Democratic First Selectman Candidate Mary Beth Thornton outlines a series of principles from which she will govern and calls for a variety of immediate initiatives, including seeking an outside review of the school system’s processes and structure in an effort to generate sustainable savings for the community.
Thornton noted that First Selectman Tim Herbst is claiming that full-day kindergarten will launch in the 2012-2013 school year. “That is a false claim, and Tim Herbst knows it,” Thornton said. “The school system lacks the space and the money to implement that for the next school year, and Herbst is pandering for votes with no intention of following through. Voters may recall that full day kindergarten was an unfilled promise by Herbst in his 2009 election campaign. He should level with the people of Trumbull.”
Full-day kindergarten remains a priority, Thornton said, but only after the restoration of what was lost under the current administration. We should move forward with this program only after it has been presented to the public with a clear plan for funding and space utilization and at such time that it can be made available equally to all local schools.
Portable classrooms are an unfortunate necessity at the moment, Thornton said, but we should have a plan to reduce their use as soon as practical. “In 2009, Tim Herbst called them dangerous. Then he forgot about them,” Thornton said. “We will not do that.”
“Our school system is Trumbull’s crown jewel, benefiting our young people, certainly, but benefitting all taxpayers and homeowners in the sense that it is the bedrock of a desirable, high-value community,” Thornton said. “For two years, Tim Herbst has made the schools a political football. That’s going to stop when I’m elected in November.”
Thornton committed to working cooperatively with the Board of Education to select an outside expert to review all processes and practices of the school system and to make recommendations for structural and/or process changes, thereby generating sustainable savings without damaging the system. Further, she will, within the first 60 days of her term, work cooperatively with the Board of Education to create a commission whose purpose will be to make recommendations on whether and how to integrate non-education services like maintenance and snow plowing with similar Town Services. Also, Thornton will:
- Implement an immediate “freeze” on pay-to-play-fees, recognizing these are both a tax on a particular segment of the community, and if allowed to escalate, threaten the concept of a “free” public education.
- Work cooperatively with the Board of Education to find savings in insurance accounts, and to do so without the foolishness that pervaded the effort last spring under the Herbst Administration and the Republican controlled Town Council.
- Encourage and support our representatives in Hartford to fight unfunded mandates and reform the archaic Educational Cost Sharing Formula (ECS).
Underlying all of these initiatives are principles that Thornton says will guide her term. They include making small class size the number-one education priority; respecting members of the Board of Education, even when they disagree on policy; treating teachers and administrators as the important community assets they are; treating unions with respect and recognizing the role they play, even when hard bargaining is required.
At the end of the day, Thornton said, all the divisive rhetoric, the silly name calling, and the confrontational tactics of the Herbst Administration have served to undermine our strong system, which already delivers above-average results at below-state average cost.
“Mr. Herbst has failed our Community when it comes to education,” she said. “His inexperience has hurt us in many ways. For example, even when he has a good idea, like the joint bidding for health insurance, his penchant for bullying and bravado turn the process into a circus. He failed to meet any of his educational priorities and in fact created the conditions that made those priorities impossible to achieve. He failed the test of leadership by sitting silently by as some Republican members and alternates on the Board of Finance needlessly and pointlessly attacked members of the school administration, thereby sowing the seeds of distrust and division in our community. The resulting counterproductive tone of the discussion, characterized by hostility and anger, served no purpose.”
A strong public school system is in the interest of every citizen of Trumbull, Thornton said, because it not only provides our youngest citizens with the opportunity to reach their potential, but has a positive impact on home values. “We should not accept mediocrity as the price for efficiency,” Thornton said. “Instead, we should engage as a community to strive for excellence in education at a competitive cost.”