From the Bristol Press article

BRISTOL — The Bristol Federation of Teachers has been critical of the Board of Education for not being receptive to teachers’ comments and complaints. Candidates running for the board had the chance to talk about that issue at a recent political forum sponsored by the teachers union and the Bristol Parent Teacher Organization.

Union President David Hayes said the BFT and the PTA came up with the questions asked at the forum. Two candidates from each party were chosen to respond to each question and each had two minutes to speak.

“In June, several teachers addressed concerns at the Board of Education meeting (that) the commissioners were not receptive,” Hayes said to the candidates.

“Do you think there should be open communication between staff members and the Board of Education? If not, how do you propose the Board of Ed commissioners be informed of concerns of teachers?” he asked.

Republican Larry Amara, the Republican board chairman, said communication between staff and board members does occur. “In my four years on this board there have been many, many, many staff members that I’ve talked to, and I have listened to them.”

However, Amara said, from his experience running a school for 23 years, “there needs to be some kind of chain of command. If you’re a buck private, you don’t go to a five-star general if you have a problem.” In the Bristol school system teachers and staff have ample opportunity to speak to coordinators, vice principals, department heads and many others if there is an issue or problem,” he said.

“Communication is key, but the board should not have to be involved in every issue — if there’s an issue it needs to move up the chain before the board has to hear it,” he said.

Chris Wilson, a Democratic incumbent, answered in regards to public engagement.

“In a community like Bristol, probably the biggest problem is public engagement is not as great as it should be,” Wilson said. “So any time we have an opportunity to engage the public and stakeholders we need to take advantage of it.” That applies to informal and formal communication, he said, noting that some issues may be too sensitive to address in a public meeting.

“But in the case in question I certainly think we need to be transparent and open with our staff, our faculty, our parents, our partners in the community, and hear what they have to say,” Wilson said.

“We as commissioners don’t know everything, we have not learned everything yet,” Wilson said. “It’s a big learning curve, we all know that, and it’s nice to hear from the professionals, because sometimes we only hear a view from the administration.”

Jeffrey Morgan, a Republican incumbent, responded to the BFT’s choice of words.

“Not really sure what you mean by not being receptive,” he said. “Many teachers, assistant principals and principals have discussed their issues with me at my business. My door is always open.” Morgan said he has brought issues to the attention of the administration to try to resolve them,

In any case, the board meetings are not the proper place for teachers to be discussing their issues, he added. “There is a proper chain of command,” he said.

“I’ve never really been a fan of the way that we handle public comment at our board meetings,” said Democratic incumbent Karen Vibert. “For instance, there have been times when public comment is actually placed after a critical vote, and that’s basically telling people that their comments don’t matter. That’s the wrong order.

“I believe every public comment should be answered, whether it’s answered on the spot or we tell people that we don’t have the answer and we will definitely get back to you,” she said.

Vibert agreed that there is a chain of command that teachers should follow, but, “sometimes you may not be comfortable doing that.” She invited school staff to email, call or write and tell her what’s on their minds, noting that she and fellow board member Karen Hintz recently attended a teachers union reception at which they got a chance to talk to teachers.

“We are there for you, and I think it’s important that you talk to us and we talk to you,” she added.

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

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