Amity board candidates discuss the issues
With the election for the Bethany ABOE position vacated by Lorri Cavaliere on Feb. 5 the Bulletin interviewed the two candidates running to replace her, Democrat Sheila Wade and Republican Malcolm Brinton, to find out what each will do if elected to the board.
To help assure that the interviews would target concerns pertinent to the community and the consumers of the District educational system, students in Amity Senior High School's Critical Issues classes were asked to contribute questions. All but two of the questions below were submitted by the students.
What experience or knowledge do you bring to the position?
Brinton - Working with youth. I have coached sports since college, children of all ages. I have a health education degree and when my daughters were there, I was president of the Woodbridge Child Center.
I also have done program writing in health science when I worked at the UCONN Health Center and at the Dept. of Mental Retardation where I started as a direct care worker but later was put in charge of monitoring staff compliance with Medicare/Medicaid. I have also worked as a program supervisor in the training of clients.
Wade - I'm passionate about education—I have a Master's Degree in Education and I'm a teacher in New Haven. It makes me sensitive to educational issues.
I first served on the Bethany Board of Education in 1983 and was on the board for six years. While serving, I was also on the ACES Board.
I worked with superintendents who had a lot of integrity. As a board member, I worked on budgets, salary negotiations, and the ACES building committee.
Having served as a three-term selectman, I am also sensitive to what people in town want or are able to do.
What do you hope to achieve or accomplish by your election to the ABOE?
Wade - We need to bring back a focus on education. Amity's educational standards were the hallmark of the district system with rigorous programs and attracting the best faculty.
I'd like to work with the parents and board members so the students will have the benefit of this excellence.
Brinton - Immediate health and safety issues need to be addressed. The overpriced, untimely proposals are ineffective.
I am also interested in looking at the policies and procedures, having had the compliance monitoring background
What do see as the number one issue in Amity, how would you deal with it?
Brinton - Meeting the needs of the children and teachers, and the people who work there. It is unacceptable to delay (the repairs) them in any way based on disagreement on the amount of funding. It's up to the Board to have options to address the roof, the boilers, the water, the mold. The community has identified a problem and things have been evaluated and re-evaluated.
I would have a solid list of bullets with a time frame to do them. You wouldn't drive a car with bad brakes because you knew you were getting a new one in 12 months. This would be unacceptable and so is an inability (of the ABOE) to agree on what to spend - repackage it!
It would be my responsibility to represent the people of Bethany and tell them (the ABOE) it is unacceptable and we expect a plan - proposal with a chance of approval - and not a big bond. I agree with the former Orange finance member Kevin Houlihan, that there is no reason to wait for a referendum to vote on these issues. If the roof is leaking, fix it.
Wade - Until we can get the buildings safe and healthy we can't move beyond that to other issues such as educational issues. I think we have to be careful. The Board has to fix neglected buildings. To get beyond this, the board has to work with and listen to the public. Some difficult decisions need to be made. Board members need to be straightforward and honest.
Bethany is only allowed two representatives. One is Bill Blake. If he feels one way for the people of Bethany and the majority of the board disagrees, how will you convince the board to go along with Bethany's needs?
Wade - I feel everyone on that board is looking for the best educational program at the most fiscally conservative expenditure. I don't think Bethany parents are any different from the other parents. I will work with Bill Blake to make sure that we address the issues of the leaking roof, boilers, water quality and mold. I have worked on community boards including the selectmen, and in large and small groups. My training in organizational behavior has really well placed me to be in that situation.
Brinton - There is strength in numbers. The Amity District should be a non-partisan issue. I'll talk with Bill and work on the same page with him.
What will you do to win back public confidence and trust in the Amity Board?
Brinton - The good news is they are working on a plan. The people are voicing their concerns, saying do something, and the board is starting to hear them. I'd be available to Bethany residents and keep them posted.
The fact that the children are able to excel in sports, and studies, in the midst of this - they're the stars. However, Amity is not perceived of as highly as it used to be.
If the Board is not focused on excellence in education, it is not doing its job.
Wade - For the 25 years I've been involved in community service, I've been in awe of how articulate, concerned, and involved people here are. If they are told the truth they will respond.
What plan would you propose to deal with the overcrowding?
Wade - I've looked into the demographics for the Bethany Community School and spoken to the building committee here. I'm also familiar with the recent demographic study in Woodbridge. The Facilities Committee and ABOE have to look seriously at them and plan appropriately. I'm a little concerned about a potential high school of 1,600 students.
Brinton - We need to look at moving people around, bringing the 9th grade to the high school. We should examine the space issue at the same time.
Do you still think that bringing the 9th grade to the high school is feasible?
Brinton - It's feasible and brings the district in line with the reset of the state. We need to look at the property and make sure it can support it.
Wade - Those who know me well have heard me speak to this issue. I'm concerned that 14 year-olds will be feeling incredibly anonymous and overwhelmed in a building of 1,600 people. I know there are different configurations on how to do this and they need to be studied.
What is your plan for the roof in Bethany?
Wade - If it has to be fixed, it should be fixed now. When I was first on the Bethany Board of Education, I was surprised at the amount of resources and energy used to maintain the physical plants. You can't let those things go.
Brinton - The problem is that the roof is flat. That is not a revelation. I would adapt the pitch to the roof. The argument that the building may not support the roof repair is not acceptable. There are ongoing health and safety issues and that is unacceptable
How would you assure that the jobs get done right so money is not wasted again?
Brinton - I would recommend a quality assurance system be set up and run by someone not involved in the actual project. It's not brain surgery. You make sure the correct procedures are followed for winning bids and that qualified people get them.
Wade - One of a board member's most important responsibilities is to hire staff and work with the administration. The Board has to be very careful when making these decisions to hire administrators we trust and believe in, as well as to expect reports.
What method/plan would you use (public relations/strategy) to get ANY referendum passed?
Wade - Your paper Bridget! Seriously though, these issues take a lot of manpower. We need to get people passionate about these issues and they need to go door-to-door to their neighbors armed with honest and straightforward information.
Brinton - Identify the critical issues that need to be addressed and go to bonding and get it done. I'm not sure health and safety issues should go to referendum. First things first.
How would you encourage the community to spend the dollars necessary to maintain excellence in education in Amity?
Brinton - How can you convince anyone if you can't get the buildings repaired.
Our kids are carrying excellence for us. Our job is to provide the optimum environment for them to excel.
Wade - It is to everyone's benefit to have excellence in education. People without children are concerned about their property values. Our society is measured by its commitment to education. But we need to be armed with the right information. The public needs to know the costs.
What about the homebound kids and staff whose health suffers in our buildings - should there be a location for them to be in an educational environment instead of sitting at home waiting for teachers?
Wade - I'm absolutely appalled that we have an environment that makes people sick. It's one of my motivations to run. It was an issue when I ran before.
We need to accommodate these children, but we need to fix the buildings so they are healthy and the children can return to school with their peers.
Brinton - This is a result of the health and safety issues. We need to make the environment safe so we can bring them back to the main environment. If we caused the situation where they can't be in the school, it's our responsibility to provide education for them.
What would you do with regard to improving curriculum?
Brinton - I would make sure there is enough space and a lot of teachers. The facilities are taking the forefront now and overshadowing other issues.
Wade - This also motivated me to run. I've had three children who benefited from the Amity system. We need to have an environment where we can attract scholars to teach these students.
With all of these problems, why would you want this job?
Brinton - I've been involved in school systems in one way or another for many years. I know a lot of students and parents. I've always taken on hard tasks - I have been a volunteer without pay. I do it from my heart. I have three children of my own.
I'm not afraid of a challenge - I have thick skin. I'll do my best to gain the respect of Bethany residents and fulfill the needs of the children and staff of the region. I'll represent Bethany, but the town is part of the region and there is a perception of Bethany.
Wade - Sitting here having this interview clarified the reasons! I want to help bring the Amity system back to honesty, integrity, academic excellence and a commitment to a healthy environment with maintained buildings.
The Bulletin wishes to thank Social Studies teachers Chris Borelli and Sue Duffy and all of the students in Periods six and seven Critical Issues classes for their contributions to this article.
Bridget Albert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 876-6800.