Meet the 2017 Southington Board of Education candidates

We asked Southington Board of Education candidates the following questions:

1) What was the most important issue faced by the Board of Education during the most recent term? How did you handle it (incumbent) or how would you have handled it (challenger)?

2) What do you see as the most important issue for the Board of Education over the next term? How will you handle it if you are elected?

Here are their responses (Candidates are grouped in order they will appear on the ballot):

MEET THE DEMOCRATS

Lisa Cammuso

Lisa Cammuso

(Democrat, Challenger)

1) Elimination of services. During the most recent term, I believe the most challenging issue faced by the Board of Education was the need to eliminate programs and positions based on decreased funding in the budget. Cutting services and increasing class sizes makes it difficult to provide top notch education to our students in an ever-changing world that demands the latest and greatest resources.  I would’ve promoted a team effort by working collaboratively and transparently with all BOE members and actively listening to public opinion. I encourage identifying creative ideas to remedy fiscal shortages, while striking a balance to more favorably direct funds toward the students without adding further burden to our tax payers. I am eager to contribute and make a difference through providing an objective lens in an effort to support increased services to our youth that will reinforce their success.

2) Progression through collaboration.  With the potential for further cuts in state funding and the possibility for additional unfunded mandates, there is a continuous challenge to locate and sustain the funds to support our school system. I believe it is imperative to develop new, progressive ideas that will support the students and the community, and it is critical to do this in a transparent manner, leveraging open communication and collaboration with other entities in town. By working as a team and involving all stakeholders, the BOE can be innovative, while keeping mindful of fiscal responsibility. This will enable the objective of maximizing quality education in a cost effective manner, ultimately benefiting the students, as well as the community.

Robert Brown

Robert Brown

(Democrat, Incumbent)

1) Budget. Our budget was the biggest issue we faced the last year, which was complicated by the state’s inability to agree on a state budget and state money coming to our town. As an incumbent, I did many things. I lobbied legislators to agree on a budget, I encouraged legislators to reduce unfunded mandates (state education demands they did not pay for), I encouraged legislators to reduce state-mandated tests that served no useful purpose but took up time and needed funds. I listened intently to Southington citizens about their preferences in our budget. I asked questions about how we could save taxpayer money with health insurance, reduced state mandates, examining the needs for any new positions and more.

2) Efficiency. How to provide the best possible education for every student in the most efficient, effective way is the biggest issue. Spending taxpayer money in the most effective yet efficient ways requires knowledgeable Board of Education members, familiar with how our system works. As someone who taught in this town for 41 years, I know our system. I will continue to confront our legislators about giving Southington its fair share of education funds, finializing the state budget before our local budget must be done, reducing unfunded mandates, and making a long-range plan instead of only thinking short term. For example, proposing changes to how teacher’s retirement is funded. I will continue to examine how we spend our money and question such expenditures as insurance, new positions, class sizes, and the necessity for every position in tough budget times. We have an enrollment study that will be valuable in making staffing decisions and a future plan. We need to seek public input and consider all options. Our task is to best educate our students in the most efficient way possible.

Zaya Oshana Jr.

Zaya Oshana Jr.

(Democrat, Incumbent)

1) Budget. The budget was the most difficult and impactful issue we faced this past term.  With even larger potential cuts in state funding, we must assure the money we spend is used to educate our students and keep them safe, nothing else.  I proposed a budget amendment to do just that, taking $75,000 from non-educational spending and putting it towards education.  Unfortunately the Board voted against doing that, so I voted “No” to the budget as I felt it was not financially sound.  We cannot spend our very limited funds on items not focused on education.

2) Budget. Because of the failures at the state level, the budget next year will be even more difficult.  We must make sure that taxpayer money we are allocated is spent to educate our student and to keep them safe, nothing else. We owe that to our taxpayers and to our students.  As a member of the Boards Finance Committee, I am responsible for reviewing funding requests and allocations to make sure they are in line with the goals and objectives of the district.   As a board member, I am responsible for reviewing the entire budget, line item by line item. I promise to continue providing this financial oversight to best serve our community, students and taxpayers.

Jennifer Micacci

Jennifer Micacci

(Democrat, Challenger)

1) Budget. The most important issue faced by the Board of Education during the most recent term was the school budget reduction of $1.1 million. The BOE is charged with ensuring up-to-date education in a safe school environment while also being good fiscal managers of our tax payers’ hard earned money. Had I been on the board at the time, I would have examined all of the available information to ensure any cuts would not impact teacher quality, increase class sizes, or impact the quality of early education. I believe it is vitally important to prioritize these areas to ensure we are providing Southington students with the skills they need to succeed.

2) Preparing for cuts. With the uncertainty of funding at both the state and federal levels, the most important issue going forward will be preparing for further budget cuts. Funding cuts in education have long term consequences. It will mean less spent on professional development, materials, and technology limiting our ability to give students the most current level of instruction. We must look at creative budget solutions such as coordinating with other school districts to pool purchasing power for equipment, services, and supplies and looking for opportunities to partner with businesses. We should seek input from community members. We can explore more grant opportunities. We must also be careful not to push more of the costs onto parents. Education is the most powerful investment we can make in our future. My sincere hope it that we will be able to move beyond financial issues so that we can look for ways to enhance the educational experiences of students instead of simply trying to maintain them.

Joseph DelDebbio

(Democrat, Challenger)

1) Local budget. The school budget needs to be focused on the needs of the teachers and their students.   We can’t control the state budget challenges we face, however, we can still ensure student success with our own budget.  Our districts program cuts could have been circumvented.  The district will spend $140,489 on professional development.  We have highly paid district supervisors that have the experience and disciplinary knowledge to lead and present district teachers with professional development, along with district lead teachers.  The district will spend approximately $159,762 on consumables, many of which can be replaced by reproducible products.  Lastly, the district will spend another $198,398 on new and replaced textbooks.  Everyone likes something new, however, other districts stretch the life expediency of textbooks and make due until absolutely necessary.  Most of today’s teachers use textbooks as supplementary materials.  That’s nearly $500,000 that could have gone toward keeping middle school sports and expanding our foreign language programs at all levels.  The principals’ and coordinators’ salaries are out of control—approximately $3 million—definitely “too many chiefs and not enough Indians” in central office. This needs to change.

2) Long term savings. Solving our budget problems should not come at the expense of the teachers, nor students. Quick fixes are not the answer. We need fundamental changes that will maintain and create productivity.  The idea of creative actions to “stretch” a dollar is well laid out. There need to be best practices in school budgeting process, like those for teachers, centered in planning and preparing, setting instructional priorities, paying for those priorities, implanting the plan, and ensuring stability.  We need to prioritize both achievement and cost-efficiency. Before money is allocated, we need to know what works. Knowing what works requires information, including information on what drives achievement and drives it cost-effectively.

David Derynoski

David Derynoski

(Democrat, Incumbent)

1) Student safety. The BOE has had to deal with issues related to funding of the current operating budget, and although we have a budget approved by the BOF and Town Council, state funding for this budget has not been set. This has resulted in a potentially serious situation for Southington, not only for this year but for 2018-2019. Efforts are underway to reduce any impact on the taxpayers of Southington through a freeze of all non-essential spending. My focus is that with this freeze that we maintain the high standards of student learning that parents have become accustomed to.  Other issues include dealing with the town-wide drug issue. As student safety is and will continue to be my number one commitment, we need to work closely with parents and other town agencies to eliminate the use of drugs by our students. Maintaining awareness to the issues is a key component in battling this important issue.

2) Budget cuts. Advancements that have been made over the last few years to the curriculum and technology which has improved the way we teach our students  are now in jeopardy. In the current budget, the BOE eliminated middle school sports and ended a program of foreign language in elementary grades. This may be only the start. If elected I would continue to be an advocate for all children as well as Southington taxpayers in the hope that we can continue the advancements that have been made.

MEET THE REPUBLICANS

Joseph Baczewski

Joseph Baczewski

(Republican, Challenger)

1) Budget. Because of the similarity in the questions, I would like to address both in one response. I think the most important issue that was faced in the past few years has been the budget. As the economy has been slow to rebound in the state, we and other towns have been affected beause of the decrease in state dollars awarded to the town of Southington.

Without being privied to the budget talks that happened behind the formal meetings, I’m not sure if I could have done anything differently other than suggesting other cuts or rollbacks on “wants” of the schools versus the “needs.” With the new budget not being passed, we are faced with an even steeper cut of education dollars.

I suppose that this issue will be our biggest feat to overcome in this election cycle as well. I believe in strong education in our town. I am a product of Southington Schools, and stayed in town to raise my family so they can be afforded the same opportunities that I had. I wholeheartedly realize the careful balance in that regard, as our tax dollars are heavily tied into our education system and everyone doesn’t necessarily take direct advantage of it (i.e. seniors, businesses, young families without kids). The BOE is tasked with the future of this town every year. We will need to continue that success and make attempts to use less money to do so, stretching the value of our hardworking citizens’ tax dollars. My experiences as a small business owner and registered nurse will aid me in making common sense decisions on our spending while keeping a balanced checkbook on our budget.

Colleen Clark

Colleen Clark

(Republican, Incumbent)

1) Budget. The most important issue faced by the BOE was the budget uncertainty, due to the state’s lack of passing a budget.  When planning for the school year, the board needs to adequately fund contractual obligations, as well as state and federal mandates, while never being quite sure of the level of funding from the state or federal government.  Trying to formulate a budget with these uncertainties makes budgeting an annual exercise in “what ifs.”   This year, the BOE presented the town a level budget which covered contractual obligations and had no new initiatives.  The Board of Finance reduced the requested budget, due to funding uncertainties, which was approved by the Town Council. The BOE then voted to leave positions unfilled, remove world language from the elementary schools, put major projects on hold, and eliminated middle school sports.  So, while we do have an approved budget for this school year, the governor is now threatening to slash our state funding for this year by $20 million.  Now, we don’t know if we will receive any funding—a situation we have never seen before.

2) Budget. The most import issue that the BOE will continue to face is the uncertainty of the state budget situation.   As of today, we do not have a state budget.  If the governor’s threat of cutting our funding drastically comes to fruition, we will have to take a serious look at cutting programs and staff, in the middle of the school year.  We would literally have to start dismantling the work we’ve done in our district due to the lack of funding from the state. In my opinion, the politicians in Hartford need to stop working for their own political interest and start working together for the best interests of the citizens of Connecticut.

Raeshelle Percival

Raeshelle Percival

(Republican, Challenger)

1) Supportive budget. As a mom of four Southington school students, I understand firsthand how the decisions made by the Board of Education directly impacts students, families and residents.  I’ll utilize my experience and take the practical approach necessary to achieve the best education possible with the funds available to the BOE.  I will collaborate with collegues to establish transparency and consistency across schools and look critically at expenses to develop a budget that continues to support high academic standards, quality programs, exemplary staff and decreased class sizes.

2) Budget crisis. I offer a fresh perspective, combined with the experience of a mother, knowledge of a teacher, and the fiscal understanding of a business professional to make a positive contribution to the decision making required.  I will work diligently to better maximize the resources available to prevent further cuts. As the budget tightens from the state level, we in Southington need to insulate our schools and do our best to spare all students and residents from a negative impact.  I will communicate on behalf of all students, parents and homeowners to advocate for excellence in education, while never losing sight of the bottom line.  I know that having a high quality school system is a benefit to everyone within our community.

Terri Carmody

Terri Carmody

(Republican, Incumbent)

1) Budget. The most important issue this year was developing a fair and equitable budget. We were required by the state to implement unfunded mandates that made this a difficult task. We as a board held many workshops and collaborated with other town boards to produce a budget that would be fiscally responsible. Unfortunately cuts had to be made—always an arduous task. I am never in favor of cuts that eliminate our level services. I hope to maintain small class sizes, implement new courses, and continue to improve student achievement and educational opportunities. I will continue to seek opportunities to save money without compromising our students’ education. A strong educational system is the best asset a community can have.

2) Budget. The most important issue for the next term will again be the budget. We do not know what the state will do, and therefore we will have to wait. I certainly hope staff and programs don’t have to be considered. We have made great strides in the programs we offer our students, and our school system has much to be proud of. Our administration will guide us as to what will be the best and least difficult decisions.

Brian Goralski

Brian Goralski

(Republican, Incumbent)

1) Budget. The most important issue faced by the Board of Education was the budget. Sadly, it is exactly what I predicted when asked by The Observer in 2015. Through positive communication, planning and collaboration, we continued to move the school district forward in 2016. Then, the State of Connecticut’s fiscal situation and their inability to pass a budget on time put total uncertainty on the town of Southington. The result was a reduction of just over $1 million to our budget for the current fiscal year. The Board of Education made many difficult decisions which resulted in the loss of staff and programs. Although the cuts were painful, I believe they were mitigated by the relationship established over the years between the elected Boards.

2) Budget. The most important issue ahead of us is to maintain our dedication to responsible budgets that remain focused on student safety and a commitment to improving student achievement. This can only happen if the Board of Education continues to communicate in an open, honest and respectful way with all sectors of our community to support our work. This is the same answer that I used two years ago and will be my response as long as I serve on the Board of Education. Responsible budgets will require sacrifice given the current budget situation in our state. As a member of the Board of Education, my role is to advocate for education and represent the students of today and tomorrow. I believe education is the key to any community’s success. I have been a member of the Board of Education for the past 14 years, the past 10 years as Chairman. I believe I played a valuable role in building the relationship that allowed the Southington Schools to steadily improve. I promise to continue that practice.

Patricia Queen

Patricia Queen

(Republican, Incumbent)

1) Budget. The most important work of the BOE is to provide the opportunity for every student to have, upon graduation, the skills to engage a rapidly changing world. The most important issue has been and will continue to be moving our schools forward as education funding changes.

I see fiscal responsibility as a given. Every budget I have voted for leaves out spending that I know would improve education for our students.  This year, uncertainty around state funding drove our budget process. I was disappointed when expansion of world language instruction to all the elementary schools did not make it into our initial budget. By June, we faced the daunting task of cutting $1 million in programming. Southington lost 14 teaching and para-educator positions, the world language pilot program, middle school sports, new textbooks, and more.

It is important to me to listen to the community which sent a clear and consistent message about middle school sports. When parents proposed fundraising to keep this program, the board was receptive, and I was pleased to join a team to develop this partnership. Today, students are playing middle school sports.

Southington is a dynamic town that is fiscally responsible, attractive to business and families, and enjoys a strong sense of community.  Our town has built great schools while achieving a strong financial position. Under the governor’s executive order, our financial strength makes us a target as Southington could lose $20 million in educational funding. This would be devastating were it to occur.

As a BOE member, I see it as my role to champion public education funding both in principle and as a matter of value. Successful schools benefit not only our students but the entire community. I am committed to working together as a community to find creative solutions to the challenges ahead.

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