The philosophy of seven of the eight New Milford Board of Education electoral candidates emerged recently during a Parent-Teacher Organization forum at Sarah Noble Intermediate School.

All agreed the school board must operate in a bipartisan fashion, with the top priority being what's best for students, but at the same time weighing taxpayer concerns about educational expenses.

All agreed keeping strong teaching talent in the district is critical, and favor technology as a teaching and learning tool.

A couple opposed pay-to-play, and most suggested budget preparation would prove to be their biggest challenge. All promised to give the board the time the job requires.

About 25 people attended the event, which will be aired on Charter Cable Channel 17.

The Republican candidates on hand were newcomer Daniele Florio Shook, 37, a Sherman School math teacher; Thomas Brant, 28, a school psychologist in Newtown; and incumbent vice chairman Daniel Nichols, 37, a salesman.

The Democrats in attendance were newcomer Democrat David Shaffer, 67, a retired New Milford High math department chairman; incumbent David Lawson, 53, a New York state social studies teacher; and former board members Larry Stillman, 73, a retired podiatrist, and Liz Finney, 43, a social worker.

Incumbent Democratic candidate Rod Weinberg, 73, a retired businessman, was absent.

Mr. Shaffer said he is the only candidate who knows this district from the inside.

"I'd like the chance to make a difference,'' he said.

Mr. Shaffer said he is opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach, and will be eyeballing the budget to ensure priorities are on the classroom -- with teachers more essential than desks and curriculum guides.

"Students motivate me,'' said Ms. Shook, who noted she is also a teacher and recognizes the demands and resources needed to get the job done.

Ms. Shook said she is not one to make rash decisions, and believes she is equipped to manage the demands of the community's constituency: students, parents, teachers and taxpayers.

Mr. Brant said he, too, understands what goes on in a school system, and is particularly concerned about teacher retention. He said he wants to be sure all students leave school able to invest and integrate into their own communities and the world beyond.

Dr. Stillman said he feels his prior four-and-a-half years on the board were the best he ever spent and he is eager to get the system the financial resources it needs to ensure students succeed.

He said he has been described as a "kind soul and a voice of reason.''

Mr. Nichols was the only candidate who said the district does not have an excessive number of administrators, and noted beyond student performance, the board needs to remain mindful of allocating necessary dollars to maintain and remain up to date with facilities and equipment.

To Mr. Lawson, the challenge of the board is clear: "To help students reach their potential'' while assuring taxpayers the board is engaged in "smart spending,'' he said.

For Ms. Finney, the school system is integral to community life.

"Children are our future, and we need to prepare them for a global world,'' she said. "We need to look at the big picture and be creative."