June 19, 2013
Written by Macklin Reid, Press Staff
Saturday, 22 October 2011 05:01
How do school board candidates view corporate influence in public education? What do the people running for Board of Selectmen want to accomplish for the town?
These were some of the questions Ridgefield High School students asked last week, in the 50th anniversary candidates debate organized by the League of Women Voters and the social studies department.When “questions from the audience” were allowed, RHS student Brian Sullivan said he was “concerned about corporate influence in the system” and asked Board of Education candidates how they’d view corporate sponsorships or donations of money or equipment influencing the board and students.
“We are bombarded constantly in our society by corporate influences: Nike, ‘Just do it’,” said board Chairman Austin Drukker, a Republican seeking re-election.
People can see advertising and corporate sponsorships for what they are and take them in that context, he said.
With budgets tight, Mr. Drukker said he’d pushed for the board to accept advertising at school sports events, and also corporate donations.
“I’ll take it,” he said.
Linda Lavelle, a Republican seeking a first term, said,
“I don’t see it as a negative. … Most of you will probably get jobs at corporations. They’re not the bad guys.”
Lyn Merrill, a Democrat and former administrator in the schools, was “concerned about the testing industry, and the amount of testing students are being forced to perform. It is a business.”
Christopher Murray, a new candidate for the board, said, “The profit motive is an inherently good thing. Remember, you have free choice in your lives.”
Michael Raduazzo, another Republican seeking election to the board for the first time, said that his decision-making as a board member would not be affected by corporate donations to the school system.
Richard Steinhart, a Republican incumbent, didn’t think the Ridgefield schools would see the level of corporate donations that is routine in higher education. Had students noticed as they went around looking at colleges?
“Every single room, building, science lab is named either for a corporation, or a benefactor,” he said.
Each of five Board of Selectmen candidates was asked what he or she hoped to accomplish if elected.
Andy Bodner, an incumbent Republican and former finance board member, said that over the years he’d been in office the town undertook a school building program to address space problems.
“We had inadequacies in our schools, our infrastructure was under attack,” he said. “A lot of money was spent, taxes went up quite a bit.”
Now, he said, the focus should be on “efficiency,” not expansion of services. “The bad economy and taxes are a concern,” he said. “Ridgefield is a special town. We don’t want to see it changed.”
He also spoke of the selectmen’s efforts to buy the 45-acre Schlumberger property and keep it from development as high density housing.
“Schlumberger is going to be a major issue,” he said.
His priorities are “improve roads, maintain education, and avoid turning Ridgefield in a large apartment housing development,” he said.
Maureen Kozlark, a Republican recently elected to fill a vacant seat on the board, added a $5-million contribution to the library’s $20-million project to her priorities.
“My goals going forward on the Board of Selectmen are maintain an appropriate level of taxes on the people,” she began. “Schlumberger ... the library expansion is on the horizon and that’s going to be something we’ll be debating and hopefully supporting,” she said. “The library is one of our most used assets.
“Schools,” she added. “People move to Ridgefield for the quality of the schools...
“We want to maintain our small town feel, but be metropolitan in a way that we can enjoy the arts,” she said.
Democrat and longtime board member Barbara Manners said, “I want to see us owning the Schlumberger property.”
She spoke of “public private partnerships” that had combined taxpayer money with donor contribution to get big things done.
“Tiger Hollow is a great example, The Playhouse is a great example,” said Ms. Manners, who helped launch the creation of the playhouse.
“Now we have an opportunity to build a new library,” she said. “All those things add to the quality of life in this town.”
Incumbent Selectman Di Masters, a Democrat, said that while “Schlumberger is very important,” one of her main goals is to affect the way young people like the students in the audience looked at public service and public officials.
“The reasons I’ve been an elected official all my life is for civics,” she said. “People don’t get into public office for nefarious reasons. They do it for the good reasons.”
“I hope I can be an example to you as a public official,” she said. “That’s what I’d like to leave the town.”
Jan Rifkinson, an unaffiliated candidate for the Board of Selectmen who isn’t an officeholder, said, “I’m the outsider up here. All these people are on the Board of Selectmen. They’re incumbents, I’m trying to take one of their seats.”
Mr. Rifkinson described beginning to attend Board of Selectmen meetings three or four years ago, and trying to learn about the issues. “I started to ask a lot of questions — question after question after question. It became kind of a joke,” he said. “Sometimes they were explained to me satisfactorily, sometimes they weren’t.”
As a result his goals if elected include “greater transparency in government and more involvement of the general population,” he said.
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