NORWALK, Conn. – The pitches included an admission from one incumbent of being difficult and a desire to stick with it through two Norwalk school expansions from another.
Five potential Board of Education candidates made four-minute speeches to the Norwalk Republican Town Committee last week, looking to gain one of four spots available on November’s ballot.
Board members Sue Haynie and Artie Kassimis are seeking re-election. Also seeking Republican nominations are Lauren Rosato, John Bazzano and Linda Kruk.
Kassimis, who was appointed to the board after member Erin (Halsey) Herring resigned for personal reasons, reminded the committee that he had run in 2009, only to lose by six votes.
“I was a year and a half behind but I still had many campaign promises to make up,” he said, going on to say that he had become the board’s first athletic liaison, a position he had proposed.
“There were policies that were against any kind of fundraising for our athletics department,” he said. “… We made some changes. We had some corporate donors who were looking to give us a brand new score board over at Norwalk High but we couldn’t do it because of our policy. We changed the policy and now we have a corporate donor who may give us a brand new score board. … Remember now, we can’t raise our budget, we can’t get any more money, so we’ve got to think out of the box. How are we going to do that? We’re going to fund raise, we’re going to look out of the box.”
The school safety committee, which he is on, has made “great strides,” he said, though the specifics are confidential. As a member of the schools facilities and planning committee, he said, would like to see the additions built at Naramake and Rowayton elementary schools.
He also was elected BOE vice chairman in 2011.
“Every vote I have cast I have cast based on the principals we Republicans hold dear, fiscally responsible, keeping our taxes low and improving the education of our children,” he said. “… I still have more work to do. I would like to be re-elected one more time, finish the work that we are doing.
Haynie began with a mea culpa.
“I’m a stickler for data and details and I do my homework,” she said. “But I have been a pain in the neck, usually over matters impacting student achievement or money. I need to pick my battles.”
She said those “same pesky traits” served her well as chairwoman of the BOE Negotiations Committee.
“I’m a tough negotiator and I have the courage, the time and the resolve for the work. I am relentless in my efforts to loosen work rules and save the taxpayer money. Yes, we spent $35,000 more on legal fees this year for the NFT arbitration but we saved $2.8 million with the salary freeze. We got rid of ex-spousal benefits going forward. We got the custodians and the nurses on an HSA insurance plan so even with salary increases, we had a net savings of $600,000 over the three years of the contracts. We sunseted post-retirement insurance benefits for the custodians.
The costs of negotiations for all three bargaining groups was about $165,000, she said. The elimination of the $55,000 a year payments to the NFT president would pay for that in three years, she said.
The Norwalk Association of School Administrators contract and negotiations with four other unions as well as a salary re-opener would come up within the next year and a half, she said.
“Union negotiations are where the rubber hits the road and you want a strong, proven fiscal conservative in the driver’s seat,” she said.
She is excited about working with the new superintendent and would like to stay on the board for four more years – this is the last time she is running, she said.
Kruk said she has lived in Norwalk for five years and has two grown children.
“I live by two very simple rules,” she said. “Give my best at all times, no matter the circumstance, and always leave things better than I found them. What that would mean to you, as a taxpayer, is that I am tireless in my pursuit of excellence on behalf of those for whom I work, and that I always reach higher and never settle for less in that pursuit.”
She has worked in Information Technology and is a “solution provider,” she said.
As for why she wants to join the BOE, she cited two negative experiences with school systems. A guidance counselor told her she wasn’t college material, but with her mother’s encouragement she graduated from Vassar with BA in music as a classical guitar performance major. She tried to register her two kids in an Arlington, Va., elementary school and was given a form in Spanish and told to make due.
“We must never settle for the status quo, or make the assumption that only the ‘smart ones’ can achieve success in the world,” she said.
She was a PTO president for two years in another location, she said.
“My challenge to my fellow parents and their children was to build a gym, something the school had done without since it had been built 30 years prior. Together with the church that owned the school we set about working together, overcoming obstacles, and, after raising $1.5 million, we built our gym. My children never got to play in it, so there really wasn’t anything in it for me or them to tackle that project, but tackle it we did and we succeeded.”
Bazzano said he has lived here for 23 years and has three kids. The oldest graduated from Brien McMahon High School last year and is now a sophomore in a New Hampshire college, the middle child is a senior at McMahon and the youngest is a sixth-grader at All Saints Catholic School.
He is a banker and has been in finance for 25 years.
“I’m a conservative, fiscally and socially,” he said. “I believe in meeting budgets. I believe in supporting the party. I believe in being there for others. … I negotiate every day of my life. Whether it be at work, with my clients, with my employer, with my 11-year-old, so negotiation is a big part of what I do. “
It’s time to contribute now that his kids are older, he said.
“I believe in what we are doing,” he said. “The system needs somebody who has more of a finance background, someone who can help with the budgeting process, the negotiating process. I think that my experience in that arena, in the finance field, will be of help.”
Rosato was president of the Norwalk Education Foundation (NEF) from 2006-2012 and held an executive board position on PTO Council for the last year.
“In my six years at NEF, I also experienced turnover and downsizing of key administrative positions in departments like technology, special education, curriculum and instruction, and finance,” she said. “I saw the impact of these budget cuts on the district’s ability to deliver quality education services, especially from position cuts at Central Office. I spent most of my time working with the private sector and nonprofit community, building and strengthening relationships with local foundations, corporations, individual donors, and other nonprofit organizations, to help bring resources to the district.”
When former Superintendent Susan Marks began her tenure here, Rosato set up meetings to introduce her to local donors, she said.
“These meetings allowed her to build relationships quickly, and led to the procurement of several million dollars of outside funding for the school district in her short two-year tenure,” she said. “This is important to highlight because taxes alone cannot adequately fund our school budget. A combination of additional funding from the private sector, along with cost controls and fiscal stewardship, such as the recent arbitration award for the teachers’ contract, is where the next Board of Education needs to focus.”
Rosato said she supports reform, Haynie’s work and targeted professional development for teachers. She would help lead culture change, she said.
“I understand more than anyone else the need for change in the school district’s culture,” she said. “Having sat for six years on the third floor of City Hall, I know firsthand the impediments this culture creates to raising private funds. It creates great doubt in the private funding community to invest in Norwalk schools.”