The majority of the candidates for the Board of Education -- at a League of Women Voters-sponsored debate Tuesday -- agreed that finding a new superintendent is the top issue facing the board.

However, Perry Liu, a Democrat looking to fill a four-year term seat, cited the budget and the need for proactive planning. Paul Fattibene, a Republican seeking a two-year spot who is currently serving on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), said the top issue is middle school space.

Tim Kery, a Republican seeking a four-year spot, said a superintendent must be a leader that will drive educational excellence and inspire students and teachers toward that goal. He added that the new superintendent needs to be a CEO and skilled communicator.

While everyone didn't agree on the top issue facing the Board of Education, all the candidates at Monday's debate -- Democratic four-year candidate Leonora Campbell was absent due to a migraine -- agreed that an operational audit of the Board of Education would be helpful in eliminating programs that may no longer be needed. The candidates were also asked, "In a world where our students will compete in a global economy, do you support a longer school year?"

Kery noted that instructional hours at the high school level in Fairfield total approximately 930 hours a year, versus the state average of 1,000. He said Fairfield's students need to remain competitive and there should be an evaluation regarding a longer school year.

"But part of that evaluation will have to be what the cost of that will be and if the benefit of that cost will be worthwhile," said Kery.

Liu said there are a lot of special programs that are offered that don't factor into the instructional hours total and "sometimes get in the way of just basic reading, writing and arithmetic." He said the multitude of programs currently offered needs to be evaluated.

Democrat Jennifer Maxon Kennelly, seeking a four-year term on the board, was in agreement with Liu.

"What happens in our high school hours?" she asked. She said instructional hours can be extended without modifying the school calendar.

"I think it's possible that maybe with another look at how the scheduling is done [we can add instructional time]," she suggested.

She explained that at the high school level right now, there is a rotating schedule -- which is what has prompted the idea that they'll need to hire additional teachers.

"I believe that with another look at that we can definitely increase our 42-minute periods. We can literally, with the same start and end times, add educational hours for our high school students," she said.

Republican Pam Iacono, the only current member of the Board of Education vying for a seat this November (four-year), said she is in favor of increased instructional time.

"How we get there though I think is worthy of a board discussion," she said, adding that Fairfield's high schoolers are 70 hours short of the state average in instructional time, yet many of the students don't have time to eat lunch.

If Iacono is the elder statesman of the group, Democrat Joshua Albin, seeking a two-year term, represents the other end of the spectrum. He just graduated college and admitted he has been unable to find a job in this economy. As with the others, this was his second debate. The first took place two weeks ago.

Albin stressed that he knows the school system far better than anyone else running for a seat of the education board, as he was in the school system a few short years ago.

The 22-year-old also claimed he's been following the work of the Board of Education closely for 10 years. His mother, Catherine Albin, is the chairman of the Board of Education. Josh Albin also noted he interned at the State Capitol and served on the Land Acquisition Commission.

"I believe we need to be more responsible and more transparent than [the Board of Education has] in the past," he said. He suggested the board establish a Web site so the general public can see "where the money is being spent."

Albin highlighted his youth -- his familiarity with the school system. Kennelly highlighted her 19 years as an educator. She currently teaches American literature at Greenwich High School.

"I love education. It's what I do. I work with children every day," said Kennelly. "I believe there are flaws in how our current Board of Education functioned." She, like Albin, plans to bring transparency and communication with the public.

Kery highlighted his business background and said the 2 minutes he's allowed to speak at Board of Education meetings wasn't enough.

"So I felt if I got on the other side of the table I might be able to do a little more," he said.

Fattibene noted his 12 years of experience on the Representative Town Meeting, during which time he served on the Education Recreation Committee and also reviewed and approved 11 school budgets. He said seeking election for the Board of Education is a "natural progression" from what he has been doing.

He said he really believes in education, it got him where he is today -- an attorney -- and he's paying for his girls' college educations.

Liu said he first became involved in the school system when his first child started kindergarten. Having heard that some children in this district are being taught in storage rooms, underneath stairwells and hallways, it shocked him and inspired him to run to try to make a difference and bring forth change.

"I think we can do better," Liu said, adding, "I am a first-generation American. My parents came here without any money. They taught me the value of a dollar. They taught me the value of a good education."

Iacono said it's been an honor to serve the community as a Board of Education member and she wants to do it again. A mother of three young boys, she has a degree in labor and industrial relations, has work experience in employee relations and recruiting and was a human resources manager for a Fortune 500 company. She said she also believes in an open and transparent government.

For information on Campbell, who was unable to make the second debate, log onto http://leonoracampbell.org/