We asked the Board of Education candidates running for four-year terms 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 (Candidates are grouped in the order they will appear on the ballot):
Morris Rippy Patton
1) At this time four years ago the main area of public focus for the Board of Education wasn’t the students, instead the discussion centered around whether or not to privatize cafeteria services and potentially costing 53 local women their jobs. In the time since we’ve seen the current Board of Education stay committed to the substantive issues that impact the daily lives of our students and education staff. We saw the BOE hold two standing room only community conversations centered on respecting diversity and creating equity in our schools. In 2018 a 6-1 vote expanded the CEP program to seven local schools. This saw federal money being steered back to Bristol to support our most important resource, our children. Recognizing that a hungry child will lack the focus and energy needed to learn, this BOE chose to accept the “All means All” philosophy.
2) The challenge of the BOE budget is not much different than what we all experience managing a household. If you have a specific number of dollars allocated to specific expenses, how do you prepare for the unexpected? The cost of Special Education continues to rise and the response of the board has been to identify and eliminate non-essential spending to continue to close the gap. Improving the budget means increasing the budget, and I don’t know that is something we can count on from year to year. What we can do is make sure that we are getting maximum return for every dollar that we spend.
Shelby Rafaniello Pons
1) As a lifelong Bristol resident, a parent of three children in the Bristol Public Schools and an employee of the Connecticut State Department of Education I am happy to say I have experienced significant and measurable improvement under the current administration. The current Mayor, City Councilors and Board of Education have worked together to improve and increase Bristol’s educational opportunities for all students. An excellent example of this is Bristol’s recent statewide recognition for its efforts in promoting college and career readiness, especially among students from low income families. Bristol was also recognized for their Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, supporting students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Bristol’s outcome data shows an increase from 55.7% in 2014-15 to 68% in 2017-18 of students in 11th and 12th grade taking rigorous courses. This is a direct result of the current administration’s belief that the number one factor contributing to the increase in participation and success in advanced coursework is the teacher’s belief that the student can do it. Teachers in Bristol have been empowered to broaden the criteria they use to identify students for these courses. Bristol Schools are better because we believe in our students.
2) The Bristol Public School district is data driven. With limited resources it will be important to continue to look at innovative approaches, ideas and strategies that produce the best outcomes.
It is also crucial to engage families as partners in their children’s education. There is no greater resource for a school district then when schools, families and communities work together to support the whole child, their social and emotional development and academic success.
- Over the past two years the relationship between the City and the Board of Education has improved in many ways. We now have a mayor and City councilors who not only understand the importance of public education, they support our efforts. We are working together to improve the school district while managing costs. One great example: The Public Works Department has been involved with many of our schools, building and maintaining gardens, with the help of the students. This relationship continues to grow and the students are benefiting.
2) The past deficits are a direct result of being consistently under-resourced for many years. We are now working with a City government willing to fairly combine resources, for example, IT. I expect more agreements like this in the future as Bristol continues to improve. We need to do more lobbying in Hartford regarding the cost of special education. While it is an extremely important service, it is woefully underfunded by the State, while the need continues to grow.
It is important that we continue to negotiate with our bargaining units fairly, keeping costs low while attracting high-quality talent. Bristol students deserve the best, without over-burdening Bristol taxpayers.
1) In the last four years the Board of Education has had 4.5 million dollars in overspending and has not added significant new programming for our students. BOE leadership has committed to open the Arts Magnet School without the financial resources or a plan to fund it. I and others have asked for accountability on how we are going to fund the new school while keeping all of our other schools open. The “Do Nothing” Capitol Improvement plan is still in place. This will increase operating costs by millions of dollars that the district doesn’t have. Communication is absent with the current Board of Education leadership and partisan efforts have created division.
2) I would increase transparency, particularly in the area of finances. Trust is imperative for the Board of Education to move in a positive direction, and it has been eroded over the last four years. In 2017 a vote was put forth on our budget without deliberation. I was asked to vote on the initial night of viewing said budget. This rushed process led to a two million dollar over expenditure that was identified by a colleague but ignored. Elimination of the finance subcommittee and rolling the information presented to the full nine person board at the general Board meetings would allow for increased communication and transparency.
John W. Skelenka