Four seats, seven candidates: A look at the Ridgefield Board of Education race

With four Board of Education seats up for grabs in the upcoming municipal election, seven candidates have raised their hands to make the grade.

With four Board of Education seats up for grabs in the upcoming municipal election, seven candidates have raised their hands to make the grade.

Ridgefield Public Schools / Contributed photo

RIDGEFIELD — With four Board of Education seats up for grabs in the upcoming municipal election, seven candidates have raised their hands to make the grade.

Of the current board members whose terms expire in 2021, appointee Tina Malhotra is the only one seeking re-election. Joining her on the Democratic slate is Selina Bell, Amy Casey and Tom Colin.

The Republican slate for Board of Education comprises Meg Oyunbazar, Julia London and Stavros Natsopoulos. Oyunbazar is running as an unaffiliated candidate but was endorsed by Ridgefield’s Republican Town Committee.

Hearst Connecticut Media had a chance to speak with each candidate regarding their stance on the most pressing issues facing Ridgefield voters.

Note: Some responses have been shortened for space.

Question: What is the top issue you plan to address if elected?

Malhotra: I believe that our children's education should be beyond politics. The educational issue I'm most passionate about is social-emotional health, especially after COVID. This has been a top priority for me as a current (board) member. Our (board) needs to support our administration in evidence-based identification and programming to address social-emotional needs at all levels. RPS has invested in DBT training and the RULER programs, but … needs to continually enhance and expand social-emotional support.

Tina Malhotra.

Tina Malhotra.

Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee / Contributed photo

Bell: (We) cannot educate children who aren't mentally, physically and socially healthy. By addressing the issues that hinder our children's development and providing ... the necessary tools they need to grow into emotionally strong adults, we also enable them to embrace all the learning opportunities that (RPS has) to offer. Academic excellence can't be achieved when a child is suffering, and the building blocks of education must include evidence-based instructions ... to maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Casey: I believe there are many issues of importance to RPS families and our community. On the Board of Education, I will be a crusader for all children to benefit from evidence-based programming, be supported in mental (and) emotional well-being and I will support policies that advance our curriculum in a fiscally responsible way.

Amy Casey.

Amy Casey.

Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee / Contributed photo

Colin: If afforded the privilege of serving on the Ridgefield Board of Education, I would want to first focus on making sure that the (board) serves the community by continuing Ridgefield’s educational excellence in a fiscally responsible manner, free from the political division often seen in other communities. This will require collaboration and input from parents, students, teachers, administrators, staff and taxpayers.

Oyunbazar: A strong effort to ensure a focus on academics and nonpolitical curriculum; I will work towards more than budgetary responsibility for the school district. (Also), transparency and community inclusion — too often people rally with interest and then interest wanes and time marches onward. For the school board, we need to ensure that parents and taxpayers stay engaged and have a legitimate mechanism to undertake that engagement.

Meg Oyunbazar.

Meg Oyunbazar.

Meg Oyunbazar / Contributed photo

London: Maintaining academic excellence within our schools (and) ensuring no additional learning loss as we continue to navigate living with COVID.

Natsopoulos: My plan is to influence policies and decisions that will return school instruction and general activities to pre-COVID days. Equally important is to ensure our curriculum fosters critical thinking, and that our kids receive the best education our tax dollars can possibly afford.

Stavros Natsopoulos.

Stavros Natsopoulos.

Stavros Natsopoulos / Contributed photo

Question: What projects or initiatives would you like to see fulfilled using the town's American Rescue Plan monies?

Malhotra: I believe allocation of ARPA funds requires multiple voices and perspectives, including the Board of Education. I am encouraged that Ridgefield ... has a representative committee to explore ideas. Because social-emotional support is so important, I think some of the ARP funds should be used to continue the successful summer enrichment offerings, implement “learning loss” initiatives and support highly trained staff to implement this important programming.

Bell: I would like to see some of the (ARPA) monies fund educational opportunities, mental health services and child care for families that have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Countless (people) suffer in silence because the money is not available to address mental health issues, and many parents struggle to afford tutoring services and after school child care for their children when they are desperately needed. The pandemic has made this problem even worse.

Selina Bell.

Selina Bell.

Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee / Contributed photo

Casey: I am passionate about the intersection between the arts and education. ... The arts have always been critical to our students’ mental and emotional health. I have seen the powerful effect the arts can have on our town and our students, so I believe the ARPA monies would be well-spent to support robust collaboration among local arts organizations and our schools at all grade levels.

Colin: Ridgefield’s American Rescue Plan money should be used in the most effective manner possible by serving those in our community most in need.

Tom Colin.

Tom Colin.

Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee / Contributed photo

Oyunbazar: The debate around town is whether the ARPA monies should be used to fund the sewer project. Like most complex projects with multiple stakeholders, we need to ... ensure a voice for each. At the same time, we may not need to reinvent the wheel — Ridgefield has a Health Department, (a) Board of Finance, (an) Emergency Operations Team and other entities that can and should weigh in on how these funds are used within the law.

London: These decisions lie with the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance, but if elected I would work with (both boards) to identify opportunities for funds to be used to make school facilities more ADA compliant, as this is an area the town has identified as needing additional attention.

Julia London.

Julia London.

Julia London / Contributed photo

Natsopoulos: The town's ARPA funds could possibly be used for education initiatives as well as infrastructure work, such as the sewer improvement project.

Election Day is Nov. 2.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com