Incumbent First Selectman Fillmore McPherson, R and his challenger Seth Klaskin, D, recently participated in a debate where they answered a series of questions. Today's story focuses on their responses to questions about schools.
Question 1: Recognizing the declining school population, what specific steps would you take to reduce the education budget, if any?
Klaskin responded that the Board of Selectmen have no ability to reduce the school budget and that he would send the school budget through to referendum unchanged, unless he thought that it was developed in bad faith or with faulty assumptions. He said he did think that the Board of Selectmen should work with the schools to advocate for the town's needs in Hartford. "More money from Hartford would reduce the tax burden," he said. He noted that three school buildings are currently employing trailers to house all the students, and that a reduction in enrollment would return schools to their proper utilization rates. He also said he thinks that the school population could at some point start to increase. "Madison is a desirable town to live in ... we could start to see a lot more families in town with children," he said.
McPherson said he agreed that Board of Education policy is not the purview of the Board of Selectmen. He also said he thinks that the Board of Education did a good job reducing expenses in line with enrollment figures. He said that over the last few budget cycles, that class sizes are "getting back on track." He said he disagreed with Klaskin that the vote of the Board of Selectmen on the school budget is "symbolic." "It's not symbolic, it's a real vote," McPherson said. As for getting more money from Hartford, McPherson said politicians have promised that in the past, and have failed to deliver.
Question 2: What budgetary impact do you anticipate with the changes being proposed to develop our students to be better equipped for the 21st Century (Madison's new education vision). Also, is there a way to achieve this goal while mitigating the impact on Madison Taxpayers?
McPherson said that this question might be more aptly posed to the Board of Education, and he also said he fully supported the work of Madison School Superintendent Thomas Scarice when it comes to Madison's new education vision.
Klaskin said that the school's new vision statement is different than the 21st Century model. He said the Madison School District came up with their own vision because they wanted to raise their children in a manner that met local needs and ideas, rather than those from the state or federal level. He said his goal would be to support Superintendent Scarice and Scarice's efforts to come up with an evaluation system that is appropriate for Madison Schools. He said it's important for Madison to do the evaluations they way the schools want to do them and to "raise our students the way we want to raise them."
Question 3: Would you consider closing at least one grade school to optimize manpower and resource usage?
Klaskin said no. He said he thought closing a school would be a risky move. He said the school system, if enrollment drops, should instead consider closing some of the portable classrooms that are being used. Klaskin said he thinks high-achieving school districts like Madison may well see a stabilization in enrollment rates, or even some increase as families move into town, either by buying homes or by leasing them. He also said closing schools does not always achieve savings. Look at Academy, he said, which is an "albatross" as the town tries to figure out what to do with it.
McPherson said he did not think it was the right time to close another school. He said the student enrollment numbers are fluctuating. "We don't want to have to close it and then reopen it," he said. He said if enrollment continues to decrease and that projections show that there will be further decreases, that that would be the time to look at the possibility of closing another school.
Read our earlier story for each candidates' opening statement.
The debates were taped by Madison Public Television and as soon as the footage is edited and aired, it will run between now and the election on Tuesday, Nov. 5th. The schedule will be posted here when the show is ready.