Three candidates seeking two open seats on the School Committee discussed their qualifications for the job at a Tuesday debate.
Robert G. Hiss, Rebecca M. Padera, and Michael F. Zullas sat before the cameras Tuesday. While officially not an incumbent, Padera has been serving on the School Committee for the past year, appointed to replace Denis Keohane after he was elected as a selectman.
The other open seat is that of School Committee chairman Glenn Pavlicek, who is not running for re-election.
Answering the first question about what unique qualifications he would bring to the committee, Hiss said he approached the situation like he did being CEO of large and small software companies. Running the schools successfully involved bringing in high quality talent to keep parents and students happy and by maintaining good facilities, he said.
He said he ran because he has a fourth grader at Milton’s Collicot Elementary School and he also said he wanted to strengthen science, technology, engineering, and math (known as STEM) education.
“It is important for the School Committee to have, in effect, customers on it,” Hiss said.
Padera said she was the only elementary school parent on the committee, and had an education background with 10 years in guidance and as a track coach.
She ran because she was involved in the Glover Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization and she, too, wanted to see science education improved.
Zullas, a lawyer, said his experience both working with business and with teachers in his work on the Milton High School Site Council gave him multiple perspectives, which would be useful as a committee member.
Zullas also sought the appointment when Padera was selected and said that his experience on the Warrant Committee could add value to the School Committee.
“I believe there’s a solution to every problem,” he said.
Related to the proposed school budget increase, Zullas said it was important for the school to have a five-year strategic plan. He thought the school could be able to reduce costs by looking for ways to combine resources with the town.
Hiss agreed with the need for goals, and said one focus should be on narrowing the achievement gap.
Padera said the committee had been looking for ways to consolidate services and has been looking for ways to increase efficiency.
Returning to the issue of the achievement gap, Padera said it was important to find low cost preschools or full-day preschools to help level the playing field to give poorer students the same early advantages as wealthier students. She also stressed reading specialists at the elementary level.
Zullas said literacy and science learning were the places that needed resources, particularly at the elementary level.
Hiss said the tracking of progress performed at the Tucker Elementary School should be extended to the whole town, which would help lower the achievement gap without expending resources.
None of the candidates supported arming teachers or reducing the amount of homework for students. Padera and Zullas favored an assault weapons ban while Hiss said more stringent background checks were a better option, but none of the candidates thought lawmakers would be consulting them on that issue.