School Modernization and bullying are two of the biggest issues facing the next Cheshire Board of Education, according to several of the candidates running for seats in the upcoming election.
Two of them — Republican incumbents Adam Grippo and Tony Perugini — are hoping to earn re-election to another term, while three Democratic challengers — Samantha Rosenberg, Chris Smith, and Patricia Cramer — are looking to garner the trust of the voters for the first time. There are three seats up for election this year. If the majority power (Republicans) win two of those seats the third seat would go to the next minority power candidate (affiliated or unaffiliated) with the highest vote tally.
For the Republicans, Perugini has been on the BOE since 2009, serving as chair since 2019. Grippo, who was elected in 2017, is seeking a second term.
“I am not much of a campaigner myself, but I do promise to always listen to every single person as much as possible,” Perugini commented. “My time as chair has given me the opportunity to hear from lots of different people who have many different ideas, especially on this modernization issue.”
Since April, when the School Modernization Committee (SMC) concluded its charge to develop a plan to upgrade Cheshire’s aging school infrastructure, BOE members have been discussing the proposals with Town Council members to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that whatever plan is chosen is fiscally responsible, and viable.
“I am incredibly optimistic about the modernization plan and where we are headed with discussions,” explained Grippo. “We need to spend money wisely to get modernization done, and we also need to manage our debt smartly, which I intend to oversee.”
School Modernization is the biggest issue facing the Cheshire School District currently, and one Democratic challenger expressed disappointment over the focus of those discussions.
“I was disappointed to see the elementary school option as the primary choice for School Modernization,” explained Rosenberg. “I believe that the elementary school idea is incredibly divisive. All the schools need fixing, so who’s to say which school needs it more than the others?”
The Town Council has decided to go with the SMC’s primary recommendation of Scenario 6, which will include the construction of two new elementary schools and the demolition of Darcey School. This plan will cost the town roughly $258 and $329 million to complete over a period of years.
Cramer, who many may recognize as co-host of the Cheshire Cast podcast, has spent the past year debating with town officials about modernization on her podcast, and is ready to throw her hat into the ring.
“I am absolutely 100% pro-modernization,” she said. “This is a necessary investment and there is no wiggle room as long as it meets the needs of the community, and that is where there is confusion.”
Meeting the needs of the community is where Cramer believes she can make a difference and can stand out from the crowd as a political newcomer.
Another newcomer is Smith, not only to the Cheshire political scene, but to Cheshire itself. Smith just moved to Cheshire this year.
“I will be honest — the modernization issue is well established and it seems the BOE is moving forward and I would love to help them do that,” Smith explained. “But where I see my expertise falling is towards increasing our technology standards … we cannot be left behind.”
Bullying is another major issue that all BOE candidates suggested will be a focus for the next Board, and Grippo is ready to dive head-first into the matter.
“I have a strong record of being anti-bullying and I would love to get better data as to how our students are fairing post-COVID,” he said. “Hopefully, once COVID is behind us we can start to get a better sense of the school climate and how they are adjusting to being back in school.”
For Rosenberg, being a minority candidate is important to her, as she can use her own experiences to better inform the Board and its policies.
“I am a minority female running against a bunch of white men — of course I understand the bullying issue,” she joked. “I believe to better combat that issue, we have to include all minority backgrounds, which is why I think Critical Race Theory should be taught. Why not learn all of our histories, where we all come from?”
Cramer believes that, if provided with better tools to address bullying, the District can make better decisions about how to help its students.
“We are never going to fully eradicate bullying,” she admitted. “But we can provide adults and teachers in our community with important tools to combat it head-on. Nowadays with social media, bullying comes home with the student, whereas before, once the child left school, that’s where it stayed.”
Perugini has often had to deal with the aftermath of bullying when it has reared its head in the District, and he explained that his approach to any situation is to consider the humanity of the individuals involved.
“I always try to look at these things as if it was my daughter going through it,” he explained. “How would I give her the best possible advice? I try to do that whenever we start to go through a difficult situation or meeting, like this year regarding masks. I never assume that I have all the answers.”
For Smith, the bullying issue is personal, as he has a young child who will soon enter the school system.
“I have skin in this game,” he said. “I want the school climate and environment to be right for my son, and for the hundreds of other students who will be entering the system when he is.”
“He’s only 18 months old now, but bullying can permeate through all aspects of life and it can be stopped at the school level directly,” he continued.