Board of Education hopefuls oppose pay-to-play sports
Only a New Milford First candidate rejected outright the idea of all-day kindergarten. Most said the system has too few teachers for certain classes and grades, and too few administrators at the intermediate school.
All agreed that providing students with the best educational opportunities and giving teachers adequate compensation are top priorities, but they differed on how those should be prioritized and achieved.
Each suggested a willingness to listen and compromise with fellow board members to find solutions.
At the forum at Sarah Noble Intermediate School, the candidates answered a range of questions about how they would approach issues and what they bring to the board. On Nov. 6, town residents will select five candidates, three for four-year seats and two for two-year seats.
The eight candidates are New Milford First candidate Alexandra Thomas, a former 12-year Board of Education member and chairman; Republican incumbent Joseph Failla, a lawyer who was appointed last year; former Republican mayor and town official Walter Rogg; and Republican two-year candidate Shelley Pitser, an accountant and founder of the New Milford Taxypayer's Association.
The four Democrats are incumbents David Lawson, a New York history teacher; Dr. Lisa Diamond, director of psychiatry at New Milford Hospital; and for the two-year seat, appointed member Elizabeth Finney, a clinical social worker, and political newcomer Amy Olander Llerena, a New Milford Hospital intensive care unit nurse.
In fiscal matters, the most conservative candidates are Pitser and Rogg, who urged using business models to determine how to mesh enrollment and staffing.
Pitser cited the use of technology as a crucial ingredient in improving student learning and preparation for the business world, and also as a means of reducing instructional cost.
He emphasized the need to raise the bar academically. "Expectations set are expectations met," he said.
The incumbents -- Lawson, Diamond, Failla and Finney -- all talked about the need to pursue goals in the recently approved five-year strategic plan, a community-created document that zeroes in on everything from building character to technology in schools to communication.
Other candidates were amenable to that. "It's an impressive document and I hope it will have some life to it," Thomas said.
In balancing affordability against quality results, Pitser said she believes the two are not mutually exclusive. But she thinks school costs have been escalating too quickly.
Finney said she thinks New Milford's school system is "one of the best" and believes it is critical to work with teachers to develop creative curriculums.
Rogg said he wants to see the district work on bringing up the average of students that fall in the middle range. He emphasized encouraging parent involvement.
Lawson said the district has much of which to be proud but the board's challenge is to work as a team to encourage further innovations. He said he favors "thinking inside the box" with such programs as all-day kindergarten and new curriculums that bolster learning foundations.
On the issue of teacher compensation and retention, Failla said he thinks salaries are not always competitive with other towns and he is concerned about losing teachers. Much of the district's costs are fixed, but he said whenever the board is seeking reductions it needs to look at non-instructional costs.
Diamond said the annual budget is always a "juggling act." The district needs strong teachers to provide quality instruction, but that it comes at a price.
Llerena said she believes the school system is the "heart of the community." A 1988 New Milford High graduate and mother of three, Llerena believes the truth of the cliche "Our children are our future'' and will listen, debate and give all she can on the board to ensure they succeed, she said.
The candidate forum will be broadcast Wednesday at 9 a.m. and 1, 5 and 9 p.m. on Channel 17.