Candidates talk school issues

Six of Trumbull’s seven candidates for Board of Education met last Friday in a public forum to discuss overcrowding, Common Core, pay-to-participate fees, safety, and more.

The debate was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Trumbull PTSA.

The Republican candidates are Susan LaFrance, Jeffrey Donofrio and Joseph Peddle. The Democratic candidates who attended were Rosemary Seaman, an incumbent, Tom Tesoro and Lainie McHugh. Anthony Timpanelli is also running on the Democratic ticket.

Overcrowding issues, particularly at Frenchtown, were a hot topic.

Tesoro said reconfiguration is something the district will need to look at. He said if a committee studying the overcrowding finds that out-of-town residents are a problem in the schools, then a part-time residency officer could be hired.

LaFrance, who has a daughter at Frenchtown, said they have been wait ing for overcrowding issues to be addressed and she was pleased a committee has been formed.

Donofrio said he wanted to be sure portable classrooms are eliminated, since they are a safety concern.

McHugh pointed out that Frenchtown isn’t the only school with overcrowding issues. She suggested changes to registration to eliminate any concerns about out-of-town students attending Trumbull.

“I think considering centralized registration would mean less chance for human error,” she said.

Peddle suggested the need to look at space utilization, and re-registration throughout the year.

All candidates said they would look at ways to reduce Trumbull’s pay-to-participate fees.

“We are No. 2 in the state with pay-to-participate fees; I’d much rather be No. 1 in academic success than 1 or 2 in pay-to-participate fees,” Tesoro said.

Tesoro said outside funding, including from the First Selectman’s Golf Classic, would be welcome to help offset costs and he would like to freeze fees, if not immediately reduce them.

Donofrio agreed with freezing the fees and then working to reduce, if possible.

“It is something we constantly look at that is very much part of the whole child,” Seaman said of activities and fees. “We will continue to explore ways to bring it down.”

LaFrance noted the importance of activities and sports and agreed the fees are frustrating for parents.

“It is so important for students to keep engaged in schools — it builds friendships and memories,” she said.

Lainie McHugh said parents need to speak up if this is an important issue for them, so the Board of Education can prioritize.

“It’s about philosophy and what our community values in education,” McHugh said. “Parents have to speak up.”

Peddle discussed establishing a foundation, allowing for corporate support and help.

On technology, candidates agreed it was reasonable to ask that all teachers create classroom websites but the support needed to be there for teachers who need training.

Peddle discussed the importance of Smart Boards in the classroom.

Donofrio noted that, by law, any technology improvements have to be evenly distributed throughout the district.

In general, candidates supported the implementation of Common Core standards.

“It sets a very clear expectation at every grade level,” Seaman said.

McHugh said the professional development needs to be in place for teachers to properly implement Common Core.

LaFrance said she has concerns about the new assessments and grading system, as it is difficult for parents to understand.

Concerns over safety during school open houses was also a topic posed to candidates. Candidates noted the importance of balancing safety and keeping critical parent/teacher communication open.

“We don’t want to create an environment that is a prison,” Peddle said.

The superintendent has worked with teachers to set up some protocols for open house days, to ensure safety, McHugh said. She also noted there are many ways parents can get involved in schools, other than open houses.

“Parents are always welcome,” Seaman said. “They are our children’s first teachers and we never forget that,” Seaman said.