BOE and Town Clerk candidates discuss priorities at LWV forum
Board of Education candidates Alison Bedula, Gene Goodman, Hazel Hobbs and Scott Gress, along with town clerk candidate Claudia Weber, discussed their hopes for the upcoming term Monday night at the League of Women Voters Candidates Forum.
For BOE members, who are running uncontested, the first topic was finding a new superintendent next year to replace Dr. David Abbey, who recently announced his retirement effective at the end of the school year.
"An RFP (request for proposal) has already been sent out looking for an executive search committee or search firm to head up the search for David Abbey's replacement, and there are a lot of things we are looking for in a candidate for superintendent of schools. We have an incredible school system, I think we're aware of that. It's one of the reasons so many of us live in town," Bedula said. "The superintendent of schools has a lot of complex responsibilities. How we are going about is we're going to have a committee of various people from town bodies as well as the Board of Education as well as the public to be involved in the search. It will be an extensive search, not necessarily a regional, but a national search."
Goodman listed several qualities the candidate must exhibit in order to keep New Canaan on track to exceed expectations.
"The first one would be a leadership person who can continue the ongoing innovation such as ours. We have a great school system. It hasn't always been that way, but it is that way right now," Goodman said.
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"Second thing is this person will have to be willing and able to put in a tremendous amount of time, it is a very demanding position in terms of not only intelligence and leadership, but the physical time constraints are tremendous. The third one would be to be able to work with all the bodies they interact with."
Gress explained how the candidate should come from a similar district or area in terms of performance and sensibilities.
"I think that Dr. Abbey has been an extraordinary leader of this school system, and they're clearly going to be very difficult shoes to fills. But I think we need to find somebody that has experience in a district that's as high performing or tends to be as high performing as New Canaan," Gress said. "That kind of experience leads one to understand what our needs are. I think it has to be a person that has personal skills. It's a very large contingent of people to deal with here in town between, as people have mentioned, the teachers and the administrators, but the public as well. And I think an understanding of the special education issues in this town is also important. A sense of humor wouldn't hurt."
When discussion turned to the budget, Hazel Hobbs discussed creative ways to cut costs without dropping quality in the school system, which is approximately two thirds of the town's entire budget.
"Two small things we can do that might affect the budget are to think about looking at textbooks that are online instead of purchasing textbooks," Hobbs said. "Another would be to look at online courses. In trying to offer many languages, for example, we run into problems with even finding teachers who have sufficient background to do those. The thing that I would not want to see us cutting is what we're trying to do in science to make sure that we can increase our science budgets along the way to keep things going the way they have been."
Claudia Weber, who is also running unopposed, spoke briefly on the nature of technology affecting the future of her position as town clerk.
"Actually, that is very exciting because one of the things we were concerned about is, as I mentioned, preserving the records we have in case there's a fire or a disaster or some kind of flood. Actually, we had a flood, and that's what kind of created everything. So we went in and started a scanning project and a microfilming project, but again, the scanning has to do with accessibility, and microfilming has to do with preservation, and as town clerks we are responsible for both," Weber said.
"We've been able to make some of what do go faster. We had a scanning project with all of our land survey maps, 7,000 of them. We received a grant, and (they are) now online. Residents come in, realtors come in, they want something, they get it like tha,t so it is exciting. And we have things online now, but I'm very cognizant about people's private information."