Local elections are just two weeks away, and while they may receive less press than presidential or statewide elections, those elected to local boards of education, boards of finance, and town councils can have a big impact on teaching and learning. In districts including Danbury, East Hampton, and Naugutuck, local education associations have taken it on themselves to help educate their colleagues about the individuals running for office and their stances on issues related to public education.
“We wanted to have an opportunity for candidates to share their views on education and offer members a chance to be educated on who to vote for to support education in East Hampton,” says East Hampton Education Association President Neil Shilansky who organized a candidate forum for his members and other CEA members who live in town earlier this month. “The people who are elected will have a big impact on the annual budget that is developed and moved from town board to town board. We had a contentious budget battle last spring, and I don’t want our members to have to go through that again.”
In East Hampton, the town council and board of finance tried to cut almost $800,000 from the Board of Education budget last spring. Teachers, students, parents, and community supporters were ultimately successful in voting in a budget that restored education funding, but it came after months of debate and demoralization.
“We wanted to use the forum to inform CEA members about which candidates would, if elected, be supportive of public education,” said Shilansky. The EHEA will be bargaining their next contract with the board of education soon, and also wants to ensure members of the board are friendly to teachers.
Shilansky was pleased that so many candidates running for board of education, board of finance, and town council participated in the EHEA forum. “I wasn’t expecting that many candidates to participate. I thought we might have more Democrats than Republicans, but the same number of candidates from both parties came out, which was encouraging. The candidates were appreciative of the invite and enjoyed the forum itself. It was a nice way for all the candidates who were there to chat together and hear each other’s point of view. On many subjects, candidates’ thoughts and ideas were closer to each other than you might think.”
Shilansky noted that the issue that showcased the biggest difference between candidates was that of school safety. One candidate favored arming teachers while another did not support armed guards in schools in any capacity.
East Hampton voters will have an opportunity to hear more from candidates tomorrow as high school students in Kristen Keska’s AP U.S. Government and Politics class hold a candidate forum of their own.
“My students start the year with the foundational agreement that it is okay to disagree and we can do so in a way that promotes healthy, respectful discussion and therefore, actual learning from each other,” Keska says. The idea for the “Meet the Candidates” forum was sparked by students’ own activism last year around the school budget.
“Many of my students either watched or spoke at the meetings held last year, and this candidate forum is a way to continue the conversation in which all sides have an opportunity to listen,” she says.
“Local elections impact everything from curriculum decisions to education funding to teachers’ working conditions, and we hope all CEA members will learn about candidates running in their town, and turn out to vote November 7,” says CEA President Kate Dias.
Click here to learn about active and retired CEA members running for office in towns across the state.