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East Lyme - Seven candidates are running for five spots on the Board of Education in the Nov. 5 election.
Newcomers Joseph Arcarese, Ted Koch and Robert Kupis are challenging incumbents Candice Carlson, Albert Littlefield, Carolyn Nee and Marlene Nickerson.
The candidates, with a variety of experiences and backgrounds, said deciding with the community the best plan for the future of the district's aging elementary schools was among the top issues for the district.
The future decision, which will ultimately come before voters, involves whether to build a new complex, consolidate the schools into two buildings or renovate all three schools.
Democrat Joseph Arcarese, principal of Groton's Robert E. Fitch High School, said the possibility of redistricting and determining a plan for the elementary school buildings are sensitive issues to which he would bring his educational experience. He said the school board needs to balance financial issues with the need to put students first.
"My decision-making is always in the best interest of kids," he said.
Candice Carlson, a Democrat with a background in casework with the state Department of Developmental Services who filled a board vacancy last winter, said beginning discussions on possible redistricting and implementing the new Common Core state standards and state-mandated teacher evaluation system are major issues.
She said it was very important to involve the community in the decision-making process for the future of t he elementary schools.
As major issues for the district, Republican incumbent Marlene Nickerson highlighted supporting the schools through a new state-mandated teacher evaluation and finding a new superintendent now that Superintendent James Lombardo will retire in 2015.
Deciding on the town's elementary school facilities, while not an immediate decision, is also critical, she said.
"We will spend a lot of time working with the community," said Nickerson, a board member since 2004 and a marriage and family therapist.
Albert Littlefield, a Republican board member since 2004, also said determining a path for the elementary schools and communicating with the community through forums and each steps was a priority.
He added that he supports balancing finances with the need for educational innovation. One such innovation he named was this year's implementation of full-day kindergarten, in which a higher-than-projected number of students enrolled.
Democrat Ted Koch, an attorney, emphasized the importance of carefully analyzing the elementary-school project not just in terms of the immediate financial cost, but also in regards to long-term and educational impacts to make the best decision for the community.
He also said it was worth closely examining the impact that an increasing focus on standardized testing has on students.
Republican Robert Kupis, a physician's assistant and graduate of East Lyme High School, said it was important to maintain the district's Blue Ribbon schools. He said he would carefully collect information to help make a decision on the future of the buildings as well as on the possibility of redistricting to even out each school's population.
He said it was important to balance budget constraints with acting in the best interest of children and remembering how a good education system strengthens the town.
Carolyn Nee, a business strategist and Democrat who filled a board vacancy last winter, said it was important to guide the district as it faces new state academic standards and a new teacher evaluation, as well as examine technology's impact on education.
"This is a whole townwide effort that is going to be led by the Board of Education," she said of the decision on the elementary schools.
Other candidates for municipal offices are: Republicans Camille Alberti, Stephen Harney and Raymond Hart, and Democrats Beth Hogan and Barbara Senges-Murphy for Board of Finance; Republican Steven Kelley for a two-year term on the Board of Finance; Republican Lesley Blais for town clerk; Republicans Norman Peck III, Marc Salerno and Matthew Walker, and Democrats Joyce Schmidt and Alvin Sher for Zoning Commission; Republican James Liska and Democrat Peter Joseph Lukas for Zoning Commission alternate.
Also running are: Republican Mary Ann Salvatore and Democrat Joan Schwartz for the Board of Assessment Appeals; Democrats Francine Ellen Schwartz and Anne Langley Thurlow, and Republicans Joan Bengston, Rita Franco-Palazzo and Brian Schuch for the Planning Commission; Republican Michael Hess for an alternate seat on the Planning Commission; Republican John McCulloch for tax collector; and Republican Bruce Brailey and Democrat Merrill Mazzella for town treasurer.
The Day asked candidates for top offices in the municipal elections to answer three questions:
• What are the major issues for your town?
• What makes you the best candidate for this job?
• What was the last book you read, and what did you think of it?
For their responses, go to www.theday.com/voterguide