The three incumbents and one challenger running for three open seats on the New Haven Unified School District Board had a chance to voice their opinions about various issues at a candidate forum Wednesday evening.
The candidates included incumbents Jonas Dino, Michelle Matthews, Michael Ritchie and challenger Nick Fresquez.
Hosted by the League of Women Voters of Fremont, Newark and Union City, the hour-long forum asked the candidates questions ranging from topics of school budget to test scores.
Budget, Debt and Gaining Cash Flow
In regards to selling school property to offset debt, most of the candidates supported doing so at some extent to generate cash flow for the district.
Ritchie noted property value and site capacity should be taken into consideration and structural problems with the budget should be addressed moving forward.
Fresquez, who had mentioned he was a business man, was completely against selling property off. He suggested that the school district should work with Allied Waste in turning garbage into alcohol — not the kind you drink — to generate cash flow.
If given increased funding, candidates were asked what programs would they reinstate or implement.
Aside from getting more support in the classrooms, Matthews said she'd ask the community to set the priorities for where to spend the money.
Fresquez wanted to focus on creating more jobs and taking care of kids with divorced parents and those coming from foster homes.
"I'm selling the American dream, are you buying it?" he said.
Both Ritchie and Dino wanted to make sure all programs would be fully-funded to avoid having them be eliminated in the future. Ritchie also shared interest in having schools grow their own food to improve school and community health.
Dino, who was a teacher, added that smaller class sizes would make a world of a difference for educators. He said he'd want to also focus on the adult schools and the programs they offer.
"Not only do we need to help the kids, we need to help the parents help them," Dino said.
Test Scores and Evaluating Teachers
Almost all candidates agreed that though student test scores are important, they should not be the only factor determining a teacher's success in the classroom.
They were asked about these scores and what policy strategies they would support to increase student achievement.
Matthews said that creating policies specific to the area would be difficult due to state standards.
Ritchie added that AP exams should be open to all students. Dino said he'd want to strengthen policies that focus on treating a cause rather than dealing with the outcome of an issue. He said we should expect more from students and "make them think they can do other things."
Eliminating the No Child Left Behind Act and finding out why kids are ditching school would be what Fresquez would focus on.
The District's Successes and Improvements
When having to identify one area of success and one area improvement with the school district, Dino, who's been on the school board for 12 years, said a sense of teamwork has strengthened over the years.
"We're working better with our bargaining groups; we're working better with our community," he said.
However, he said communication with the public can still be improved on.
Fresquez said the kids in the district are smart. He added that the problem lies with brokers and the economy is not going to get any better.
Ritchie was particularly pleased with recently opening up the AP programs to all students. He said he's seen more kids participating and doing well in school because of this.
An improvement would be to have all libraries open, Ritchie added.
For Matthews, maintaining student discipline and finding what students lacked rather than viewing them as a source of the problem is considered a major success for the schools. Because of this, a community day school is no longer needed in the community.
Both Matthews and Ritchie also shared their support of Union City Kids' Zone, a local program that supports at-risk youth.