is the manner in which a school board governs the school system. It stands as the most important function for all BOE members. Policies give the BOE the power and authority to establish expectations for the school district. BOE policies are not put forth haphazardly. They are developed from federal and state statutes. They are perpetuated and supported by city charters and bylaws. They are discussed in committee and then given legal reviews before any proposed policy can be accepted or rejected by full BOE vote. During committee meetings BOE members examine the proposals for implications in immediate and future applications and matters. Policies also act as guides to activity. They should have a high rate of reliability and permit practical implementation. They can be time sensitive. As our society changes, policies need to be adjusted. Several years ago, I attended a National School Board conference. The major topic being discussed at the conference was the impact of social media on our students and schools. State representatives were supporting the development and inclusion of social media policies. I reported this and we have begun to scratch the surface of using this interactive computer-mediated technology. We should continue to develop policy on social media. We also need to continue examining the gifts and contributions policy to support volunteer efforts to secure additional financial support for school projects and diverse programs. I would also like to see the development of a student residency policy which would include remediation of service costs for non-residents. In addition, we need to create policy which will focus on the effectiveness of established and new instructional programs. This policy will outline checkpoints according to a specific timeline to ensure that progress and the programs’ costs are deemed valuable. We also need to examine and establish policy for field trips, their timelines, and possible cost incentives. Reviewing administrators’ regulations should also be a yearly task. Regulations need conformity checks and compliance audits.

Relationship to BOA: The Board of Aldermen is the fiscal authority for all departments within our city. It is of utmost importance that we establish and foster open communication with the members of the BOA. Education is changing to fit the times and as such, it is the responsibility of BOE members to explain the new paradigms and their implications, including new learning configurations and their ensuing costs to the fiscal authorities. It is important to demonstrate how our budget supports these changes. Acknowledging changes, either positive or negative, need to be communicated honestly. In addition, sometimes the BOE will need an in-kind service, or a sharing of personnel, like police officers, to accommodate a change. Then the BOE must approach the BOA for assistance. Other times the BOE might need a capital improvement which is not in the BOE budget. Emergency repairs may be needed. Open communications allow discourse between board members which may lead to suggestions for alternate ways to meet our needs that is less costly. We need to be open, honest, and sincere. By being open, honest, and sincere we can develop a level of trust. I believe that we are already building a bridge of trust by establishing transparency and sharing information at collaborative quarterly meetings between the BOA and BOE. Discussions have been productive, resulting in suggestions for a reevaluation of priorities, consolidation of services and possible positions, and managing time more efficiently. I believe that continued, unpretensive communication will lead to thoughtful expenditures and investments that will establish long-term results.

Achieving the superintendent’s goal: Our superintendent has chosen to concentrate on increasing high school SAT scores to the level of the top 25 percent. The accomplishment of this goal is not an easy task. SATs are tests that are used for college admission decisions. Not every student desires higher education after high school. There is nothing wrong with that personal decision. However, when the state of CT chose the SAT as a measure for obtaining federal funding, it encouraged school systems to include all high school students. Therein lies a probable negative impact. The level of importance to every student for taking this test may, or may not, be motivational. In addition, the average score is 1,068. A score of 1,200 equals a standing of 70 percent. A perfect score of 1,600 has been charted by approximately 300 students nationally. I think we need to be more realistic with our expectations. Perhaps a better goal would encompass individual growth gains as demonstrated by test data over a period of time in a designated subject area. Skills and concepts taught in high school should mirror those expected in the world of adulthood, including those needed in a college environment. I would like to see the development of more strategies for cognitive acceleration, following directions, developing a sense of timing, using estimation in different capacities, and using the strategy of “plugging in” to problem solve. To do this, an analysis of academic strengths and weaknesses needs to be recorded from existing evaluation tools. As patterns of need emmerge, prioritizing resources should occur. Grouping patterns of need and organizing a calendar to make a timeline for addressing these patterns should follow. Attaching a supplies and materials list for supporting weaknesses or promoting advanced learning would allow for future financial and curriculum planning. In addition, periodic evaluations and assessments should include feedback from teachers, students, and parents. Blind surveys should also be incorporated so that a complete picture is developed. Following up with necessary adjustments should then ensue. Examining problems and/or limitations should lead to potential solutions for advancement in achievement. Our superintendent began some of these processes within a strategic planning platform. More needs to be done.

These insights and opinions are but a few I have observed and gained during my years as an educational leader and an incumbent seeking re-election to the BOE. Education is a multi-faceted entity, one that requires commitment and dedication to the students, parents, and community. I would like to continue to serve the public in this manner.

Carl Rizzo (R)

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

Determining the proper level of funding that we request from the BOA and are we getting the best value from the money we spend are two important questions. When I speak with parents and taxpayers, they explain to me that they support education and it is a very high priority. I have not heard from anyone who would not agree with that. However, some parents may not understand the value their students are already receiving. The difficult task is seeing the facts through the fog of election season drama, newspaper articles and lawsuits. On top of these factors you also have a detailed budget that needs to be deciphered and vetted. Some items that would be considered part of a BOE budget in other towns are not part of the BOE budget in Shelton. These items benefit our students greatly and are paid for directly by the city. These items also make it more difficult to make an apples to apples comparison with other towns. It will be the board’s responsibility to make sure that the students, teachers and administrators are getting the proper resources when you compare these properly adjusted values to surrounding cities. My hope is that the new BOE will facilitate a higher degree of accuracy and visibility that will aide in the collaboration between the mayor’s office, the BOA, the BOE and the school administration. With this visibility we will be able to answer the question of “are we getting a good value” for the money we spend in our education system and are we providing the proper amount of resources.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

Any time you are entrusted with our youth, the number one priority has to be their safety and their well-being. It is our mission to provide a safe environment where all children can thrive. While safety needs are satisfied and reviewed on an ongoing basis we also need to make sure that we are meeting all of the educational requirements for each student. While meeting the needs of the students, we must also acknowledge the teachers who are “in loco parentis.” Teachers need to be supported, heard and allowed to be creative to reach each child, not striving to reach a data point. Above all, these requirements are nonnegotiable.

My vision is to assist in providing the environment where the students’ own ambitions are a major factor in determining what success is for them. I believe an important component of that motivation is the link between the work they are doing today and their personal goals for the future. My hope is that I can help teachers and administrators bridge that gap by providing 21st-century tools and curriculum in order to make that strong connection and then I believe the scores and results will follow.

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?

My hope is that my current relationship with the mayor and the Board of Aldermen will only help this situation. I have respect for what they have done in the past and the principles that guide their decision making. I believe in compromise and as a board member, will work to restore good faith in the board’s ability to manage the funds it is allocated smartly. Demonstrating this, I believe, will result in a greater allocation of resources for programs that could really use it. We all share the common goal of providing the best education for our children.

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

I think being in the top 25 percent is a worthy goal and one that our teachers and students are capable of. It is astonishing to think about the remarkable resources students have at their fingertips. They have devices that are capable of scanning the vast amount of information that is available on the internet. There are entire university libraries that are available for free online. These resources could not have ever been imagined before the 1990s. Our teachers are more educated and qualified than just a short time ago. The challenge for the BOE is to provide an environment where students can identify their “why.” The “why” that is important to them on a personal level. I think if the BOE can help parents, teachers and administrators help students identify their “why” we will get more students achieving to their full potential.

Amy Romano (R)

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

I am not a sitting board member as I am running for my first term; as such I cannot comment on the current budget system. What I do know is as a board member your job is to create an educational budget. Right now, there seems to be a lack of resources for students and teachers. With this, I feel we do not have a properly prioritized educational budget in place at this time. In order to create one, you need to start with a zero-based budget.

The first steps would be to hear from all the administrators on what their needs are in the schools and then make sure that the superintendent will be presenting the best budget to us for review to meet their stated needs. While there are significant contractual obligations to meet in the budget, this open dialogue can help create a conversation and help forecast yearly goals that we need to strive for. This joint effort will help board members properly allocate the money, to the degree possible, and make sure the priority is to classrooms for curriculum programs and technology investments. The BOE budget is the largest budget in the city and we have an obligation to the families, children and taxpayers to make sure the funds are properly dispersed. With all parties involved we can achieve a functioning board that prioritizes, compromises, makes good decisions, and that will have transparency throughout with bipartisan views. With my business skills managing multi-million dollar budgets, and as a parent with three children, I can assist the board in making sure our tax dollars are prioritized and spent wisely.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

I strongly feel that school safety is one of the biggest area of concern with myself and most families in Shelton. Our school system has come a long way with security upgrades and resources and our world is constantly changing. It is our responsibility to adapt to these changes and to provide our staff and students the resources they need to put more security measures in place. There is current discussion of adding security which includes school resource officers (SROs) to improve school security. Although the SRO issue has not been resolved, this should not prevent us from creating improved safety and disciplinary policies in the interim.

Alarmingly, Shelton — like many communities nationwide — is facing a vaping epidemic that has affected Shelton High, Shelton Intermediate and Perry Hill schools. We can create policies and work collectively with the school administration staff, town departments and community coalitions to implement programs that promote awareness, education and intervention to combat the drug and vape epidemics in our schools. I look forward to working with the Policy and Safety committees on these important issues that our children and families are facing today.

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?

In my conversations with the current Board of Education (BOE) and Board of Aldermen (BOA) members, there is a clear disconnect in the relationship that has been evident for several years. It is imperative that the BOE work hand-in-hand with the BOA, providing full explanation, detail and benefits of our budget requests when coming forward with proposals. These proposals may include providing proven data plans, forecasting, and backup detail. We also need to show how we have prioritized our spending to meet student needs. The process should also include a report-back loop to the BOA, with ongoing data and progress updates to inform them on how these investments are moving along. By being more transparent through the process we will gain mutual trust and change the dynamic of how things have been run in the past.

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

I am not aware if the superintendent shared a public road map of how he plans to move the district forward to achieve a top 25 percent goal for the district. I would welcome hearing from him and his plan. Having said that, to achieve higher academic outcomes, we need a viable curriculum and evidenced-based programs to enable progress and school improvement. To do so, we need to improve our resources that will prepare our students for success. Our standardized test scores have room for improvement, and preparing our students for college and career based opportunities should be a priority. Every student should have up-to-date workbooks and textbooks that correspond with classroom curriculum. As a mother of children in the Shelton school system, I find anything less than this is unacceptable.

In recent years, the district has been investing in Chromebooks to prepare students for state standardized tests. We need to remember that Chromebooks are not a replacement for textbooks, and are only an extension of a resource (a form of computer/tablet). Chromebrooks can offer many benefits to our students, however, they cannot be fully utilized unless we as a district commit ourselves to provide students with up-to-date curriculum that can be integrated into the Chromebooks. Children need consistency while learning and the programs we use from white board to textbook to Chromebook should be consistent. Currently the BOE and the city are working together on purchasing an additional 800 Chromebooks. We must be sure the curriculum integration with these Chromebooks is a priority in order to achieve student success and maximize our efforts to reach the top 25 percent goal for our district.

Don Stanziale (R)

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

We need to review the jobs of the administrators, and prioritize our funding. The teachers know what is needed and they should have a say in this process. We need to remember to keep the students and teachers interest up front.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

I believe that each Board of Education member should focus on certain duties. Not saying that they shouldn’t have a say in everything, but some members are stronger on certain areas.

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?

It is important to have an open line of communication between both boards. It’s important that the BOA realize members of the BOE are volunteers trying to present our students with the very best resources that are available and make a difference, while keeping associated cost in mind. As a small business owner, I have the experience and realize the importance of keeping finances within a balanced budget.

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

By supporting our teachers/staff and having parents be part of this. Parents and teachers giving their ideas and what they feel that they need, then by letting the BOE throw ideas out to the superintendent to prioritize.

Kathy Yolish (R), incumbent

As an incumbent board member of Shelton public schools, my vision continues to have the heart and soul of the Shelton community. I will consider every available and viable option when making decisions that will impact every child, teacher, parent, and taxpayer in this fiscally uncertain time in the state of CT. I want to be the voice that challenges the validity of new positions and questions the reasoning of expenditures. I seek total transparency in every aspect of the BOE. I have gained knowledge and understanding in the many functions and responsibilities of being a school board member in the past ten years and hope that I will be supported in my endeavor to continue to serve on the board.

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

Planning and preparing a school budget is a very complex, comprehensive and time-consuming endeavor. It involves several meetings within a short time period and must include input from all the departments, school principals and specialty area supervisors. Needs and wants are identified for each group and then the board has the tough decision to adjust or cut. Transparency and accountability are key elements of the budget. A compilation of inventory should be made to note where additional materials are available to share within schools. Shared services should be investigated to eliminate extra costs. Utilization of grant money could be researched more thoroughly to be more cost effective in focusing on professional learning activities as well as other goals and objectives. Utilization of in-house service experts might also help in cost cutting expenses. Seeking input from the administrators, teachers and all staff as to their suggestions for more efficient spending and what services, materials and supplies could be consolidated may also prove to be beneficial.

What major policy ideas will you push during your term?

The Board of Education sets policy and the superintendent implements policy. It’s a case of who does what. The purpose of setting policies provides the board with the power to establish and carry out expectations for the district. Major policies that I would focus on would include school safety, school climate, cultural diversity, social media, political parameters, review of instructional materials and programs and an update/review of the policy handbook every two to three years. In addition to policies, there is another area of governing entitled “administrative regulations.” These should also be reviewed by the board and administrators and monitored for clarity, continuity and parity.

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 between the Board of Education and the Board of Aldermen is paramount to the success of the school system. Open dialogue, communication, transparency and planned joint meetings will help to bridge a stronger relationship. Collaborative relationships are based on trust and respect which both sides need to adhere to. A board that behaves contentiously is not likely to build credibility among community leaders or enlist them as partners in the school system’s success. Finding common ground is also of importance when discussing the budget as is focusing on issues that unite, not divide. It is said that “boards must find ways to engage disaffected individuals in ongoing discussions, enlisting their help in crafting a vision for the future, and seek their assistance in solving complex challenges.” I do believe that we are well on the path of building a more cohesive partnership with the BOA since we have had sit down sessions that fostered joint discussion and simplified explanations of line items in the budget this year. I look forward to continuing this bridge building and feel confident that we will have a more collaborative partnership in the future. Ultimately, I believe that together we will be able to keep Shelton strong and make Shelton public schools stronger.

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

As a board member my job, along with the eight other board members, is to assist the superintendent in developing goals for a successful school system. This should be an ongoing goal in his/her evaluation. For an effective plan to reach such a goal, the superintendent needs to give a time frame as well as the steps taken to achieve or re-evaluate each time frame. The superintendent needs to offer supportive, supervised and evaluative measures for each of the schools. In our specific town, four of our elementary schools were honored as “schools of distinction.” One school was 2 percentage points away from the grade and SHS was less than 1 percent point away. I would expect the superintendent to share what worked for those schools who reached goal with those that are almost there. Regarding schools that are farther away from the mark, I would ask the superintendent to focus a percentage of his future goals on those schools and work to ensure they get the tools and support that they need to meet with success. I would also encourage a theory of action to offer tailored professional learning so that principals and other leaders can secure what they specifically need for continued success or meet with success. More professional learning for administration should be implemented and the monies to fund it could be moved or taken out of grant allocations. This professional learning can be shared throughout the school system and more money would not be needed. Success of a superintendent includes vision, goals, strategies, evaluation and a forecast of “where do you see the school system three years from now?”