The Shelton Herald submitted a list of questions to the Board of Education candidates participating in the Sept. 10 primary. Below are the responses. The Republican Town Committee-endorsed candidates are incumbents Dr. Darlisa Ritter and Kathy Yolish, along with Carl Rizzo, Jim Orazietti, Ben Perry, Don Stanziale, Jr., Ruth Parkins, John Fitzgerald and Amy Romano. Present Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden and fellow incumbent board members Anne Gaydos and Tom Minotti submitted signatures to force the primary. Voters can vote for no more than nine of the 12 candidates. Republican Town Committee-endorsed candidates The nine candidates endorsed by the Shelton Republican Town Committee - John Fitzgerald, Amy Romano, Kathy Yolish (incumbent), Darlisa Ritter (incumbent), Carl Rizzo, Ben Perry, Ruth Parkins, James Orazietti and Don Stanziale, Jr. - chose to answer The Shelton Herald questions as one group. What are the top three issues you hope to tackle if elected? We nine candidates on Row A are running as a team for three big issues -accountability, advocacy for students and teachers, and alignment with Mayor Mark Lauretti. On each of these issues, the current Board of Education leadership has failed to achieve success - and we are committed to success for our students and teachers. Accountability. The Board of Education has to hold the superintendent and administration accountable for results, not act as their cheerleaders. We believe that how you spend money is as important as how much you spend. Rather than rubber stamp contracts or just accept recommendations, we will do the hard work to ensure that proposals are in the best interest of students and teachers. Advocacy for students and teachers. We believe there is too much focus on administrators - there are too many of them, and we spend too much time thinking about them - and not enough time thinking about students and teachers. We will be advocates for our students and teachers. We will reward innovation in the classroom, and celebrate those teachers who achieve success for their students. Most importantly, we will ask of every dollar spent - "How does this benefit our-students and teachers?" Alignment with Mark Lauretti. Mayor Mark Lauretti and the Republican Town Committee have endorsed the nine of us. The other three Republicans running - Mark Holden, Tom Minotti and Anne Gaydos - have spent the last several years arguing with the mayor rather than working with him, while other boards and commissions have gotten the results that sets Shelton apart .So we will replace the arguing with collaboration and problem solving something sorely missing from politics these days. Vote Row A for the Board of Education - for accountability, advocacy for students and teachers, and alignment with Mark Lauretti. What sets you apart from the other candidates you are campaigning against? Simply put, the other three Republicans running - Mark Holden, Tom Minotti, and Anne Gaydos - have not lived up to Republican values and principles in their time on the board. It is why they were not renominated by the Republican Town Committee. We will support responsible spending and accountability, where they have not We will work with City Hall to fund programs to increase test scores of students instead of a large increase in the superintendent's pay. How has your experience set you up for success on the BOE? The nine of us collectively have distinctive and complementary background that will make us an effective team. We have backgrounds ranging from running small business to former educators to mothers and fathers with kids in the school system. Most importantly, we are approaching this as a team. We plan on honest problem solving to benefit our students and teachers, not treating this as a political platform. How should you focus on improving the relationship with the Board of Education and the mayor? We are running with the endorsement of Mayor Lauretti because we are interested in working as a team with Mayor Lauretti and the Board of Aldermen just as other boards and commissions do. The past two years have seen unnecessary infighting between the Board of Education and City Hall when we should be cooperating to do what is best for our children and our city. For example, instead of fighting and suing each other over buses, we would work together with City Hall to capture the $1 million in savings that was possible. We would redeploy that savings to both lower taxes and spend more on the students. Voting for Row A is voting for Team Lauretti. Voting for Row B is voting for continued animosity and petty bickering, rather than putting our students and teachers first. Anne Gaydos (R), incumbent What are the top three issues you hope to tackle if elected? If already on the board, what would you consider your major accomplishment? Since the Board of Education works collectively as a team, it is difficult to quantify an individual accomplishment. However, as a board member, I have always supported using our limited allocated financial resources in a fiscally responsible manner, while creating a long-term vision for our students that prepare them for successful futures. I also feel that it is important to keep the public informed of our district's progress, as well as our challenges, and I feel we are working to better communicate with the community by having formed a Public Relations and Outreach Committee this past year. I am proud to serve as vice chair for this committee. What sets you apart from the other candidates you are campaigning against in this primary? Long before I ran for the Board of Education, I began regularly attending meetings. I wanted to understand what was involved, how much of a time commitment it would be, and once I was elected, I knew what to expect and was able to hit the ground running, although there was still much to learn. During my first term, I have gained a lot of experience and knowledge. I have served as chair of the Teaching and Learning Committee and vice chair of the Finance Committee. I have been involved in adopting fiscally responsible budgets, union contract negotiations, expulsion hearings, residency hearings, etc. Having this experience under my belt sets me apart from candidates who have never served or ever even attended any of our meetings. I have a solid foundation as an incumbent, and I am eager and ready to continue on to serve a second term. How has your experience set you up for success on the BOE? Having served one term has set me up for a successful second term. I will continue to be an advocate for our children, placing their needs first while balancing a competitive learning environment with a responsible budget. It is important to me that we ensure that our children are well-prepared and given the proper tools and skills they need for a challenging world they will face when they graduate from Shelton High School. How would you focus on improving the relationship with the Board of Aldermen and mayor's office, and what are your thoughts on how the education budget has been handled, and what would you do differently, if anything? In order to make Shelton the best it can be, we need to have open communication and a good working relationship with the Board of Aldermen to ensure our children have equal representation as do other citizens of our community. Budget season is always rather tense, but I feel we have made some progress in the past year by scheduling quarterly meetings together. Communication is key. Expensive lawsuits are not the answer. I would suggest more presentations to the aldermen, showcasing our student accomplishments and various programs and curriculum that we offer. Shelton Public Schools have a lot to be proud of, including the fact that four of our elementary schools were recognized by the state of Connecticut as "Schools of Distinction." We have a vision for our school district, and there should be a vision for the future of our city that we can merge together to make Shelton the best it can be. Mark Holden (R), incumbent What are the top three issues you hope to tackle if elected? If already on the board, what would you consider your major accomplishment? The three top issues for me would be: 1. Improve student achievement to the top quartile as measured by SBAC and SAT tests. We are close, and we're inching closer but it would be much easier if the aldermen understood the relationship between the quality of schools and property values. 2. Implementation of a 1:1 electronic device program. Traditional textbooks are on the way out. Electronic texts can be updated quicker and they're more cost effective. Technology also allows for improved efficiency as a teacher can assign some students to work on a computer driven lesson while they give more intensive small group instruction to others. 3. Bringing more special education capabilities "in house." One of the reasons special education is so expensive is we often need to transport students to specialized schools that are equipped to handle their needs. We could handle more in house - but the start up costs are too high to be absorbed within one year. A reason these things are goals instead of accomplishments is the Board of Ed budget grows much slower than the city budget. It's been happening for years. The mayor speaks of our student enrollment shrinking by 1,066 students since 2007-2008, but they ignore the fact our special needs population grew by 282 students in the same time frame. It costs more to educate 282 special needs students than it costs to handle 1,066 general ed students. My favorite accomplishment would be ensuring full-day kindergarten came to Shelton. John Anglace called it "glorified babysitting." Eric McPherson called it "taxpayer funded daycare." For over a year, every member of the Board of Ed worked together to make that happen. My second favorite accomplishment would be improving communications between the BoE and the community at large. If you have a reasonable question, I'll try to get you a reasonable answer as soon as I can. What sets you apart from the other candidates you are campaigning against in this primary? I believe in getting information out to parents as soon as it is available because parents need to make plans. I attend as many school events as possible because I believe BoE members should support student activities. I've been actively involved as a volunteer in the Shelton community since 1983. I can work with anyone who genuinely cares as long as they're willing to work with me. I don't do this to be an important person. I do it because I enjoy making a difference and doing important things. How has your experience set you up for success on the BOE? We've accomplished a lot in the years I've been on the BoE. I have a track record. For example - full-day kindergarten started about 18 months after parents first contacted me about it. I appointed a committee, and chose a chairman I felt would direct the study to determine if full-day kindergarten really was a worthwhile option, and I also felt she was the most likely board member to get the mayor to support the program if it was worthwhile. Three months before the program started the aldermen passed a budget that provided no funding for it. I communicated the problem to parents, they communicated their concerns to aldermen, and the city met with the superintendent and an agreement was reached to provide the needed funding. I had the experience to know who the right people were for the committee and how to best reach the BoE goal, which was also the goal of a large number of Shelton parents. If you would be new to the BOE, what experience do you have that would allow you handle the added responsibility of being in charge of school policy and budgets? I have an extensive background as a volunteer in our community with executive experience in many organizations including the Shelton Board of Apportionment and Taxation - the city board responsible for conducting the budget interviews, and as chairman of the BHCare subsidiary that used to run the Umbrella Domestic Violence program. I've also been willing to roll up my sleeves. How would you focus on improving the relationship with the Board of Aldermen and Mayor's office, and what are your thoughts on how the education budget has been handled, and what would you do differently, if anything? I'd welcome a truce. Unfortunately, the mayor and several aldermen who have served for decades aren't interested in a good relationship with people who think or speak for themselves. I am hopeful the Here for Shelton aldermen candidates will be elected in November. With some new aldermen with fresh eyes, and a goal of improving our relationship we will make progress. Tom, Anne and I have been good stewards of taxpayer dollars. We believe in low taxes, accountability, and in working together to find the best way to help Shelton's students have a bright future. According to the most recent available information from the state, Shelton's BoE spends less than 90 percent of the districts in Connecticut. The average Connecticut school district spent $3,195 more than we do per student. The state's standardized testing shows we are close to the top 25 percent for student achievement. We are the only Republicans on the BoE who have consistently voted for the policies and practices that allow us to get great results with limited funding. Tom Minotti (R), incumbent What are the top three issues you hope to tackle if elected? First and foremost is to maintain a balanced annual budget. It means to work cooperatively with the finance director and superintendent, and, address budget issues and concerns. Review current programs such as the "School of Innovation" and assist to create new programs while improving opportunities for all students to learn. Provide a quality education with appropriate resources for teachers and students as well as up to date technology. Provide for a safe educational environment which includes having a Student Resource Officer in each school. What sets you apart from the other candidates you are campaigning against? I have been a teacher, department chairman, and director of mathematics grades 9-12 for the Bridgeport school system. My responsibilities included math staff evaluation for three high schools, professional development, curriculum development, and district wide department budgeting. How has your experience set you up for success on the BOE? My experience for success is my performance, past and present, as a dedicated member and vice chairman of the Shelton Board of Education. To compliment my experience, I also serve as an active member of the Teaching & Learning Committee and chairman of the Finance Committee. How would you focus on improving the relationship with the Board of Aldermen and mayor's office, and what are your thoughts on how the education budget has been handled, and what would you do differently, if anything? School policies are developed cooperatively by members of the Policy Committee. Policies are then vetted and brought before the whole Board of Education for review, discussion, and modifications. Minutes are taken for all committee meetings. Budgets are developed by the finance director and superintendent and brought forward to the finance committee for review, discussion, and suggestions. A recommended budget is then brought forward to the Board of Education members for further discussion and\/or approval since most board members attend the finance committee meeting. One of my priorties is to have open and honest dialogue between the Board of Education, Board of Aldermen, and the mayor. Members of the BOE, BOA, and the mayor must be able to sit down and openly discuss issues and concerns, and then work cooperatively to resolve them. Compromise works. There should be more open discussion between the mayor and BOE members regarding the overall BOE budget recommendations. There is plenty of time for discussion to occur before the mayor makes his budget recommendation to the Board of Aldermen. Carl Rizzo (R) Carl Rizzo did submit answers to the questions as well as adding his name to the RTC-endorsed candidates' answers. What are the top three issues you hope to tackle if elected? If already on the board, what would you consider your major accomplishment? 1. The educational budget accounts for more than 64 percent of the city's budget. Every decision we make will affect taxpayers, administrators, teachers and most of all our students. Multiple administrative changes and decisions have been made that will affect all future budget discussions. My goal will be to reduce administrative costs and shift those expenses where they can be better utilized directly by our teachers and most importantly have real impact for our students. 2. Make better use of technology. Our children currently utilize more technology for entertainment than they do for education. Working previously for GE now for Hitachi Healthcare, has given me firsthand insight into the demands of the future workforce. I see many opportunities for improvement in the tools that teachers and administrators are using. I also think that students have much to offer in new ideas. I would like to see more student engagement. Similar to the very successful robotics program. Students can participate in learning computer languages and developing web sites that can have real impact on their fellow students. I have experience in creating collaborative web sites that improve communication and educate. My goal would be to make that happen for the entire education process. Businesses and industry are just beginning to use artificial intelligence. I would love to see what AI could do for our school system. 3. Eliminate pay to participate. Pay to participate is counter intuitive to our goal of encouraging participation in extracurricular activities. These activities are not just about recreation anymore. They are vital to social development, leadership skills, exercise, and a key standout point on college admission applications. These fees discourage and impede full participation, especially for families struggling to make ends meet. It is also an insult to the many parent organizations that have always supported and subsidized these activities through fundraisers. What sets you apart from the other candidates you are campaigning against in this primary? I think I am similar to most candidates in that I have lived in Shelton for many years. My two children have graduated from the Shelton School system and have also gone on to graduate from college. I know the challenges of raising a family, paying bills and doing what I can to provide the best environment for my children. What sets me apart is my work experience. While I would not like to see a board that is void of any educators, I hope to bring the many years experience of the realities of working in the business world. A reality of where you have pressure to make the month, the quarter or the year. The reality of competition that wants to see you fail. How has your experience set you up for success on the BOE? The two major things that have prepared me are failure and age. A better way to phrase that might be experience. I have purchased many used cars and I have the scars to prove it. I try to learn every day. I learn from my successes and failures and I value the lessons that I learn from the people I see every day. If you would be new to the BOE, what experience do you have that would allow you handle the added responsibility of being in charge of school policy and budgets? Since my children were young, I have been an active participant and volunteer in their education and extracurriculars and have remained involved as vice president of Shelton National Little League long past their graduation. This town, the education and opportunity it provided my kids It is a challenge and a commitment. It is a great deal of responsibility and I already feel the pressure of making informed opinions on issues that have not even come up yet. My children are older now and I do need to measure how this will affect my work, family and my other activities. It also makes me appreciate all of the volunteers that have served in the past present and future. I have nothing but respect for those individuals and I hope to live up to their standards. How would you focus on improving the relationship with the Board of Aldermen and mayor's office, and what are your thoughts on how the education budget has been handled, and what would you do differently, if anything? My hope is that my current relationship with the mayor and the Board of Aldermen can only help. 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 we can with the funding we have and I will not carry on the custom that has set in of demonizing anyone who disagrees with me.