A couple of days ago I moderated a forum with 3 of Westport’s 4 Board of Education candidates.
It was a “forum” — not a debate — because the 3 are running for 4 seats. All — plus the 1 candidate who could not attend — will be elected. I guess there’s not much competition for the job of overseeing a $95 million budget, 1,000 staff members and 8 buildings — all for a salary of $0.
Though the outcome is already decided, the forum — sponsored by the PTA Council — drew a respectable crowd. They asked excellent questions. And the candidates responded thoughtfully, respectfully, realistically and collaboratively.
No, I’m not kidding.
Because there are no contested seats, it doesn’t really matter which candidate said what. (Besides, I forgot to take notes.) But here is the gist of where our Board of Ed candidates stand:
- Budget priorities. Class size; programs, and how those programs are delivered; maintenance.
- The physical condition of older schools. In the current economy, new school construction is unlikely. But the Board’s commitment to equality among all schools is strong. The Board realizes our schools are long-term assets, and is exploring needs over a long period of time.
- The recent alcohol-infused Homecoming at Staples. This is a community-wide issue, extending far beyond the Board of Education. At the same time, Westporters should support the efforts of Staples administrators as they address drug and alcohol issues at and around school functions.
School start times. Everything is on the table in the search to find cost savings.
Major challenges over the next 4 years. Crafting curricula that teach life and career skills; maintaining our buildings, and structuring them for the future; incorporating green technology; managing enrollment; ensuring continued effective leadership.
- Handling stress levels in the upper grades. Westport offers a wide range of courses, for a wide variety of needs; it’s important to communicate options well. It’s crucial to continue to offer opportunities and outlets beyond the classroom, and to try to relieve stress surrounding the college application process.
- Admininstrators’ salaries. Westport’s 3 top administrators did not receive salary increases last year. We expect excellence in the system, and have to pay well for leadership of it. There is a strong evaluation process in place.
- Finding economic efficiencies by combining school and town functions. Many combinations have already taken place. We must identify “best practices” wherever we can. It’s not easy for anyone to give up power — but it’s imperative in certain areas to do so.