Robert Levine

Candidate Name:  Robert Levine
Office Sought: State Representative-18th District
Party:  Republican and Independent
Home Address:  175 Brewster Road
Best Phone number for contact:  860-916-5440
Preferred email for contact:  electlevine4whrl@gmail.com
Past and/or current elective office:  none-1st time candidate
Occupation:  Real Estate Broker

  1. Why are you running for elected office and what are your three top priorities for education once elected?

I am passionate about helping West Hartford and the State of Connecticut be the best it can be to live in, work and have fun recreationally.  It is a great community we live in as well as a great State, but we need motivated public servants with common sense and a desire to do right.

I want to be a strong voice and work hard to ensure that West Hartford gets the support from the State it needs fiscally and in program development.  My top priority is making sure West Hartford gets the funding it needs to continue to be a top performing school district.  Now, more than ever, we need someone who will make sure however the formula is redone, that it is fair to our town and the students we educate.  Secondly, it is critical we provide teachers with the resources and support that they need to do the best job they are able in educating our students.  We have amazing teachers in our district, and we need to support them with quality materials and administrative support to make them as efficient and effective as possible in educating our students.  Thirdly, supporting our teachers by asking the education department to revise and implement a more effective review system for our teachers.  The current system does not adequately assess our teacher population and much time is lost by teachers trying to adhere to an ineffectual rating system when the time could be better spent preparing for classroom lessons.  Bring teachers into the development of a new system from the beginning to create an environment of ownership and accountability in what is devised.

 

  1. Do you believe that the public education system in America is broken and in need of reform? Do you believe that the public education system in West Hartford is broken or in need of reform?  I think there is always room for improvement, but I don’t think it is broken.  It is a tribute to how amazing our educators are in West Hartford that our schools are ranked consistently high.  The State needs to do more financially to support our front line teachers.  Given the proper current resources, such as on-line textbooks, tools and training, I believe West Hartford will impress even more. As a real estate broker, I hear first hand how our town is known and respected for the quality of our schools.  It is an essential component to keeping our community a desirable place to work and reside.

 

  1.      ECS Funding

The state of Connecticut provides funding to towns through the ECS grant (Education Cost Sharing) to help towns deal with poverty.  For years, some towns such as West Hartford, have been receiving far less than they should and some have been receiving more.  By some estimates, West Hartford is the most underfunded town in the state, receiving approximately 30 million dollars per year less than we should.

 

A recently compiled list of the most underfunded and overfunded towns in the state shows West Hartford as 67% underfunded.  Only two other towns are more underfunded percentage-wise.  In terms of dollars, West Hartford is shorted $36,876,796.00 (per year). The list of towns is included in this mailing and can be found at this URL:

https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/1680159/lprac-ecsoverfunding-2014to2015.pdf

The ECS issue received a lot of attention in April of 2015 at the capitol when Senator Bye proposed a bill (SB 816) that would require that towns receive at least half of what they are supposed to be receiving.  Although the bill did not pass, Senator Bye was able to secure a few million more dollars for West Hartford.  With an annual Board of Education budget of around 140 million dollars, this was a significant step in the right direction.

Most recently, on September 7th of this year, the verdict in the CCJEF vs. Rell case was rendered.  Superior court judge Thomas Moukawsher called for sweeping changes in the way education is funded in this state.  He also called for a linkage between student test scores and teacher salary, and for changes in teacher and administrator evaluation.  He also made reference to West Hartford as being one of the “rich towns” that is receiving more than it is due.

If you are seeking a state office representing West Hartford, how would you move forward into such an uncertain and dramatic educational/political environment?

This is one of the issues that inspired me to run and the judge’s ruling only reinforced my desire to run.  Judge Moukawsher has perhaps never been to our town, as anyone who has, would know that we are a very diverse town.  While we may be perceived as a wealthy town we have a very diverse economic set of neighborhoods.  I will fight to ensure that our town receives its fair share of funding from whatever formula is created.  It is important to note that while based on the current formula we are severely underfunded as a town, that our representatives haven’t even been using it the last several years.  We need a new formula that better ascertains what West Hartford should receive and we need our representatives to have the will to fund it as fully as possible.

In addition, Judge Moukawsher’s comments on our special needs population of students was not only ignorant and hurtful but factually inaccurate.  This population of students deserves the same access to educational resources as our typical education students.  Our special education students have as much to offer as anyone else and we need to support their development the same as our typical education students.

What would be your priority or first steps in dealing with this issue?

I want to be able to give input and direction on how a new formula should be devised.  There could be several positive ways to develop a formula to benefit all towns in Connecticut, including West Hartford.  Just as important is reviewing existing mandates and guidelines for how districts should be implementing the best possible education programs for our students.  Fiscal problems often drive the budget obviously, but it’s the decisions we make as a State in programs and services we want to provide that ultimately drive the budget.  We need to review and make adjustments as necessary to make sure we are spending those education dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible.

How would you deal with the misperception that West Hartford is a “wealthy” town?  How would you help people like Judge Moukawsher understand that the image projected by Blue Back Square does not match the reality found in our student population (20% and steadily rising on free and reduced lunch, 12% students with disabilities, high numbers of English language learners) and in old school buildings (many over 50 years old)?

The first thing I would like to do is invite the judge and other education officials to our town and have them see firsthand what are facilities look like and the diverse population that attends them each day.  These individuals should also talk to the teachers directly and ask about their experiences with these students.  There is nothing like firsthand experience.  We need a true advocate for our town and our schools and I intend to be very proactive on that front.

  1. Charter Schools

Regarding charter schools in general, there are obviously a lot of differences of opinion.  Some praise the fact that they provide motivated students and families a way out of school systems that are low performing.  Others are concerned that the selection process that charter schools use to accept students leads to a “brain drain” on the public schools, further segregation, and invalid comparisons between charters and public schools.  Some are concerned about the qualifications of charter school leaders and the ability to closely track any money that flows from the state to these organizations.   What insights about the charter school movement would you bring to the table as an elected office holder?

My first job out of graduate school was as a policy analyst on the Speaker’s task force on education in New York State.  My primary focus was year round education programs and charter schools.  That experience has stuck with me.  I don’t necessarily think competition is a bad thing in any environment, as long as it is not done at the expense of a public school system.  I think it is important to have a rigid review and approval process for any charter school program from application to opening day and on an annual basis as well.  I think charter schools do have a place in our State, but only where appropriate and when they are run well.  There could always be cases of mismanagement in these situations so I would stay vigilant to make sure our town would not be adversely harmed by any such program.  The primary purpose I feel is to support the best public school education system for our town.

  1. Charter School Funding

What is your position on charter school funding?  Do you feel that the number of charter schools in the state should increase, decrease, or stay the same?

I really feel that any funding for charter schools should be very closely watched and audited on a regular basis.  These are private entities being entrusted to handle a key public service of educating our students.  There should be no margin for error when public funds are being used for such an endeavor.  I think the number of charter schools is going to be a somewhat fluid thing based on the needs or desires of the different communities in our State.  In regards to West Hartford, we have a robust education system already and I do not feel we need to add charter schools to the mix.  Our existing system is well respected and I would work to keep that opinion supported for as long as I was in office.

  1. Money Follows the Child

State and local Charter schools in Connecticut clearly have a unique role to play.  First conceived as laboratories for reform, there have been lessons learned.  The most current research shows that Connecticut state charter school performance is generally parallel to that of all public schools – some are successful and some need improvement.  However, since state charter schools continue to be selective in their student populations and spend significantly more per pupil than regular public schools, investment in strong neighborhood public schools that serve all children should be the ultimate goal.

In recent years there have been legislative proposals by advocates of wholesale state charter school expansion to implement a new school funding scheme that would divert money from local neighborhood schools to state charter schools.  One such scheme is referred to as “money follows the child.”  In 2012, for example, there was a proposal to divert $1,000 for every child who attended a state charter school from the local education budget to the state charter budget.  This proposal was soundly defeated, as municipalities, particularly those with the tightest budgets, were unwilling to lose dollars from their already underfunded education budgets.

Proposals such as “money follows the child” would redirect local tax dollars outside the district, and thus risk doing irreversible harm to students in classrooms already starved for adequate resources.  Proposals which exacerbate already inequitable funding simply run contrary to the state’s obligation to equalize education funding based on each town’s ability to pay.

WHEA Position:

WHEA opposes proposals that promote so-called “money follows the child” schemes designed to redistribute funding from local neighborhood schools and school districts to state charter schools.

What is your position?

As long as West Hartford remains chronically underfunded I would never support money leaving the district to support charter school budgets.  It amazes me how successful West Hartford is as a school district while being underfunded by so many millions of dollars year in and year out.  It is vitally important to me to help secure greater funding for our district and I will fight to that end as long as I am a representative.  That is job #1 for me.

  1.  Collective Bargaining

The right to be a union member is a fundamental employment protection under state and federal laws.  America’s labor unions have led the fight for working families, winning protections such as the 8-hour day and the 40-hour week, overtime rights, and access to healthcare and retirement security.  Today, the fight continues both to retain these vital rights, and to ensure safe and healthy workplaces.  For teachers, collective bargaining allows their voices, ideas, and advocacy for students to be heard without fear of reprisal.

WHEA Position:

WHEA opposes proposals to weaken or eliminate collective bargaining rights for teachers and all other public employees.  WHEA also opposes any unilateral moves by any elected officials attempting to infringe on teacher’s rights as bargained.

Will you as an elected official, support the right of public employees to collectively bargain?  Will you support all negotiated agreements and arbitration decisions?  Will you protect the funds that teachers have contributed to Connecticut’s teacher retirement fund and oppose any efforts to move that money into a general state fund?

I will always support the public employees right to collectively bargain.  I will support all negotiated agreements and arbitration decisions.  For too long our State Representatives have allowed different funding sources to be swept into the general fund and I would fight to put a stop to it.  I will support the protection of funds that all teachers have contributed to their retirement fund.

  1.  Please share with us any other issues or positions that you think may be relevant or of interest to the WHEA.

My wife has been a teacher at Hall for the past 15 years, so I understand very well what teachers on the front line experience day in and day out.  I believe we need someone who understands the challenges our most valuable resources face every day and we need to listen to their needs and make sure we are providing those resources to them in a timely fashion.  Teachers are the key element in our system and we must support them to have a successful education system in our town.  I will listen to them and work hard to advocate on their behalf.  Teachers are the unheralded resource that makes our student population have the opportunities they need to succeed.

  1.        Would you be opposed to WHEA posting your responses on our website?  Feel free to share this with the membership.