Meet the Board of Education candidates up for a two-year-term

 

We asked the Board of Education candidates the following questions: 1) How has the Board of Education improved and/or not improved under the current administration? 2) What steps would you take to improve the Board of Education budget, given the deficits of former school years? Here are their answers from the Board of Education candidates up for a two-year term.

 

Thomas O’Brien

(Democrat, incumbent)

  • After regressing under Republican control of the Board of Education and Mayor’s office. Bristol has regained its status as the best urban school district in the state. The recruitment and appointment of Dr. Catherine Carbone as Superintendent is the cornerstone to our commitment to building a system that meets the needs of all students and provides them with the opportunity to succeed.

2) The term deficit is misleading in that it implies that the BOE has spent more than was approved by the Bristol Board of Finance. The BOE has consistently made the city aware of the large increase in the number of students identified as needing specialized support services. These Special Education costs are a federal mandate. The BOE has annually submitted budget proposals that reflect the additional funds required to provide students with the help they need to succeed. The BOF has reduced our request each year in the hope that the costs would level off or that the BOE could offset the increase by reducing expenses in other areas. The net the uninformed call overspending is in fact intentional underfunding was approved by the City at the end of each fiscal year. Thus, there is no deficit

 

Chris Wilson

(Democrat, incumbent)

1) The board has focused on policy and community engagement. The Board fully recognizes our role is to develop policy, supervise and evaluate the Superintendent and advocate for the Bristol Public Schools. We are excited to have Dr. Carbone and her leadership team working with the Board. My focus continues to be what is in the best interest of students and families. Each and every policy decision is always based upon how it impacts students and families. The Superintendent, her administrative team and the schools have created a master document called “The Vision of the Graduate”. This document outlines the knowledge, skills, social and emotional relationships and interpersonal relations necessary for success. This document will drive what the board focuses on in the future and I fully support this work.

 

2) Building the Board of Education budget is a very difficult task. The budget process begins 18 months before it is put into place.  Many assumptions have to be made about the programs and number of students in each school.  Additionally, some students require specialized services.  These students may come from other districts and move into Bristol with these programs already determined. Many students receive services outside the district.  Bristol Public Schools is responsible for these costs.  Much work has been done to provide all policy makers the information they require to make informed decisions.  I believe a great deal of trust and confidence has been developed by this administration between the Mayor, Board of Finance and City Council.  All policy makers have a greater understanding of the challenges of the Board of Education Budget and some of the extraordinary needs of our students. I will work to continue to maintain this beneficial working relationship between these bodies The Superintendent and her team have been excellent in helping provide the information needed by the community in order to build a budget that reflects the need of our school  community and provide a 21 first century learning experience.

 

 

Karent Hintz

(Democrat, incumbent)

1) The hiring of Dr. Kate Carbone as Superintendent is the culmination of a two plus year effort to improve leadership of Bristol Public Schools. In 2017, Dr. Carbone returned to Bristol from Hartford to join the leadership team as Assistant Superintendent. Many of you may remember her from her time as Principal of Chippens Hill Middle School, which won a National Blue Ribbon School award during her tenure. Upon Dr. Moreau’s retirement, Dr. Carbone was promoted to Superintendent with unanimous support of the Board of Education. Dr. Carbone has incredibly high standards for herself, her staff and our students. She listens to feedback but is not afraid to make difficult decisions. She has worked with the elected commissioners to improve our communication, cohesion and effectiveness as a Board. Recently, the State Department of Education recognized Bristol Public Schools for our innovative approach to promoting college and career readiness for our students. Our graduation rate is up, our students continue to show growth on standardized tests, and we’ve expanded opportunities for career training in manufacturing. Cooperation between the Board and City Hall has allowed reorganization and merging of resources. Every district has challenges, but Bristol is meeting them head on and our students are succeeding.

 

2) In the past we have seen two separate areas of concern:  the cafeteria and special services. To resolve the cafeteria issue, we partnered with staff during negotiations to reduce expenses and continue to take advantage of additional Federal funding from the Community Eligibility Provision. We have been able to preserve local jobs while dramatically reducing the deficit or even showing a small surplus. Cost overruns on the education budget are driven by rising and often unpredictable costs for special education. The Federal government has failed to properly fund special education since its initial mandate in 1974. The State government hasn’t increased its pool of funding in years, and competition for those funds keeps growing. Last year, the state rescinded $500,000 of funding unexpectedly. The burden then falls to local municipalities, with varying results. Bristol’s per pupil spending is almost $2300 less than the state average, but our percentage of students identified as having special needs is well above the state average. We have partnered with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education to lobby the state to fund education in a more equitable manner. Until structural changes are made to the funding model, we are forced to continue to rely on the City to meet the expense of educating all students. Our staff has done a great job of seeking grants for everything from classroom equipment to new seats in the BCHS auditorium and Dr. Carbone is working to garner larger grants to fund programming. We have had budget freezes for the last several years. Class sizes are starting to creep up. BOE budgets are based on actual expenditures and we need to continue to advocate for full funding from all sources.

 

Allison C. Wadowski

(Republican, challenger)

As a newcomer, I have not yet worked with administration and am unfamiliar with previous budget discussions. While I can’t speak to the past, I see my candidacy as an opportunity to offer a fresh viewpoint. Kids have always been my passion and we all know that no two are alike. We live in a community and a time where students ought to be offered options so we need to be creative with securing funding from our partnerships whileworking towards a balanced budget. We need to remain transparent and accountable and provide more communication with our student’s parents. I believe the recency of just graduating my youngest son from Bristol

Schools will provide the knowledge, experience and desire to put each child first in Board decisions.

Michael LaFleur

(Republican, challenger)

1) I do not believe the Board of Education improved under the current administration. The Board continues to overspend budgetary limits, as it has for the last 4 years. In addition, there is little oversight to required documentation that resulted in a $90 thousand error and a Federal penalty of $106 thousand. The Board of Education leadership has been the same for the last 2 Mayors and the result has been the same- annual cost overruns and mismanagement. It is time for a change so that all budgeted education dollars reach the students of Bristol.

 

2) A. Work closely with the Superintendent to insure that budget lines are adequately funded

  1. Review administrative line items for waste
  2. Review all contracts to insure that we are receiving the best value for the money spent.
  3. Involve the teachers in addressing budgetary needs, prioritizing efforts according to their input.

 

 

Eric Carlson

(Republican, challenger)

I served two terms on the City Council, and hope to use that experience to improve our school system. My first term was under Mayor Art Ward, and I served on a committee to find ways to improve efficiency in the city. One suggestion that took more than a few years to enact was combining payroll and making it automated. Government agencies tend to fight change, just because change is different. Not difficult or complicated, just different. We need to create efficiency by combining school maintenance with other departments. Parks or Public works can certainly do outside maintenance at schools. We need to look into that as a way if using employees in a more efficient manner. There has to be a concerted effort to put taxpayer money to best use, and not waste it through strict lines of demarcation. Grass is grass whether in a park or school yard. I would also like to see more time for lunch breaks. My six year old granddaughter has a twenty minute lunch break.  Barely enough time to eat, and no time to get a break outside and burn off some of her boundless energy. It seems as though school children are treated like employees in a production line at a factory rather than hopeful young people wanting to learn and explore.