This year’s election in Middletown brings political newcomers from both parties to compete for seats on the board of education and preside over what will be a period of change for the school district.
It’s an off year for mayor and common council elections, and the four open board of education seats are at the top of the ticket. Democrats hold a 6-3 majority, and can win a maximum of two seats.
Candidates say the race this year has focused on the need to close the district’s achievement gap and by a proposal for a new middle school. A referendum question is on the ballot that would authorize $87.35 million for a new 6-8 middle school to replace the obsolete Woodrow Wilson Middle School.
State reimbursement would pay for about 56 percent of the $87.35 million.
Board members elected next month will start at about the same time as new Superintendent Michael Conner, who was hired in September to replace retiring Superintendent Patricia Charles.
The Middletown Federation of Teachers has endorsed Edward “C.J.” Ford Jr., Christopher Sugar, Patricia Alston, Sean King and Lisa Loomis.
Loffredo, 72, was elected in 2013 and has been the chairman of the board since 2015. He is the only board of education incumbent on the ballot this year.
He said he has a record that includes an extensive study of facilities culminating in the new middle school proposal, and is proud of the choice the board made hiring Conner, who has finished his job in Norwalk and will start in Middletown the first week of November.
“I learned a lot, and I made myself a commitment that if the opportunity came to run for another term, I would do it,” Loffredo said. “There’s so much more to be done, and I’m looking forward to another four years. I’m getting a positive reaction out there, but the election hasn’t happened yet.”
Loomis, a first-time candidate, has been a teacher for 16 years, including the last six in Hartford. She said she is passionate about social justice and is running because she believes there needs to be greater emphasis on equal opportunities for all students.
“I’m tired of people making policy decisions who don’t know what it’s like in the classroom,” Loomis said. “I think with my background I can help the district continue to move in the right direction.”
She said with her experience, she has “the knowledge and passion needed to advocate for kids effectively” as the district tries to address the achievement gap.
Alston was a candidate in 2015, and making a second bid for a seat. Recently she has served as a community representative on the board’s budget committee.
She is a real estate agent and runs an after-school homework assistance program, and said she sees a need for educators to have deeper relationships with parents so students don’t fall behind in their education.
“I’m seeing not a lack of communication but a need for more in-depth communication with the parents,” Alston said. “I meet a lot of parents and children through the after-school program, and I see needs there. I talk to families moving to Middletown, and of course schools have a big impact on where people decide to move. I’d like to see Middletown on that list.”
King also fell short in 2015 after missing the cut in a primary. He said his enthusiasm for becoming a board of education member has only grown since then.
“Ever since my boys started in the Middletown schools, I’ve been really passionate about seeing the school district do well for my kids and all the kids in town,” King said. “We need to do right by all of our students and really work on lowering the achievement gap.”
King, an attorney in the state Office of the Healthcare Advocate, said continued advocacy for funding is a critical need in the next term.
“Budgeting is a perennial issue, trying to get the money that supports the resources we need in the classrooms,” King said.
EDWARD “C.J.” FORD JR.
By far the youngest candidate, Ford is a 20-year-old student at Central Connecticut State University and graduated from Middletown High School a few years ago.
He said he sometimes struggled as a student and saw many of his peers unable to make the improvements he did because of social barriers and a lack of access to resources.
“I’ve lived the experiences and the issues these kids are still dealing with,” Ford said. “I’m not up here running because I know more than anyone else. The things I experienced going through the Middletown Public Schools, all the positives, all the negatives, I’m convinced it’s that perspective that is absent on the board right now and that can truly effect change.”
Pulino has been active with the Republican Town Committee for years, and is a local cable TV host. He has served on the board of assessment appeals and is the chairman of the zoning board of appeals.
He has been a teacher for almost 20 years and is a high school teacher in Meriden. Pulino said one major need is for board members to do a better job communicating with the public about what they’re doing and what issues are coming up because “people aren’t as proactive as they used to be.”
“I know the lingo, and I know the field I’ve been doing for almost two decades, and I have two young kids in the schools, so all this affects me personally,” Pulino said.
Sugar, a labor and employment attorney, said he was encouraged to run by family, friends and neighbors. He is a first-time candidate and political newcomer, and said new board members will be starting at an exciting time for the district.
“We have teachers here who are dedicated, and we have a great community to raise a family in, and our schools should match that,” Sugar said. “Our school system is not a failing school system. It just needs a few tweaks.”
Sugar, 36, said Republicans this year are especially focused on a message of communication and accountability to the public.
Kelly, 63, ran for board of education in 2011 after retiring from a career as a psychiatric nurse and supervisor at Connecticut Valley Hospital.
He said as a manager he kept tight budgets, and if elected, he would continue to treat public funds as if he were spending his own money. A priority must be put on competitive bids to keep costs down, especially the bus contract with DATTCO, he said.
Kelly said when he talks to residents, it’s clear that they want fiscal responsibility and policies that favor student development rather than simply boosting test scores.