For many New Canaan residents, the successful school district is a primary reason to live in town and the vast majority of the town's budget is spent on schools.

Five candidates are running for three available Republican spots at the July 16 Republican caucus at 7:30 p.m. at Saxe Middle School.

Sangeeta Appel

Resident: 12 years

Civic involvement: East School Parent-Teacher Council, Young Women's League, president of the Outback Teen Center.

Children in school district: Two in high school, one in elementary school.

Appel, now a stay-at-home mother, started her career in optometry after receiving her doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley.

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She held posts as an assistant professor at Berkeley and at the State University of New York. Later, she became the director of a SUNY eye clinic treatment center.

Appel sees the budget as a key issue for the district.

"Sometimes you have to find creative ways to make sure the system works well under the confines of the budget," she said.

"I think it's important that leaders in the community step up."

Dionna Carlson

Resident: 17 years

Civic involvement: United Way, Republican Town Committee, Saxe Parent-Teacher Council.

Children in school district: One in high school, one in middle school.

Carlson, now a stay-at-home mother, worked for years for General Electric Capital as a financial analyst, and at a high-yield equities fund for a boutique Wall Street firm.

"I am running because I think New Canaan schools are at a critical point. We've had a number of years of small increases that cover mostly salaries," she said. "My background in finance will be helpful in being able to communicate with the Town Council, Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen, and also where we might be able to look at where we can create efficiencies in the system without hurting programming."

Carlson lamented the schools' recent drops in various rankings, saying that she'd pay special attention to class size, a metric frequently used in school rankings.

Mary Anne Marcella

Resident: six years

Civic Involvement: Republican Town Committee, catechist at St. Aloysius.

Children in the school district: Two in elementary school.

Marcella teaches fifth grade in the New York City public school system. Prior to that, she worked at the bank UBS, starting as an executive assistant and moving to research. She thinks her financial and educational backgrounds make her a unique candidate.

Marcella's become alarmed at the revisions to the curriculum as a result of the adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative curriculum, the national program that has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. In July 2010, Connecticut adopted the standards, which go into effect for academic year 2013-14.

"I'm running because I don't like the direction our country and the state is going in. I think it's too far to the left," she said. "I can see firsthand how what we teach our children in school shapes our kids in the future. As an educator, you see how you really can affect children."

She said she fears the Common Core will hurt New Canaan schools as well.

"The problem is it's a lowering of standards: that's what they call closing the achievement gap ... I don't think parents in New Canaan want that."

Maria Naughton

Resident: 11 years

Civic Involvement: Connecticut Educators Computer Association, volunteer for Al's Angels in Fairfield and St. Matthew's Church, in Norwalk.

Children in school district: Two in elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school.

Naughton has been a self-employed consultant for the last 12 years training teachers and administrators on how to implement state-mandated initiatives. Prior to that, she worked for six years for General Electric Capital in Stamford, focusing on financing aircrafts.

She brings to the table a skepticism of the Common Core State Standards Initiative curriculum and curriculum such as Social-Emotional Learning, and some of the data collection that takes place at the schools.

"There are some programs taking place that parents are unsure of, such as elements of data collection, social emotional learning, and non-academic instruction," she said. "When we displace academic instructional time, are we getting what we think we should be getting for that effort?" she asked.

The fifth candidate, Jennifer Richardson was unavailable before press time.