At League of Women Voters forum, Board of Education candidates grapple with state budget uncertainty
FAIRFIELD — The eight Board of Education candidates met at a League of Women Voters forum Wednesday and money was on the collective brain.
Questions about the still-uncertain state budget and how candidates would mitigate the potential losses in local aid that districts like Fairfield may face were dominant.
“I think we are going to be handed a difficult budget this year,” Republican Sally Connolly began the debate.
Connolly was joined at the Fairfield Public Schools office by fellow Republican candidates Nicholas Aysseh, who is an incumbent, and Jeff Peterson, and Democratic candidates Jennifer Leeper, incumbent Marc Patten, Jennifer Jacobsen, John Convertito and Christine Vitale. The eight candidates are competing for five spots.
When asked about possible money-saving measures like school consolidation, cuts to school programs and looking more broadly at structural changes within the district, the candidates mostly fell in line.
“I’d just like to make note that high school consolidation was not brought up as a cost effective measure, it was brought up as an area to explore,” Aysseh began. “I do not believe that it would be a cost-effective answer. I haven’t seen the number though.”
Candidates were also adamant that any cuts caused by a presumed lack of state funding in the future should not touch school programs enjoyed by students, whenever possible.
“You can’t ensure that you won’t touch programs... I’m going to tell you that we will do everything outside of the box to make sure we don’t touch programming first. For too long we have done what I call an incremental approach to cuts,” Convertito said. “We need to start looking at a holistic approach to our programming and our asset utilization.”
Leeper suggested that, if funding to the town were cut by the state, the board should look at things like consolidating and lengthening bus routes to save money.
The issue of the town’s racial imbalance issue drew more varied responses. Convertito called for a holistic approach to bring about quick change, as opposed to the incremental appraoch the town has taken that he said he ultimately cost more money. Patten said he was in favor of “pocket-redistricting” to help solve the problem.
But in dealing with a belt tightened by the state, nearly all candidates called for collaboration between volunteers across boards.
“Like so many of us have already said, it begins with us electing people to the board and having a collaborative and working relationship with everyone and with our administration,” Jacobsen said. “Number two is working with other town bodies along the way, communicating, being transparent with each other and really having deep conversations with each other about the process going forward.”