Board of Education candidates Q&A

With Election Day approaching, The Monroe Courier will be providing questions to each candidate. This week features the Board of Education candidates.

  1. What type of individual (Qualifications? Experience in the position? Personality type?) would best serve the district as superintendent of schools?
  2. With the uncertainty surrounding the impact on Monroe with not only this year’s state budget but also future state budgets, how can best balance maintaining a strong educational system with keeping local budgets under control so as to not force huge tax hikes?
  3. What new initiatives are you considering for the district? Are there any presently in place you would like to see expanded or removed?
  4. What would be your top priorities as a member of the Board of Education?

James Martinez (D)

  1. Our superintendent of schools should be an individual who is a student-centered visionary, a strong communicator, and collaborator with strong central office or prior superintendent experience. The individual should be someone who is is able to foster and build strong community relationships. Also, as we face ongoing statewide financial challenges, he or she should also be someone who is experienced in managing budgets in a fiscally responsible manner.
  2. It is critically important that as a district we continue to build capacity by looking to the collective wisdom and talents of our current practitioners. This provides continuity, sustains our award-winning status, grows new leadership that’s already invested in our school system, while keeping down costs for our taxpayers.
  3. Monroe public schools possess so many strengths, but if I had to choose, I would absolutely like to see the augmentation of our Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) Initiative, so that our students can continue being better prepared to compete in the 21st century cradle to career.
  4. Teachers would be my top priority. It is vital that as a Board of Education we support teachers along with paraprofessionals, by ensuring that we provide them with all the professional learning and development opportunities possible, as well as, provide them with all necessary resources and tools they need. The classroom is where it all happens. That is where the greatest impact on learning can be made and where the students gain the greatest educational benefit.

Jerry Stevens (D)

  1. One of the most important tasks of our Board of Education is to hire and evaluate the superintendent; I take this responsibility very seriously. I am looking for a superintendent who knows and understand the dynamics of our great town and school system. He/she must possess strong leadership skills, be innovative, creative and think outside the box. She/he needs to understand the fiscal responsibility of running Monroe’s school system. We have an award-winning school system. From our Blue Ribbon High School, to our Schools of Distinction, we all work incredibly hard to give our children the best possible education. Our next superintendent needs to continue this dedication to our students and town, while managing fiscal responsibility. To be a superintendent in Connecticut the candidate needs an 093 certification, confirmation the individual has met the qualifications required. I would prefer someone with central office experience, with an understanding of Monroe’s form of government inclusive of the budget referendum. We are very fortunate to have many volunteers that make up our different boards and commissions, and I feel they all strive to make Monroe the best it can be. It is essential that our next superintendent continues to work with each board and commission to continue our traditions of excellence.
  2. Monroe has budget plans in place if the first round of state cuts materialize. Your Board of Education members, have spent a considerable amount of time on this year’s budget. Obviously, these are uncertain times. We all understand the ramifications of what is happening in our state Capitol, and the impact it may have on our town. As someone who taught in Monroe my whole career, I suggest that one significant way for Monroe and all our towns in Connecticut to save money is to suspend or get rid of unfunded state mandates. The number of unfunded mandates from the state is a significant and their elimination would help considerably with our budget savings. Our next superintendent, along with our central office finance department, must continue to find innovative ways to offer our students a fantastic education with our budget and taxpayers in mind.
  1. Our board continually looks for innovative programs and initiatives that will improve our educational process. Currently, our world language department is going through the approval process to have the Seal of Biliteracy placed on Masuk diplomas for those students who qualify. Another initiative I feel strongly about is our elementary music program. I am happy we were able to bring the program back into our elementary schools; however, I would like to see it expanded so more students can access this opportunity to learn and enjoy music. I also believe our Capstone project for high school seniors is one of the best in the state. We as a board have continued to evaluate the process to make it more productive for students, staff and volunteer judges.
  2. School safety is a top priority of mine. We, as the Board of Education, must continue to offer a safe, healthy environment for our students, staff and parents. Additionally, it is necessary to continue to prepare our students and staff for the future; we must provide them the best tools and resources we can afford so our students can explore and expand their educational horizons. Another priority of mine is fiscal responsibility. Curriculum improvements we make are at low or no cost to our taxpayers. If there is a large cost involved with a program or improvement, we, as a board, take a long hard look to make sure the cost is a sound investment.

Carlos Reinoso, Jr. (D)

  1. The individual has to possess all the credentials necessary for the position and I expect the individual to also have some solid experience as a past superintendent, assistant superintendent or as a head administrator for a prospering school district. I would prefer for the candidate to have experience within Connecticut however not necessary if the school district has a similar make-up. Our district is a small, special and unique one so the candidate needs to try to understand our culture, makeup and of course our current budget situation. He/she needs to have a personality that is open to challenges and willing to work with all.      
  2. With the uncertainty of our future budgets, we seriously need to work on attracting more businesses into Monroe. We need to be more business friendly and do what some of our surrounding towns have done which has helped their budgets. These efforts will have to be spearheaded by our new elected first selectman with the help of the Economic Development Commission need to aggressively look at innovative ways to bring new businesses into Monroe while preserving the existing ones. The revenue from the new businesses can help off-set our current and future budget challenges as well as keeping us from a tax increase.         
  3. There really isn’t any significant initiatives being considered because we are still waiting on the state budget however our superintendent, assistant superintendent and our board is constantly looking at ways to decrease our expenses.
  4. My top priority is to preserve our award-winning schools and continuously hold our system at a high standard while holding our superintendent, and all our administrators accountable. As many are aware, we really can’t afford to cut anymore from our BOE budget. Our superintendent along with our administrators have been as creative as possible in trying to look for ways to reduce expenses and save where possible and they continue to do so. If the BOE budget continues to be cut or reduced we will be jeopardizing our childrens and grandchildrens education as well as our property value.

Jessica Katuska (D)

  1. The best fit for the Monroe school system would be someone with leadership experience from a similar school system that understands that the biggest challenge we face is keeping the schools at their current levels or improving even with our budget issues. I would look for someone with the analytical ability to look for targeted adjustments where necessary. We are not looking for an individual to provide drastic change, our schools are remarkable. We need someone thoughtful, prudent, and responsible to provide sustained excellence.
  2. As a Board of Education member, I think our priorities lie with keeping the standards of our schools high. That also entails strengthening ties with the Town Council to lead us in the direction where we can maintain necessary education spending without material tax increases.
  3. Our STEM program is a shining example of our excellence. This program brought my family to our town and is surely a beacon for other families in the region. Technology will greatly impact the workforce of the future and this program will well position our children to be leaders as adults. I believe this is the most important program we could expand in our town.  
  4. Our Blue Ribbon schools are the foundation that this community has been built on. No matter what party allegiance, Democrat or Republican, what unites us is our desire for our children to have the best start in life. I feel passionately about maintaining the stability and strength of our public school system in Monroe.

George King (R)

  1. Our next superintendent needs to build-upon, not attempt to rewrite, our district’s success story. We need that individual to be engaged with our citizenry, informative with the BOE and town officials, and transparent with our district’s finances, goals and objectives. In Monroe, we need a superintendent who can advocate for reasonable state funding for our children.
  2. We need to change leadership in Hartford. The mess that has been created by those in power has significantly impacted Monroe, and we need to ensure the same mistakes are not made again. Beyond that, we need to continue what’s made us a successful district. We must remain good stewards of Monroe citizen’s tax dollars while identifying and retaining talent within our teaching ranks. We must fund educator development, and optimize our curriculum. Where PTO and community fundraising is appropriate to fill funding gaps, we must strongly endorse it.
  3. Monroe has a tremendous school community, administration, and faculty that is highly committed to achieving success for our children. We develop five-year plans for our district goals and capital improvements. We analyze our curriculum against new and leading edge standards to identify areas of improvement. Technology is an area that we need to constantly evaluate. My goal is to continue our district’s drive toward leading edge technology, so that Monroe’s students have the skills to compete in our global economy.
  4. My priorities remain what they have been for the last 8 years; fiscal responsibility with our staff and supplier contracts, optimizing our curriculum and improving our building infrastructure, and being recognized as a top district in our great state.

David Ferris Jr. (R)

  1. I will support an individual for superintendent of schools that has the knowledge, experience, training, and support of the school community. A good communicator and leader who understands this town, our needs, and concerns. This is an important time in our district as we need to continue high quality with less funding. The new superintendent will face this challenge immediately and I’m eager to hear the ideas that he or she will have.
  2. Last year, we faced cuts, increases, spending freezes, layoffs, and the tough decisions of what programs to cut when all are important. Boards and school systems statewide are cutting back based on local and state funding issues. I have two children in the public school system and don’t want my taxes to go up either. Current and future decisions must be made with the concept of keeping cuts as far from the kids as possible. This is not easy, but watching every line item, early retirement incentives, revenue through grants, and a new insurance broker has and will continue to balance a great school system with responsible fiscal practices.
  3. The board has worked hard with administrators to keep policies in line with State law and best practices. Increases in safety initiatives are constantly being discussed and I will push to make sure these and the great cooperation with the police department continues.
  4. My top priorities are safety, hiring and retaining the best staff possible, proper funding yet controlled spending, and ensuring our policies have the kids and town’s best interests in mind.

Donna Lane (R)

  1. The type of individual that would best serve as superintendent is someone who can continue to lead our district as the face of Monroe public schools. Our previous superintendent laid the groundwork in improvements with educational excellence, communication and infrastructure. We need an individual that will build upon this foundation and bring initiative ideas for continuous improvement. This person needs to be a great communicator and continue the working relationship established with the first selectman, Town Hall and town boards.
  2. The biggest issue facing the town is the uncertainty with the state budget and the ECS funding that Monroe receives. The Board of Education and the Board of Finance worked closely together this past budget cycle to maintain our educational standards while minimizing the tax increase. The Board of Education certainly understands the concern over tax increases, we live here as well. This year, we partnering with other districts to bid services that each of us are required to perform such as fire extinguisher maintenance. We hired a new insurance broker that already has realized $175,000 in savings. We will continue to exhaust every avenue for savings while maintaining our educational system.
  3. It would be premature to make decisions regarding 2018-19 initiatives for Monroe public schools without first hiring a new superintendent. One new initiative that we instituted this year is the monthly Saturday morning conversations with the superintendent and first selectman at the library. Increased communications with our citizens is always a top priority and we would like to continue to expand in this area. Once we hire a new superintendent, our first priority will be updating our Board of Education goals and action plans. This plan guides our district for the next three years.
  1. The top priority as a member of the Board of Education is maintaining our exceptional education system while balancing against the financial realities of the town and state. The state has a constitutional obligation to provide adequate education to public school students. Gov. Malloy’s ECS cuts are devastating to the students of Monroe. As chairman of the Board of Education, I have sent letters to the Governor, Appropriations Committee and House Majority Leader advocating for the restoration of Monroe’s ECS funding.

Christine Cascella (R)

  1. The qualifications that I look for in the next superintendent for Monroe schools is someone that will continue to lead and set the tone for the Monroe school district. I believe the individual should be a good listener and communicator that will build relationships with teachers, administrators, parents, community and elected officials. This person must be a visionary that will work towards continually improving educational achievement while adapting to the changing needs.
  2. The state of Connecticut is in a state of uncertainty that has forced the Board of Education to look at different areas to cut costs. The funding the town receives is still unknown, however, we want to minimize cuts that have the least impact on the students. One initiative was to hire a new insurance broker that has allowed us to see savings. Other areas to look at would be retirement incentives, applying for grants as well as continuously looking at all aspects to reduce costs, I do not want to see taxes increased or the education of our children jeopardized. I have a son currently in the Monroe school district, a daughter that just graduated and a daughter that will be a student in a few years, so maintaining our education while keeping taxes down is a priority.
  3. The board will work with the new superintendent to establish initiatives, derived from goals that will be a collaborative effort between the new superintendent and the Board of Education. I think it is important to work with the new superintendent to establish these goals as this will be the vision for Monroe schools. One initiative I would like to see expanded is communication. Over the years we have added a Facebook page and Twitter to increase social media communication, programs that engage the community such as The DaVinci Festival and Monroe Reads Together, and new this year is Saturday morning conversations with the superintendent and the first selectman. I feel there can never be enough communication so looking to find ways to expand this can always be improved upon.
  4. My top priority as a member of the Board of Education is maintaining a safe environment for our students while continuing to progress the high quality of our educational system, while looking for new innovative approaches to keep costs down.

Jeffrey Fulchino (R)

  1. I believe the person best suited to serve as superintendent should have three overarching characteristics. First and foremost he or she must be a leader. Second, our next superintendent be someone who can effectively communicate with teachers, parents and students. Third, they must have a clear vision of how to continue improving our schools while navigating the current budget uncertainties.
  2. My wife and I moved to Monroe in 2008 and we chose Monroe based on two key factors, affordability and the excellent school system. Fast forward to 2018 and I find the reasons we chose Monroe are being threatened by the mismanagement and lack of leadership at the state level. My decision to run for the Board of Education is based solely on protecting the reasons my wife and I chose to live in Monroe in the first place.
  3. I think it best that before we entertain potential initiatives, that we first have our new superintendent in place. That being said I would like see more consistent parent teacher communication. For example, my son’s fourth grade teacher used an app to communicate with parents on a daily basis with pictures, homework assignments and reminders. This allowed me as a parent to get daily highlights from my son’s classroom. As a parent I felt that this was an invaluable tool and a great way to stay updated and informed. As an elected board member I would like to see this type of communication as the standard and not the exception.
  4. As we all know, we face a potential shortfall in funding due to the lack of responsibility at the state level. If I am fortunate enough to be elected, my top priority as a new member will be to continue improving our schools while maintaining a fiscally responsible approach to budgeting with the goal of eliminating the reliance of state funding so we avoid future budget uncertainty.
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