Kindergarten among candidates’ concerns

MILFORD – A full-day kindergarten program, a $3 million bond for school building repairs and the election of two School Board members are on the ballot for Milford’s local election on Tuesday, March 14.

The pilot kindergarten program is designed to be self-funding, and the Advisory Budget Committee split 6-3 on its vote to recommend it. Committee Chairman Rick Wood, the only one of the four School Board candidates who opposes it, said at a candidates forum on Monday night that he wants to allow voters to decide the issue.

“I think it’s a long time for children to be in school,” said Wood, who said he has concerns about the way the Milford program is set up.

The four candidates are vying for two open three-year seats on the board.

The other three candidates are strongly in favor of the pilot program. Incumbent Kevin Drew said the importance of kindergarten has been well-researched. Because the rest of the country’s school districts are starting programs, he said, “We don’t want to be among the last.”

What is not an issue for any of the candidates is the bond for capital improvements, which has the unanimous support of the School Board and the Budget Committee.

“Three million dollars will only chip away” at the most vital building problems at the schools, candidate Jenni Siegrist said. There are “$18 million worth of needs.”

Wood said there was no heat in first-grade classrooms at Jacques Memorial School on Monday morning, and that Milford schools have “significant infrastructure needs.”

But rising costs and declining revenue are big problems, he said.

“My taxes gone up by $700” over the plast two years, he said, and indicated that upcoming teachers contract negotiations could be an important part of keeping costs under control.

Wood and Siegrist talked about finding new, creative ways to find more revenue. Candidate Michael Hannon talked about partnership and collaboration in the school community, saying his profession as a loss prevention director involves bringing people together to solve problems.

Drew said it’s important for the board to look at all costs, but that the goal is educating children.

Siegrist, who is on the School Budget Committee, said members tried to listen to all of the viewpoints before reaching their recommendations. She said as a board member, she would work toward better communication with all of the town’s residents and “building bridges with representatives in Concord” to address funding issues.

“We are not getting enough” building aid and retirement money from the state, she said.

Drew talked about the School District’s achievements, including the establishment of Google School, which he called a cost-effective way to bring technology into the classrooms.

The idea of “pay-to-play,” charging students for school activities, was rejected by the School Board last year, but Wood said the board didn’t spend enough time studying it.

Hannon said enrollment declines could be addressed by making the schools more attractive to parents, and Siegrist said she sees more housing being built and wonders if the declines will continue.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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