Thursday, October 8, 2015

Teachers Marked "Absent" at Their Own Forum

The candidates onstage threatened to outnumber the audience members at Thursday evening's Board of Education candidate forum.  Eight of the ten Board of Ed candidates attended, answering questions posed by the local teachers union, Middletown Federation of Teachers, but there was a noticeable scarcity of teachers, parents and residents.  Only a few dozen showed up to hear what the candidates had to say.

Noticeably absent also, were Democratic candidate Anita Dempsey-White and Republican candidate Emmakristina Sveen, a Wesleyan student, who is also a candidate for town treasurer.

What was clear, again and again, is the commitment each of the candidates had to Middletown's students and schools.  In fact, the questions elicited far more consensus on issues than may have been expected.

The candidates unanimously agreed that teachers did not receive the support, respect and salaries that they deserved.  They agreed that schools have never been funded adequately, though they disagreed on what could or should be done about the matter.  None of the candidates seemed to like the idea of hiring outside contractors (Sodexo) to do work that could be done by city employees.  And they all felt that communication was critical, and could be better.  They looked upon the upcoming redistricting as an unattractive necessity.  And they seemed surprised and shocked that there is a study hall at the high school with 200 students.

Ask these same questions two years from now of those who get elected, and the simplistic naive idealism of "we'll get this done" may be tempered by the stubborn reality of leaden bureaucracy.

The topic of the "achievement" or "opportunity" gap marked the widest disparity when Republican candidate Chris Petter, an attorney who has represented students in bullying cases, declared that the gap was "not just because of income inequality," but was a result of lack of parental involvement.

Democratic candidate Chris Drake
Democratic candidate Chris Drake, also an attorney, consistently demonstrated a grasp of the most complex educational issues, and a knowledge of the conditions facing Middletown's school district. Drake  challenged Petter's assumption, saying that "one of the biggest issues is income inequality in the city, state and nation," and that wraparound services were required to address the issue that leads to an achievement gap.  Drake lamented that "largely, we will not solve the issue on this school board."

The expected hot topic of the evening, redistricting, proved less so.  Democratic candidate Deborah Cain suggested that redistricting to achieve racial balance was essential.

"We don't live in this world alone," Cain said.  "We're a mix of people, and students should have the opportunity to meet other people."

Petter agreed that achieving diversity in schools has been proven to be essential for success in many studies, but felt that in redistricting, socioeconomic diversity should not be a goal.

"We are obliged to do what needs to be done," Democratic candidate Patricia Alston explained.

On a number of occasions, Republican candidate Troy Meeker emphasized his youth, which also lead to a series of answers, on most topics, revolving around his own personal experiences as a student at Middletown High School.

As a current member of the board, Cheryl McClellan heaved noticeable sighs more than once when new candidates claimed to be able to solve budget problems by simply examining the budget line by line to make cuts so that more dollars could be shifted to the classroom.  McClellan attempted to explain how the state consistently undercut funding for education with the ECS formula, and that as a board member she had been frustrated by the lack of support on the state and federal level.

"To fully fund education," McClellan said, "Is more than we can afford."

Republican candidate Linda Salafia
Republican candidate Linda Salafia, who is also a candidate for Common Council, was less sanguine about funding, noting that with the cap on car taxes imposed by the state, the city would be strapped and that "the budget is going to be worse than it was in 2008," at the height of the financial crisis.

While all candidates agreed that teachers needed support, Democratic candidate Marilyn Dunkley suggested that teachers need not reach into their own pockets for supplies, and that they should not have to take work home with them.
Democratic candidate Marilyn Dunkley

"I've spoken to a lot of teachers," Dunkley said. "They don't feel like they are being heard."

And perhaps that's the reason that so few showed up for a forum which they sponsored.


Anonymous said...

Shouldn't this be labelled as an opinion piece?

Anonymous said...

The number of teachers in attendance is an objective fact. Perhaps most of the teachers live outside of Middletown and can't vote? Odd that so few were there.

Anonymous said...


mike czerwonka said...

It's certainly written like one.

cat said...

I agree. Most of the pieces here are written like editorials. After all... It is a blog. I still like to read them but with a grain of salt. Otherwise I wouldn't know what's going on in my own town! 😜 I also wish there were more notices of these things.