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A Chat in Hamden

September 18, 2007

Photo/Sharon Bass
Marjorie Clark, 41, new PTA Council prez, Web designer, mother of two, dynamic

By Sharon Bass

Superintendent-to-be Fran Rabinowitz inspired Marjorie Clark to do it. Clark said she is so impressed with and so eager to work with Rabinowitz that she decided to run for PTA Council president. She was just elected, taking over for Tim Nottoli who was stepping down.

Sitting in the sun in front of Government Center yesterday -- after recounting primary ballots -- Clark talked excitedly of her new role and honestly about the disparity among the town’s elementary schools. She’s also a member of the Hamden Democratic Town Committee.

Clark and her husband met at the Yale School of Drama, where they both received master’s degrees. In 2000, they moved with their two daughters, now West Woods School students, to Hamden from Hartsdale, N. Y., in search of a better quality of life.

She said they found it.

Hamden Daily News: You said Rabinowitz was your inspiration. Would you elaborate?
Marjorie Clark: A few weeks back, Fran Rabinowitz had a meet-and-greet with parents and teachers and PTA members and she just blew me away. She’s so open and knowledgeable and easy to communicate with that I just said, ‘Wow, this is so much what we need. This open communication between parents and teachers and the administration and Board of Ed.' It all of a sudden came to me, you know. Without even realizing I was doing it, I’m coming up to Tim Nottoli after the meeting and saying, ‘So what’s involved in being the PTA president?’
HDN: You’re also on the West Woods PTA and the DTC, run your own Web design business and have two young children. You have the time?
MC: I talked with my husband briefly about it and said OK, if I get rid of some of my West Woods PTA duties and I back off on the DTC a little bit I can make room for this. Because this is such a great opportunity for me to bring my organizational skills, my PTA experience, my desire to do what’s right for the kids in the town. This is going to be so, so great. We’re [Clark and Rabinowitz] already making such a great team.
HDN: Have you two come up with any ideas yet?
MC: The other day she e-mailed and said, ‘What do you think about a handbook that’s called student expectations,’ or something along those lines. The focus would be on letting parents know what’s expected of the kids and the kids as well.
HDN: What kind of info might be in this handbook?
MC: For instance, at West Woods the PTA sponsors a night when the seventh-graders that are at the middle school, from West Woods, come and tell the sixth-graders what to expect the following year. We get a lot of great feedback on that. And if you could expand that model even just on paper, wow, that would be such a great service.
HDN: What do you feel is lacking in Hamden schools?
MC: Certainly we need more gym. I was looking at the goals report for 2006-2007 and what struck me was for some schools, especially the low-performing ones, there’s a lot of emphasis on the CMATs and those scores. And those schools are generally Title I. I’m not sure exactly what that means but I know they have a lot of lower-income families and they get extra help because of that. And the higher-performing schools, such as West Woods and Bear Path, there’s no mention of CMATs. They’re teaching the kids reading, writing, arithmetic. They’re not teaching the test. And those are the kids who do best.
HDN: What do you think of all the mandated testing? Of No Child Left Behind? Do you think it takes away from creative teaching?
MC: I don’t think it has to. At West Woods, as I just described to you, they don’t teach for the test, per se. You get worksheets that come home that look like the tests and, yeah, they have to know how to take it.
HDN: What else bothers you about the Hamden school system?
MC: What I would like to see is more equity between the schools.
HDN: Financial?
MC: Financial, staffing and expectations. I don’t understand why a Helen Street or a Church Street is so focused on the CMATs whereas as the higher-performing schools are not. I wish someone would explain that to me. And if the focus was shifted it seems to me the scores would improve. The other thing I noticed in the goals, and I’ve asked the Board of Ed and Curriculum Committee to look into this, is on the tutoring. We have a whole system of tutoring that’s available to anybody who wants it or needs it, separate from special education. But at West Woods, all of the kindergarten class of 74 children had tutoring. That would be 100 percent. And the corollary, the numbers for tutoring as they get into sixth-grade are like 13.
HDN: Do all West Woods kindergarteners need tutoring?
MC: I don’t know if they needed it, but they got it. The other schools were either zero to 20 in the number of kids who got tutoring in kindergarten and their numbers all go up when they get to sixth-grade. So what do you think should be happening? It’s an obvious choice -- early intervention.
HDN: Why does West Woods get it and not the others?
MC: Because we ask, maybe.
HDN: Is there a stronger PTA at West Woods?
MC: It could be PTA or it could be the parents, you know. It’s a more affluent neighborhood in West Woods. You have a lot of professors and lawyers and doctors and all that and they know to ask. Or maybe it’s the administrator at that school. So what I want to know is, Is it parent advocacy? Is it an administrative thing?
HDN: Is that something you plan to explore?
MC: It’s not really my source area of expertise, but I would ask the Board of Education to look into that. Early intervention is key.
HDN: Why do PTAs exist?
MC: In a perfect world, there should be no reason for PTAs to exist. We are here to not only be a liaison for parents and teachers, but to raise money for things the state and town don’t give us money for [such as] cultural enrichment.

September 14, 2007

Photo/Sharon Bass
Nick Bauer, 69, retired educator, former BOE member, 9th District Council candidate, father of four grown kiddos

By Sharon Bass

For most of his life, Nick Bauer was a Democrat. He joined the GOP in 1997 -- and hasn’t budged since -- when Barbara DeNicola ran for mayor and he ran for the Board of Ed for the first time. He left the board eight years later and is now vying for a seat on the Legislative Council.

With growing dissatisfaction with the Henrici Administration's inaugural term -- as evidenced by the Sept. 11 primaries when two incumbents were booted out by political newcomers -- the adjunct professor at Quinnipiac and Southern Connecticut State universities said now is the time for Republicans to seize power from the Democratic machine. Now, Bauer said, or perhaps never.

Hamden Daily News: What do you make of the primary results?
Nick Bauer: My view is they’re throwing the bums out. You’re seeing -- even within the Democratic Party -- that people are tired of what’s been going on.
HDN: Would you elaborate?
NB: I think the best word is probably ‘arrogance’ or a lack of concern about what people have to say. Take the whole thing with HART [Hamden Alliance for Responsible Taxation] and how they wanted a [reval] phase-in and it was just summarily dismissed. Why couldn’t the phase-in have been part of the process? And if the mayor had done that and the Council had done that, I don’t think they’d be in the fix they are today.
HDN: So you think these two primary losses are the consequence of not having approved a phase-in?
NB: I think so. If they had showed their willingness to listen ... I believe this is the first mayor who’s raised taxes for two years in a row. Now you’ll have to research that but from my general remembrance of politics, I think that’s very true.
HDN: Any predictions for November?
NB: I think we’re [Republicans] going to make inroads into the Council. I’d love to see us sweep the Democrats right out but their numbers are just too far against us. In some of the districts, like the 5th, the Democrats are so heavily entrenched, it’s almost like an automatic vote. If the Republicans don’t win this time, forget them. They’re done if they’re not done already. This is going to be a test, as far as I’m concerned, as to whether the Republican Party is truly viable.
HDN: What do you think?
NB: Yes, I think this election is our best chance. I ran for the first time [for the BOE] with Barbara DeNicola and this feels like that and even more so. [Former Mayor Lillian] Clayman had been in for six years. And obviously a politician keeps making enemies all along. It just piles up. And I think that’s basically what happened to Clayman. Plus, she was a caustic personality, which didn’t help her.
HDN: You served on the school board with mostly Democrats. What was that like?
NB: Micky Degnan, Peter Brown, these are Democrats I’m naming, they worked very hard. My main concern at all times with them is they weren’t careful enough with how they spent money. Let me see if I can give you an idea. [Late superintendent] Alida Begina was a wonderful woman and she really had kids at heart. No question about it. A very capable person. But her answer to problems was to go to the state and find money. To me that’s not how you’re going to solve Hamden’s problems, by looking for the state to come in and solve it.
HDN: Any thoughts about the current Board?
NB: I think they’re the same. They’re just as dedicated. I know Austin Cesare. I know Lynn [Campo]. I know Ed Sullivan. I think they’re honest, decent people. Democrats and Republicans both.
HDN: And the Town Council?
NB: The Council is much more political. Again, where the Council today is falling down is in not hearing what people are saying. Especially with this tax issue.
HDN: You think the substantial tax hikes over the last two years is the only election issue?
NB: You know what they say about real estate -- location, location, location. This election, taxes, taxes, taxes.
HDN: What about the other blemishes of this administration, such as the mayor asking for a hefty, personal travel allowance and choosing a fire chief last year that even his own Council couldn’t approve?
NB: That’s the arrogance I’m talking about. My observation is that Henrici just willy-nilly did what he thought was right for his best interest.
HDN: How do you feel about running against retired Fire Chief Jim Leddy?
NB: Well, I’m concerned about his name recognition. I think he has far more name recognition than I do. I’m going to try to change that with the campaign. I would just simply say he’s a Democrat and the Democrats are the people who are going to have to be out of power for a while if we’re going to have a two-party system in this town.
HDN: Do you believe the best scenario is to have a distribution of power between the parties?
NB: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have nothing but respect for most of the Democrats I’ve worked with closely. They do a decent job. My concern is that nobody really has a veto power here or an ability to say you’re wrong and make them think about it. I could say something on the Board of Education, I could make a suggestion, and eventually if it was worthwhile, it would get in. It wasn’t necessarily credited to me, but at least they heard.
HDN: If you’re elected to the Council, it sounds like your top priority would be to stabilize taxes.
NB: Right. But how do you get there? How do you keep taxes stable? It means you have to examine what you do. You look at the biggest pieces of the budget and you see how you put them together. Obviously, one of the biggest pieces is payroll. I venture to say 80 percent is payroll. You gotta do something about that.
HDN: What?
NB: Outsource. You take a look at the experiment the Board of Education is doing right now with outsourcing mowing, instead of hiring two new people when the new middle school went on line. Have you observed the grounds of the schools recently? Look at them. They’re so much better kept than they were a year ago. It’s because it’s being done by a private person who knows if they don’t do the job, they’re gone and somebody else will do it.
HDN: Do you think we have too many school administrators?
NB: All right, you’re going to get my theory. What came home to me about Connecticut when I went to Florida a couple of times is I found out there are 60 school districts in Florida with one superintendent in each of those districts. There’s 30 million people in Florida with 60 school districts. Connecticut, there are 3 million people and 169 school districts.
HDN: Consolidation?
NB: That’s it. Regionalization. All right, I know New England doesn’t want to give up local control. I understand that, but it’s getting awfully expensive. We increase our [school] budget every year, but it really never filters down to the classroom. The only part that increases is the teachers’ salaries. It doesn’t mean we have better technology in there. It doesn’t mean we have better textbooks. It doesn’t mean we have more supplies. For that matter, one of the big comments often from PTOs is why don’t we have enough supplies in the classroom?
HDN: And you think outsourcing is one solution to the budget woes. Are you suggesting layoffs?
NB: No. That’s the last thing I’d want to do. Absolutely not. Am I trying to break unions? No. Believe me, I grew up in a working-class family. My father was steward of a manufacturing union. I have no beef with the unions. That’s their job to get as much money as they can for their workers. My beef is with the politicians who let them do it.


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