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8 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. Westerly

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Basic concerns of student life emerge at candidates’ forum

STONINGTON — Board of Education candidates answered questions posed by students Tuesday night at a forum that revealed as much about the students as it did about the candidates themselves.

The forum was moderated by Superintendent Van Riley, and the questions were posed by Megan McCann, Danielle Herman, and Erin McCann, students in an Advanced Placement class in government. Most of the questions were complex, and difficult for the candidates to answer concisely in the one minute allotted to them. The candidates gave similar answers to each question, although the incumbents tended to have more information.

The first question dealt with the students’ frustration with the school’s technology, a topic that may have seemed all the more appropriate because the microphones kept cutting in and out during the hourlong forum.

All of the candidates said they were in favor of improving the district’s technology, and saw the need, but noted that it cost money.

Other questions dealt with bullying, school safety, and student achievement.

Another student questioned the money spent on the new all-weather, artificial turf football field, and asked if it would have been better spent on books and other supplies. The candidates were asked how they would know that the district’s money was being spent appropriately.

After pointing out that the field was paid for with a separate bond issue and not from the school budget, incumbent Democrat Gail MacDonald, the board’s chairwoman, said the board examines budget priorities at every meeting. Incumbents Alisa Morrison, a Democrat, and Faith Leitner, a Republican, had similar statements.

Republican Alexa Garvey suggested that residents should have been better educated on the source of the funds used for the fields.

Democrat Terry Stefanski recalled that when his daughters played field hockey at Stonington High School, they found broken glass and bottles on the field. The new field was money well spent, he said.

Candidates were also asked about the value of x-block, a one-hour period in which students can eat lunch, meet with teachers, study, or take part in activities. MacDonald said there needs to be more conversations before deciding the fate of x-block. Stefanski, whose children have already graduated, wasn’t familiar with that part of the schedule, while the rest of the candidates said they were firmly in favor of keeping x-block.

Candidates then had to pick a question from a list provided by students. “Why do you need to give homework” was one of the questions. Others: “Why do I have to pay $100 to park in a lot without cameras,” and “Why are students not allowed to drink coffee in school? It’s hard enough to get up early as it is.”

Morrison chose a related group of three questions, and encouraged students to give more input to the board and the administration on issues like coffee and healthy food choices in the cafeteria.

Stefanski chose a similar question about increased communication between students and the Board of Education.

“We have to hear from the student body,” he said. “We don’t know what problems may exist out there.”

Leitner answered the question of why school starts at 7:30 a.m., not 10:30. She talked about the bus schedule, and noted that after dropping off high school students the buses must transport middle school and then elementary school students. However, she said the topic should be open for discussion.

Garvey explained why the students are no longer issued a graphing calculator as freshmen, to take home and use and return before graduation. Some calculators were never returned, she said, suggesting that it might be better if the calculators were issued for one school year at a time.

MacDonald took the question of how to include all students, not just athletes, in school activities. She suggested offering more activities, and making students feel more comfortable joining.

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