FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The Fairfield League of Women Voters asked the five candidates for the Board of Education to answer questions put forward to them by the public in its annual debate Monday night.
On the panel were Democrats Donna Karnal, Mark Patton and Kenneth Lee and Republicans Eileen Liu-McCormack and John Llewellyn. Each had less than two minutes to answer each questions, which ranged from how would you trim the budget without cutting instructional programs to how would you increase communications between the schools and the public.
The overall consensus on the budget was that educational programs should not be cut. But as Patten said, more than 80 percent of the budget is made up of the salary and benefits for the teachers and other staff. That amount cannot be cut, because of union contracts.
“I think there are places where we can find better cuts,” Liu-McCormack said. “Lets touch the student programs last.”
When it came to questions of communication between the public and the board, the candidates agreed there needed to be a better line of communication and flow of information. But how that could be done differed among the candidates.
“There is not enough communication,” Karnel said, when asked about listening to what the public has to say regarding board decisions.
Liu-McCormack said there were concerns that the board might not like what the public has to say. “Well isn’t that our job?” she said -- to listen to what they don’t like and learn what is needed.
Republican candidate Llewellyn said the board needed to find a way to hear from students and possibly integrate them into board meetings.
Another question regarding communication dealt with how little data was available to the public regarding the performance of the schools.
For Lee, it wasn’t a question of being able to get the information -- he said he’d always been able to get it. But he wondered, how with a school population of 10,300 students, it could be done without adding to the budget.
“It’s a great idea,” Lee said, adding that the board has to talk about costs.
The new teacher evaluation system starting this spring will be able to provide some of that, Patten said, pointing out that part of the evaluations include student performance.
When asked about the school system's greatest asset, nearly everyone said the teachers while some of the others said the students.
However, everyone said the greatest liability was the rising costs of education and better managing the budget with greater efficiency.