With November now only two months away, the Town of Cheshire is decorated with candidate signs dotting the front lawns of businesses and private residences.
Many are promoting those searching for seats on the Board of Education.
This year, four seats are up for grabs on the Board, and at least three will be filled by newcomers. The candidates running represent a wide variety of Cheshire residents, each of whom have stated that their passion is for children and their education.
On the Democratic side, the candidates are Anne Harrigan, Jami Ferguson, Chris Affie, and Sam Rosenberg. On the Republican side, Tim White, Andrew Martelli, Faith Ham, and Gary Riccini are running.
As the only current incumbent seeking re-election, Democrat Anne Harrigan remarked on the changeover that is coming to the Board this year.
“We’re losing a lot of experience,” said Harrigan. “We have many good candidates, but experience matters. To lose that is unfortunate”
Harrigan has been on the BOE for the past four years, and hopes to continue influencing the Town of Cheshire positively through her work.
Harrigan’s ideas for moving the BOE forward include range from supporting the new joint committee with the Town Council to promoting the possible creation of a sixth-through eighth-grade middle school that, if constructed, could possibly allow the town to close some of the Districts’ older buildings, such as Darcey School and Humiston.
Harrigan also would like to see some changes in the District’s curriculum and hours of operation, which she thinks will greatly benefit students of all ages.
“We would be remiss if we didn't discuss later school start times,” mentioned Harrigan. “We have a nation of sleep-deprived kids. I would consider starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later for the high school. I’m also incredibly interested in getting world languages into the elementary schools.”
Harrigan is not the only candidate to support the possible consolidation of schools, as Republican candidate Martelli also agrees that four elementary schools may be too many for taxpayers.
“We need to balance the needs of the town,” said Martelli. “We need to have an honest discussion about what people are willing to spend. Do we really need four elementary schools?”
Martelli is a new face for the Republican party who hopes his background in urban and community studies will help his campaign. As a single parent of a child in the District, Martelli is aware of the issues Cheshire has with infrastructure, and believes he can help find a solution.
“We need to look at the Facility Master Plan holistically,” mentioned Martelli, referencing the sweeping BOE proposal to renovate and/or construct new school buildings in town. “We then need to manage the construction and staff in a fiscally conservative manner.”
While most Republicans echo Martelli’s call for fiscal prudence, fellow candidate White disagrees with the idea of building any new school buildings. “Improvements should be made,” suggested White. “We can’t afford new schools, but I am open to upgrades … I don’t want to spend a lot of money for a big question mark.”
After leaving the Town Council in 2010 to focus on his family, White is now a father of two and believes that he can adequately address the needs of both parents and students when it comes to issues involving school climate.
“I was incensed at the March meeting on school climate,” recalled White. “I sat there in tears listening to what these children were going through ... I think we need to have the right team of teachers in place to deal with these issues, and the Board needs to have a better handle on who they’re hiring.”
White is also very passionate about the environment, and believes the town should investigate possibly transitioning non-bus school vehicles from gas to electric.
“The technology isn’t there yet for making electric school busses affordable,” he mentioned. “But I would like to look at the replacement schedules for some of these non-bus vehicles and see if we can make them electric.”
While White may be interested in transitioning away from gas-fueled vehicles, Democrat Jami Ferguson has her own ideas to add to the conversation.
“I believe we need a school/parent advocate,” suggested Ferguson. “We need someone who can talk to the parents and explain to them the bureaucracy of the District and how to navigate it if they need help.”
Ferguson believes that the Board has a communication problem, and her idea for a parent advocate would, in her opinion, help alleviate it. Ferguson, who moved to Cheshire 10 years ago from the Midwest, also believes a parent advocate would help with issues regarding school climate.
“Someone needs to inform the parents and show them what to do if a bullying issue comes up.”
Democratic candidate Chris Affie agrees with Ferguson. “Most parents don’t know where to go when it comes to dealing with a school climate issue,” said Affie. “They cannot do it individually. It’s too big of an issue.”
Affie, who has a big presence on the Cheshire Community Forum Facebook page, as well as the Cheshire Buy Nothing group where residents can give away various items for free, is a math teacher by trade, but he assures voters that his profession would not adversely affect his ability to rule on issues facing the School District.
“Being on the Board isn’t against teachers,” claims Affie. “I can always recuse myself if necessary.”
One candidate who does have an issue with teachers being elected to the Board of Education is Republican candidate Riccini. Riccini believes that most residents are unhappy with the Board for three main reason: “lack of accountability, communication, and transparency.” He plans to combat those issues by “creating a more informed group of people” with his 5-minute Facebook videos. Riccini, a truffle mushroom salesman, believes that the Board should take a “sales” approach to Cheshire residents.”
“We’re not selling ourselves to the people of Cheshire well,” mentioned Riccini. “Overall, we need much better outreach to the community so we can increase the parent turnout at Board meetings.”
Someone who shares Riccini’s “business model” approach to the Board of Education is Democratic candidate Rosenberg. Rosenberg, a teacher and parent, believes the Board needs to function like a business if they are going to get anything done regarding infrastructure and school climate.
“There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what the Board does,” claimed Rosenberg. “I think we need to go back to the drawing board and create a model and system that is proactive rather than reactive.”
Rosenberg is the youngest candidate currently running for the Board of Education and believes it can set her apart from the rest of the Democratic ticket. “I have the voice of the younger generation,” she stated. “I think our town is ready for a change and I am ready to move that train along.”
Republican candidate Ham doesn’t share her fellow candidates’ belief about creating a business-like environment for Board, but she does see the current system as something that needs to be addressed.
“The current system we have is very cumbersome and complicated if you need to report something like bullying,” stated Ham. “So much can be done by just picking up the phone.”
Ham would also like to see the Board move the public comments part of every Board meeting to the beginning.
“We should show that we care about the public first and foremost,” she expressed. Ham, who proudly wears the fact that she is the oldest candidate running for the Board, would also like to see a concerted effort on the part of the Board to generate programs that can set students up with vocational skills instead of “forcing every kid to go to college.”
For more information on the candidates running for Board of Education, contact them directly via their respective Facebook pages.