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Four seats up for grabs on Waterford's Board of Education

Waterford — Four Democrats and two Republicans are on the ballot next Tuesday for four spots on the nine-member Board of Education.

The candidates discussed the issues they are most passionate about addressing and answered questions on COVID-19 funding and ways to address the mental health of students post-pandemic.

Running for a second term, Democrat Joy Gaughan, 61, is a 1977 graduate of Waterford High School and a consultant at Electric Boat. She said she wants students to be aware of the opportunities they have once they graduate, including those who are not bound for college. She said those students can continue to stay in town and work for companies in the region.

She also said she is a big proponent of sports, having worked as a teacher and coached field hockey and softball in regional schools.

When it comes to the mental health of students, Gaughan said it has been an issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic and, if reelected, she would continue to support services available to students. She said her biggest priority is that students feel safe, mentally and physically, making sure all required measures against COVID-19 are taken.

Newcomer and Republican Kathleen Elbaum, 51, is a receptionist at UBS Financial Services in New London. She is married to a retired Navy official and has two kids who graduated from the Waterford school system.

She said more resources and possible COVID-19 funds should go into addressing bullying and additional tutoring for the many students who fell behind when classes were online during the pandemic. "I just want to look out for the best interest of students and families."

Elbaum said in-person learning is very important and on a personal note doesn't think masks should be mandated for vaccinated students.

Incumbent and Democrat Deb Roselli Kelly, 57, is the principal of East Lyme High School and has resided in Waterford for the past 20 years. She had two children graduate from the Waterford school system.

Kelly said she seeks to continue supporting the superintendent and educators, providing the best education to all students.

Republican Chris Jones, 52, is a teacher at Grasso Tech High School in Groton and is seeking a second term. He said he played a role earlier this year in enlisting the district in a $2.15 million Eversource lighting project that eventually could help save over $360,000 annually.

He said he feels strongly about the school system being transparent, keeping the budget in line and improving test scores. As a Black man, he said he would like to see recruitment of more diverse teachers.

And whether students are masked or not, Jones said, they need to be in a classroom.

A professor at UCONN Avery Point, Democrat Laurie Wolfey, 61, runs a learning community designing and moderating dialogue.

Wolfey said she plans to "break down barriers" and build communication, particularly around divisive issues. She said some of the issues she feels strongly about include maintaining equitable state funding to support public education, providing ongoing accountability in schools and making technology available to all.

Democrat Billy Collins, 85, is a retired college English professor who has run unsuccessfully in the past to get elected to the board. He said diversity is high on his priority list, especially in teacher recruitment.

"In Waterford, where we have a low number of people of color, it is important to mingle and avoid the kind of racism we've seen in recent years nationally," he said.

Collins and Wolfey both said some COVID-19 funds should be allocated to services for students' mental health.

Wolfey said the focus needs to be on helping students socialize and encouraging them to engage in civil discourse.

The five remaining members not up for reelection are Democrat Marcia Benvenuti and Republicans Michele Devine, Pat Fedor, Amanda Gates-Lamothe and Chair Craig Merriman.

Other seats up for grabs

Other contested races Waterford voters can expect to see on Nov. 2 include Representative Town Meeting, Board of Finance, Board of Assessment Appeals and Zoning Board of Appeals.

In the running for three, full-term spots on Board of Finance are Republicans Ed Lusher and Ron Fedor against Democrats David Peabody, Glenn Patterson and Joe Filippetti. To fill two vacancies on the board for two years, Democrat Baird Welch-Collins is running against Republicans Tali Maidelis and Robert Tuneski.

In the race for Board of Assessment Appeals, Republican Lee Couture is up against Democrats Mike Buscetto III and Marianna McGuirk.

Uncontested, Democrats John R. Morgan and Michele Kripps are running with Republican Anne Dabling for three spots on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Running for two spots as alternates for the Zoning Board of Appeals are Republicans Krum Chuchev and Greg Gallup against Democrat William Herzfeld.

j.vazquez@theday.com

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