Meet the Candidates Forum

Wow.

What an excellent night.   14 candidates showed up and spoke to a group of about 55 teachers last Friday night.

Each candidate spoke for about 5 minutes and every one of them was memorable in their own way.  It truly is reassuring to know how much these people love West Hartford.  Every candidate told a story of why they are willing and anxious to serve either on the Board of Ed or on Town Council; voluntarily giving up many long hours to the town that has given each of them so much.

They spoke to a group of teachers that was respectful, attentive, and appreciative.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening and many stayed after the speeches to talk with people one on one, to ask questions, to circulate, and to enjoy the food.

I am fairly certain that every school was represented.  Please ask around to see who was there from your school.  If I’m not mistaken (and I could be) Duffy turned out the most teachers with nine attending.  (Go Duffy!)

The common theme was a deep and abiding appreciation for the role of education in our community and the role of the community in our education.

Described by Scott Slifka like this:  “If West Hartford had a state religion it would be education”, and further elaborated upon by Leon Davidoff who likened effective education to a chair with four legs.  One leg is the student, one is the teacher, one is the parent, and the fourth leg is the community.  Much of our strength comes from the involvement of parents and community and much of that being a result of parents having made a very deliberate choice to live here.

A prime example of that was 28 year old Aaron Sarwar who is running on the ticket as an independent.  Aaron’s family immigrated from Afghanistan, and, after living in crowded conditions in New York they decided it was time to relocate.  As they drove through West Hartford, they fell in love and knew immediately that they had found it.  They had found a home.  Aaron is a Conard grad and like all of the candidates on Friday night, he spoke of his desire to give back to his home town.

Counterbalancing the talk about the strength of our community was also high praise for the teachers, the schools, and the jobs that they perform.  There were numerous stories from the candidates of life changing experiences in the West Hartford Public Schools.  A field trip to South Africa, a unique program offered for at risk students (STRIVE), and an abiding respect for diversity…these are the things that were mentioned and repeated by many of them.

All of them spoke of the value that they have gotten for the tax money invested.  Several mentioned property values specifically.  A few came right out and stated that they believe that teachers are undervalued and underpaid in general.

The Republican candidates were impressive in stating their desire to keep West Hartford as fiscally solvent as possible.  Denise Berard-Hall sobered the crowd with some facts about unfunded pension obligations, and Chris Barnes reminded everyone that people are moving out of Connecticut faster than they are moving in.

Ben Wenograd spoke well with his observations about various assaults on unions in this country and teacher’s unions in particular.  Ben works for AFT and is very knowledgeable about the educational landscape and the challenges that teachers face.  Scott Slifka reflected upon conversations that he frequently has with his closest friend who he has known since first grade.  This friend is a second career teacher.  He describes to Scott in detail the changes that have been occurring In Connecticut in the last three years that have drained a lot of joy from his chosen occupation.

Judy Casperson spoke eloquently of her quest to find a public school system for her children that was as good as any private school.  (As someone who attended private schools, she was well qualified to make that distinction).

I wish that I could quote and paraphrase every candidate (like Beth Kerrigan who mentioned her same sex civil rights case that went all the way to the Supreme Court) but I don’t have to.  There were 55 other people there who can give you their version.

Suffice it to say for now…no matter who is elected, the town will be in capable hands.

We will be posting some written feedback from the candidates on our website during the coming weeks.  Each was sent a questionnaire by WHEA that asks how they feel about various topics ranging from ECS funding (or underfunding in the case of West Hartford) to charter schools.  More than likely we will not get a 100% return rate but even a few returns will give us something that we can share widely with all of WHEA.  Cheryl Greenburg sent hers today and it reflects well on her passion for education and understanding of the issues.  She is a professor at Trinity and a former high school teacher and is running for Board of Ed.

Thank you so much to those of you who came out after a five day week and a 10 hour day to listen to politics.  I hope you consider it a good investment of your time.

Special thanks to John Tracey and Eric Feeney who tag teamed this thing into existence and who lent a special air of levity and professionalism to the evening.

Of course, all the political talk in the world means nothing unless we actually vote.

About 35% of the teachers who live in West Hartford actually voted in the 2013 election.

I think we can do better than that.  Tuesday, November 3rd, no matter where you live, please get to the polls and make an informed choice.

Ted Goerner

WHEA President

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