We asked Southington Board of Education candidates the following questions:
A) Every incumbent said the budget was the biggest issue during the 2017 campaign, but the BOE passed two of the biggest budget increases in recent history (increasing the budget by $11 million after reductions by other town boards.) What did you do to control rising costs? (incumbents) What would you have done? (challengers)
B) What was the most important issue faced by the Board of Education during the most recent term?
C) What do you see as the most important issue for the Board of Education over the next term?
Here are their answers (Candidates are grouped in the order they will appear on the ballot:
David J. Derynoski
A) Over the years I have voted for and against budgets. My belief is that the board of education should submit a budget that represents the true needs of the district. It should not be set in advance by what the town council or board of finance is willing to support. This is the only way that the parents and tax payers of Southington can see the efforts of the BOE in making the Southington schools the best that they can be.
B) Fiscal constraints. Balancing the needs in the classroom with that of the district, trying to maintain buildings and yet supplying the students with the supplies they need. Covering the unexpected costs of special education while eliminating the funding for middle school sports.
C) Funding. A combination of improved efficiencies throughout the district and developing a budget that can be supported by the community and other boards.
A) Having only been through two budget cycles, there is still much for me to learn; however, in this first term, I diligently prepared prior to each budget workshop and asked questions to identify opportunities to be more efficient with funds. The board of education has had to make many difficult decisions to maintain a level services budget, which still resulted in the loss of staff and programs. I will continue to champion public education and act as an advocate for the students and their best interests.
B) Budget. As a member of the board of education, my role is to ensure that each student has an opportunity to succeed and obtain the skills to move into an ever-changing world. These skills include critical and creative thinking, collaboration, effective communication, and being a global citizen by contributing back to the community.
Given budget constraints, it has become more challenging to progress as a district and fully contribute to the vision of a graduate, having to eliminate positions, textbooks, and new programs. Ultimately, reducing funds leads to increased class sizes, making it difficult to provide the superior level of education that our students deserve.
I believe that engaging the community and requesting input to inform BOE decisions is pertinent to fostering a collaborative environment, as well as spending taxpayer money in the most effective and efficient manner. Additionally, we should continue to work with other boards to find ways to reduce costs by sharing services.
C) Budget. In my opinion, the most important issue ahead of us is not only to maintain all of the great services that Southington public schools offer, but support progress that aligns with a 21st century education, all while being fiscally responsible. Southington is a cohesive community that relies on a strong, safe, high-quality educational system.
In order to maintain this high standard, the BOE must continue to be thorough, asking questions and seeking answers to ensure we are making the best use of budget dollars to enhance student learning and bring Southington public schools to the next level.
We must also actively listen to the public before making decisions and collaborate with other Boards in town, keeping an open and honest dialogue. Before making any decision, I will continue to ask, “Is this in the best interest of Southington students?” I am committed to striking a balance between progress and efficiency.
Zaya G. Oshana
A) As a board member I am responsible for reviewing, questioning and challenging the budget, line item by line item, to assure we spend taxpayers’ dollars wisely. As a member of the finance committee I am responsible for reviewing funding requests to assure we allocate dollars in the most prudent way to educate our students. I voted no on the prior year’s budget because I felt there was a large sum of money not being spent wisely.
We held budget workshops asking the public to give us their input on what is important to them. As part of the board’s union negotiating team, I worked with the unions to reduce the cost of healthcare. Over 20 positions were eliminated and programs have been cut. We cut middle school sports and eliminated language programs from these budgets. These budgets were not level service budgets, they were cuts. Our duty is to assure that funds are utilized effectivity and appropriately to best educate our students. I will continue to ask the tough questions to be sure any funds allocated to the Board are being used for the benefit of our students. We must continue to build an exceptional educational system in Southington. That is our duty and responsibility.
B) The budget. Financially, this was another difficult year and as a board member it was my responsibility to provide the financial oversight to best serve our students, community and taxpayers. It is our duty to present a budget focused on providing our students with an outstanding education. We must assure we spend the dollars to benefit students in the classroom. Our final budget was focused on educating our students and keeping them safe, that is our responsibility.
We will continue to work with the town to create a shared services organization that will operationally and financially benefit both groups. We will continue to demand the best from our people and drive cost savings and efficiencies.
C) School safety and budget. We must continue to focus on school safety for students, staff and our community. This includes both physical safety, social and emotional safety and promoting a positive climate and safe environment for students to learn and staff to teach.
The budget is a critical issue for the board as this is how we fund the educational programs for our students. We must have a more open and collaborative process where the community is involved in shaping the final budget.
Lauren D. Johns
A) The state department of education (2017-18) shows that Southington ranked 156th out of 166 school districts in per pupil expenditures in the State of Connecticut with number one being the highest per pupil expenditure and 166 the lowest per pupil expenditure. In Southington’s district reference group (DRG), which is organized by size, median income and wealth factors among others, the town ranks 24th out of 24 districts in per pupil spending. This data point indicates that from a cost-benefit analysis, the learning experiences provided by the Southington public schools are an excellent value for the dollars expended. I would have agreed and voted for an increase as well to keep up with the current trends in the state.
B) Social media incident. The most important issue faced last year, for me, was how the board of education came together to address the community when a video in December 2018 surfaced. A Southington High School student threatened black classmates in a social media video that went viral.
C) Balancing budget and needs. The most important issue for the board will be to make sure that every dollar spent in our district should go to improving the lives and education of our students. As an elected official it should be our duty to listen to what people in the community are saying and then make an informed decision.
A) I advocated with our state legislators to make fewer cuts to education funding and to finalize their budget before we did ours—not knowing how much state funding we were to get caused local uncertainty and more cuts, which we tried to make up for the following year. I also advocated for a reduction in unfunded mandates from the state.
I listened to the public and asked our administration for a comparison of how many administrators we had per pupil and how our pay ranked to similar towns—we are below averages for similar towns in how many administrators we have per pupil. I also questioned travel allowances, and found we spent below even the IRS rate overall.
I did vote to cut middle school sports and the elementary language program, although I do support funding both
I voted on budgets that eliminated about 26 positions, 20 teachers over the past few years at a time when enrollments are not projected to go down over a long period
I supported and helped negotiate several employee contracts with each including ways to save more money on health insurance
I realize wages, benefits and costs like heating oil, repairs, technology go up every year in education just like the private sector, and we retain and attract quality educators with fair compensation
If re-elected, I plan to seek more input from the public as to what they support and want cut, and also have meaningful dialogue with the public over how we can best spend our education dollars and what the current needs of our students are.
B) Changing negative pressures on students. The biggest problem is the changing negative pressures on students from social media, vaping, opioids, family issues, social pressures and how we must advance how we teach young people as a result. I supported our emotional intelligence initiative, spoke in favor of it often, supported restorative justice for students who make serious mistakes, joined the town social justice committee, and advocated for PD for teachers to help them cope with new issues.
C) Meeting changing needs. The same as I said above—meeting ever-changing student needs and problems. I will continue to study these pressures and advocate for supporting teachers and educators—with training and resources—in handling these complex problems, adjusting, and meeting student needs. And we must do this staying within a reasonable budget.
A) Southington has one of the lowest per pupil spending numbers in the state for similar towns. It is a credit to the past boards of education, administrators, and teachers that Southington has been able to maintain excellent schools at this level of spending.
I have spent my 20-year career as a venture capitalist balancing limited resources with high expectations for success, which has been the biggest challenge facing our schools. Getting this balance right effects everyone, because the school system is the most important driver of property values in a town.
Having volunteered with Southington Youth Basketball Association for years, I know youth sports are great for developing teamwork and friendship skills in children. I believe the BOE should continue to support youth sports
B) Budget. I will bring a non-partisan, problem solving approach to the BOE. Budgeting is detail work and I believe my finance background and fresh viewpoint can be useful.
The budget is not the only aspect of the BOE’s work. I can also bring an outsider’s perspective to the BOE, emphasizing transparency and collaborative decision making in every aspect of the board’s work. I also commit to being proactive in anticipating key decisions that may be approaching, and involving relevant stakeholders. Transparency is a cornerstone of my candidacy. I promise not to be part of back room deals, and will not tolerate them from others.
C) Stem Education. Technology and automation are transforming our society, and have had a huge impact on multiple sectors of the economy. Our children are going to have to compete in a world that will be very different from the one that previous generations worked in. Southington schools need to prepare our children to succeed in a society where technology and automation are pervasive.
I will focus on STEM education if elected, and would continue support of programs like robotic while encouraging schools to find other programs that encourage students to pursue STEM disciplines.
The education industry is likely to go through big changes in the next ten years, and this will impact Southington. I have spent my career working with technology businesses, and have been involved with companies that digitized markets like stock trading and payments. I believe that my experience can be useful to the BOE to help Southington public schools prepare for a future that will be very different from its past.
David M. Falvo
A) My goal as a challenger is to make sure to maintain a fiscally responsible budget whenever possible, while at the same time funding the best education for our students. As a teacher, I know first-hand the difficulty of working under constrained budget costs. It is important that we shift spending, so that we are more student-focused with our costs. As a board member, I will advocate that we spend our dollars in the most cost-efficient manner. When I was in college I was the treasurer of Kappa Delta Pi, where I was responsible for maintaining a fiscally conservative budget while planning multiple events and convocations. Therefore, when I am on the board of education I will always put our students first when it comes to budgetary matters, in the most cost-efficient matter.
B) Dealing with unfunded mandates. Our biggest issue right now is legislation being discussed at the state level. During this past legislative session, there were talks in the works for shifting teachers’ pensions down to the municipality level. As a member of the BOE, I will advocate implementing safeguards in place to ensure the Town of Southington is prepared for this type of legislation. If the State of Connecticut were to pass the costs of teachers’ pensions down to the state, this would have consequences for our taxpayers. It is critical that we are fiscally prepared to deal with new unfunded mandates from the state.
C) Emotional well-being of our students. The biggest issue going forward for our community is the emotional well-being of our students. As a teacher, I see a good number of students suffering from anxiety and depression. Children now resort to socializing through the use of smartphones and social media platforms rather than traditional interactions. Additionally, many students are no longer taught how to self-regulate at home. Schools must make up this deficit in social-emotional learning. As important as academics are, it is critical that teachers focus on educating the whole student by implementing strategies for social-emotional learning whenever possible. Social-emotional learning is the process in which individuals are taught the knowledge, skills, and attitude to understand and manage their emotions. When I am on the BOE, I will be sure to continue leading the effort to ensure students are being equipped with the skills necessary to manage their emotions throughout the K-12 experience. If our schools focus more on social-emotional learning, then it will produce better results for our community.
A) There are many challenges when preparing a board of education budget. We are faced with many unfunded mandates, contractual obligations and the responsibility to maintain level services for the school system. This is indeed an arduous task, balancing these needs with the economic concerns of our citizens. We as a BOE will continue to examine ways to put forth a budget that is reflective of saving money when possible without diminishing the quality of education we offer.
B) Student safety. Our most important issue remains student safety. We have created a safety partnership with the health department, police department and fire department that is a model in the state.
C) Promoting vision of a graduate. We will continue to promote the vision of a graduate college or career ready ensuring students possess the 21st century skills to compete in a global economy. We have increased credits needed for graduation, developed more relevant courses in an effort to ensure our students are well prepared for the new challenges they will face.
A) Two of largest contributors of the recent budget growth have been contracted wage increases for the staff and increases in their health insurance costs, which has been a recent issue for everyone in the state and is not specific to Southington. As a challenger for the board of education, I will work with other members on the board, the school administration and the board of finance to understand the areas where we can manage spending more efficiently to offset those increases with minimal impact to the schools, staff and quality of education to maximize the value of each dollar in our budget.
B) State and local budgets. The state and local budgets have been very controversial issues in the recent term. With Gov. Dannell Malloy threatening to reduce educational aid to Southington in 2017 and the town’s increasing costs for staff wages and healthcare, the budget was, and continues to be, an important issue for the BOE and taxpayers. Although the budget did increase in the recent term, I do believe the 2017 to 2019 BOE budgets were appropriate given the situation at the time, balances growth and responsible spending for our school system, and I support those actions in the recent term’s proposed and passed budgets.
C) School budgets. Budgets will continue to be an issue, however I would like to see our schools putting a greater emphasis on S.T.E.M. education earlier in our children’s curriculum and teaching financial literacy to the junior and senior students of Southington as they prepare to enter the next chapter of their lives into adulthood. Many times, students have been exiting our schools, pressured to go to college, and have had minimal guidance on how to manage money, manage debt, and begin investing and planning for retirement as they get older. Students that choose to enter college may not immediately realize the true cost over time or the return on investment of their education. My goal is to have the junior and senior students of Southington be better prepared as they graduate from our schools, to make educated financial decisions early in their lives, and hope that they stay or return to Southington and continue to invest in our town.
A) As a first time candidate for the board of education, not being involved in any of the decisions that the board passed, it is really difficult to speak with facts. I do realize that there are many areas of study , research that the existing board had to do before passing said budget. I look forward to being part of this in future years .
My goal is to be able to work with the team to cut cost wherever we are able to while all along maintaining the same level of excellence for all of our students in Southington. My hope is to see funds put in place to help expand the programs within in our system that are in need of improvement.
B) Racial and social events. I believe the most important issue that faced our BOE this past year the racial/ social events that took place.
This conversation as a whole is not one that is easy to have on either sides due to its sensitivity . I don’t believe that a community should be judged by the actions of a few; however we have an obligation to learn from these actions and make the needed changes.
I have been part of the Southington public schools coalition for social justice group since the inception the group is working towards aligning with the vision of a graduate in placed by BOE. The goal is to have clear plans on how we can address the social justice and racial equity for our students.
As a woman of color, I look forward to having courageous dialogue about race to deepen our love for humanity and partnership in making our town the best it can be with everyone within working together for the common good.
C) Implement positive changes. If elected, I would like to continue the work of maintaining a sound budget, promoting the excellence that we look for each of our students.. I look forward to having those courageous conversations on race relations that will promote understanding and healing. I look forward to meeting with our PTOs, learning about all the exciting activities and also hearing of the needs and how we can better serve youth and encourage our parents.
In short , I am truly looking forward to working with the diverse group of educators, community leaders and families to implement positive and legacy-forming changes in the Southington school district.
A) During the 2018-19 budget, the board was faced with an unsure financial climate statewide. 2017 was a very particular year where the governor proposed not funding Southington’s educational dollars, and the state legislature not voting on a budget in a reasonable time period. It left the BOE to find savings during the 2017-18 budget to mitigate the effects on taxpayers. This inability to balance the budget on the state level left our district with the uneasy task of placing hard stops on spending, while trying to make calculations of whether funding would be an issue in the following year’s budget.
Through careful evaluation, I worked, with my fellow board members to cut some of the purchasing ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’ Wants included increased technology available to students and upgrades/ replacements to existing/ aging classroom tools. Needs involved placing a hold on a number of teaching and supportive job positions throughout the district. The 2018-19 budget as proposed reflected playing catch up on having had the fiscal insufficiencies suffered in the 2017-18 budget.
Although the 2018-19 and 2019-20 budgets were challenging; every time the initial budget was proposed in both cases, we reflected previous years’ budgets and what improvements we hoped to make to the district. Cuts to each of the budgets ended up being programs, like K-12 world language, that would have allowed Southington to move forward in raising the bar for Southington’s standard of education and excellence. The majority of the increase that was approved reflected increases to pay as set forth by contract obligations, as well as increase in operating costs. Savings were made by continuing to do our best to educate kids in district that may have otherwise been outplaced.
B) Budget. The most important and challenging issue faced by the board was the budget. We were tasked to do much more with less for the 2017-18 budget that led to playing catch up for the next two budgets that I took part in as I addressed in the first question.
C) Collaboration with the community. The most important issue moving forward will be creating collaboration between our school system and the community. We are at a turning point where students need opportunity to succeed. Through the relationships we build amongst Southington Schools, businesses and community members, we can help students to get real world experience and mentorship. This will directly impact them to be ready to enter into the workforce or go on to higher level education.
Colleen W. Clark
A) The biggest issue of the 2017 campaign for me was not the budget itself. What I said was this: it was the uncertainty of the budget funding from the state. As I said back then and have continued to say, the board needs to adequately fund contractual obligations, as well as state and federal mandates, while never quite being sure of the level of funding coming from the state and federal government. Fortunately, the Town of Southington worked with the board of education (after we left positions unfilled and discontinued programs), so that we were able to meet our obligations.
B) Student safety and equity. During the past year, student safety and equity for all students hit home for me when an extremely hostile video that was posted on social media was shared with us. I’m not sure if we all realized the severity of the social inequities felt by some students of Southington High School, but as a board, we were all moved by what students had to say when they came before us at a board meeting and shared their stories. And because of their brave comments, social action groups have been formed both by the board and the town to continue to address the issues. The most important result from those conversations is that the work will continue so that all students feel safe and valued by their teachers and fellow students.
C) Student safety. As long as I have been involved in education, the most important issue is always safety of the students and staff. No matter what else happens, if a student doesn’t feel safe, the educational process is impaired. The Board has continuously worked with local and state officials to ensure safety in our schools. While the public may not know (nor should they know) all the initiatives that are in place, the Board will continue to make the Southington Schools as safe as possible so that students can work on the skills needed to become productive citizens of the 21st century.