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Five West Hartford School Board Candidates Offer Solutions To District's Problems

Five school board candidates seeking four open seats offered a variety of solutions to the district’s issues at a question-and-answer forum Monday night at Charter Oak International Academy.

Candidates agreed that the district should try to find space for students displaced by recent hurricanes, if they move to West Hartford.

Republican candidate Rob Levine, who said he will bring change to the school board after a decade of Democrat control, said the district should take a measured response due to the state’s fiscal uncertainty. Republican incumbent Jay Sarzen agreed.

“My heart goes out to them,” Levine said. “It’s a wonderful idea if we have space for them, but we need to be considerate of the delicate budget situation we are in.”

Democrat candidate Deb Polun said she would advocate for students to have a place in the classroom, and for families to be connected to town services.

Responding to a question of declining enrollment, candidates said they would want to look into why the district is seeing a gradual decline before making decisions.

Democrat Cheryl Greenberg, recently appointed chair of the board, said she believed declining enrollment across the state is due to the cost of living. She said she would look to increasing partnership programs, such as Open Choice.

Levine emphasized going to the “front lines” and talking to teachers about what they think of initiatives to improve the district. Polun said she would encourage civic engagement by hosting roundtable discussions.

Some of the roughly 35 in attendance posed questions to the candidates — what about environmentally friendly initiatives at the school?; how do the candidates look to address Open Choice students facing adversity and discrimination?; and what are the candidates’ thoughts on another tough budget year?

All encouraged the idea of looking into environmental initiatives, like community gardens, especially if there would be cost savings. Democrat candidate Lorna Thomas-Farquaharson pointed to the environmental programs already being done at Charter Oak International Academy.

To the issue of discrimination and adversity facing Open Choice students, Levine suggested creating a task force; Sarzen recommended that, if the issue is going on at the high school level, that a discussion on adversity and discrimination be held during orientation each year.

Greenberg said she thought it would be helpful to have more programs available to Open Choice students, and, in order to do that, look into transportation options for those students so they could take part in after-school activities.

Addressing budget priorities, Polun said she would not cut full-day kindergarten but would look at music programs in the district and possibly set up a similar approach as pay-to-play sports.

Levine said he would look to make cuts at the administrative level.

A video of the forum, hosted by The League of Women Voters of Greater Hartford and West Hartford Community Television, will be available on West Hartford Community Television. For more information, go to www.whctv.org.

Editor’s Note: The Courant has changed the summary of Deb Polun’s comments on the funding of music programs from an earlier version of this story.

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