BRISTOL — Candidates running for the Board of Education in the Nov. 3 election discussed how the school district can cope with the cost of state-imposed unfunded mandates at a political forum sponsored recently by the Bristol Federation of Teachers and the Bristol Parent Teacher Organization.

The teachers’ union and the PTA together came up with nine questions. Two candidates from each party were randomly chosen to respond to each question and each candidate had two minutes to speak.

“What can you do to help fund these required initiatives while continuing to fund other extra curricular activities within the education system?” asked David Hayes, BFT president.

Jeffrey Morgan, an incumbent Republican, said “First there should be no unfunded mandates but we do not control that.”

Activities may be funded by grants from private and government sources, Morgan said, citing the example of interscholastic middle school sports, which were brought back this year without raising the school budget.

The city’s Board of Finance gives the Board of Education a budget every year, He said. “It’s our duty to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely, which sometimes includes eliminating items that have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Karen Vibert, an incumbent Democrat, said the unfunded and under-funded mandates can be debilitating to the budget, she said, noting that she has often spoken with the state legislators in Hartford about the issue.

Measures like allowing businesses to assist the schools is not enough, she said. “I do believe the city needs to fund the BOE budget properly. We spend the lowest per student in our DRG [District Reference Group of municipalities with similar demographics], and definitely the lowest compared to our surrounding towns.”

Vibert said supporting education is critical to maintaining property values here and making Bristol a place where young people want to buy a home.

“Unfortunately there is really nothing we can do about the unfunded mandates and the state funding, however what you can do is vote in people who support excellence in education,” she said.

Genard Dolan, an incumbent Republican, said “These unfunded mandates are costing us dearly.”

“Some we can overcome by being more diligent and seeking grants from both private and government sources, some require us to simply tighten our belts.”

He said the voters can continue to press the legislature to stop and consider the cost of such mandates to municipalities.

“It is a favorite pastime for Democrats to spend other people’s money — it happens at the federal, state and the local level,” he continued. “More thought must be used to consider the value versus cost and to make better decisions at the state level.”

Karen Hintz, an incumbent Democrat, said she, along with Chris Wilson and Karen Vibert, her fellow Democrats on the board, go to Hartford to talk to the legislators every year as part of the Connecticut Association for Boards of Education’s “Day on the Hill.”

“It’s a tough thing to stretch the budget to encompass everything we want to do,” she said, highlighting the example of the board changing its policy to allow foundations and businesses to advertise their names on projects they fund for the schools.

The policy change made possible the district’s Bookmobile, which brings books to children who don’t get to the public library, she said.

However, that’s an unsustainable revenue stream — the district needs funding sources that can be guaranteed year after year after year, she said, adding that “the return on investment in education is beyond anything else we can spend money on.”

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-584-0501 ext. 1802 or scorica@bristolpress.com

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