Erickson says school board must represent all stakeholders

Board of Education candidate Laura Erickson says her years on the RTM give her an experience that will be valuable in dealing with school budgets. — Ken Borsuk photo

Board of Education candidate Laura Erickson says her years on the RTM give her an experience that will be valuable in dealing with school budgets.
— Ken Borsuk photo

Looking at every detail of the school budget is nothing new for Laura Erickson, but she’s looking to change the perspective she views it through. A 13-year member of the Representative Town Meeting, Ms. Erickson is now running as a Democrat for the Board of Education.

Calling it a natural progression, Ms. Erickson said there are many similar goals between the two bodies, as she’s always looked at things as a taxpayer and a parent and fought for what she believes in, like the music instructional space and auditorium (MISA) project at Greenwich High School.

“As a member of the Board of Education your responsibility is to all stakeholders, not just your students and your parents, but your future students and your taxpayers,” Ms. Erickson said. “We are stewards of the education system. I don’t think our parents want to pay any more taxes than the other residents in town unless there’s a very good reason that can be explained in a way that makes sense.”

Ms. Erickson told the Post that her desire to run for the board stems from her “personal investment” in the district. She has three children who have attended Greenwich Public Schools, two of whom are there now, and she has served as a PTA co-president at Riverside School and Greenwich High School. Also, as a member of the RTM’s Finance Committee, that meant paying close attention to the school budgets, and she has been a regular at Board of Education meetings for years for all those reasons.

While “board dysfunction” has become an issue in this election year, Ms. Erickson, as a longtime veteran of the RTM, doesn’t get thrown by conflict. She also was a member of the controversial RISE Committee in 2007 looking at racial balance and facility utilization, two issues still alive today, and the committee that put together the district’s vision of the graduate.

“No board is perfect,” Ms. Erickson said. “There’s always going to be people who have different opinions and a different way of approaching things. But everybody brings their life perspectives to a board, and despite the reports of dissension on the board, there’s so much to be celebrated in the school system and I want to focus on the positive, not the negative.”

Ms. Erickson said it’s important to have leadership stability in Greenwich, and that means showing support to Superintendent of Schools William McKersie. There has been repeated turnover in superintendents over the last 10 years, and Ms. Erickson said she believes children, including her own, have suffered because of it. Because of that, she says, she wants to be elected to support not just the administration but progress for all students and make sure there is stability at the superintendent’s level and at lower levels, like program coordinators and school building leadership.

Stability will help create an atmosphere for success, Ms. Erickson said, and will allow the Board of Education to keep its focus on academic achievement.

“That’s something that should always be at the front,” Ms. Erickson said. “The way to do it is to look at very targeted strategies. I believe I can bring to the board a knowledge of the town budget, and that will be critical as we advocate for the resources we need to drive achievement. We’re losing 20 years of experience with the board members not running for new terms, and we really need to find a way to take the language of the education budget and what’s going on in the education world with the town budget and strategically present budgets.”

Doing that, Ms. Erickson said, is a way to present not only this year’s budget but the next year’s and what lies ahead in the future. Ms. Erickson said increased attention needs to be paid to the district’s operating budget. Many of the costs there are locked into labor contracts, but Ms. Erickson said things can be done, like making sure teachers are most effectively deployed and examining how resources are being spent, especially as new initiatives like digital learning take hold in the district.

To try to improve achievement, Ms. Erickson said, K-3 reading is “essential,” as is as an earlier focus on writing. Science is another area where she wants to see improvement, but with new Common Core standards being implemented and new assessments as well, she says there will be an adjustment period. That means, she says, there has to be clear communication with the community about the process and what realistic goals there should be.

Calling herself opinionated, but also a consensus builder, Ms. Erickson said the experience she has on the RTM can help on the Board of Education, thanks to all the school budgets she looks at and knowing what needs to be communicated to the RTM and the Board of Estimate and Taxation. She says she wants the board to help show the positive things going on in the district, but also push for improvement and make sure the administration is showing where that improvement is taking place and what more needs to be done in the clearest possible way.

“There’s a lot of data,” Ms. Erickson said. “We had a 122-page achievement report at the September meeting, and when you get that without a lot of analysis, it’s not very helpful. We need more analysis, not just data. But at the same time, Dr. McKersie is our employee and this current board found him and unanimously hired him. You have to support your employee, both in private business and on a board of education. You have to give them the tools to do their job. If you’ve hired the most qualified employee, they need some autonomy to execute the plan. They need to share the plan and they need to show the progress in the plan, but you can’t micromanage. That’s not a good practice.”

Over the next four years, the full deployment of the digital learning program and the measuring of its impact is likely to be a major area of focus for the board. Ms. Erickson said she likes how it has been launched at Hamilton Avenue and Riverside schools to start off, and she is excited to see how teachers are embracing the technology and using it in the classroom as well as finding out what impact it will have on increasing achievement.

“It’s an ambitious program, and I personally think that we should be building alliances in the community to help us with that,” Ms. Erickson said. “We might ask parents who can afford it to purchase or assist in the leasing of the devices. We’ve come down from $17-$20 million for this to a little over $13 million, but it’s still a big number. … I’m not skeptical of the program. I’m excited about the program. I think it’s where we need to go, but it’s all in the implementation and I don’t want to overpromise. Technology is not a panacea. The teachers need to be excited about this and given the right tools in professional development for it to work.”

Building consensus will be very important for the new board, she says, no matter which candidates are on it. She said all the recent discussion around potentially making North Street School an open choice school to deal with racial imbalance and overcrowding is proof of that. She said in her first year on the RTM, in 1999, she saw the community come together to deal with overcrowding at Riverside and Old Greenwich schools as parents feared redistricting, and she said that, and Glenville School supporting Hamilton Avenue during times of crisis, are examples of what can be done.

“It’s going to take everyone working together to come up with constructive solutions to the immediate concerns and raising achievement and facilities utilization,” Ms. Erickson said.

Ms. Erickson is running as a Democrat but did not receive the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement over the summer. Instead, through a petition drive she gained access to the ballot, creating a competitive race for the party’s two open seats. Ms. Erickson admits she was “baffled” by the lack of support from the DTC’s executive committee and she felt it was important to push forward with a campaign after receiving a lot of encouragement, especially from her family, to do so.

“I believe in voter choice,” Ms. Erickson said. “The DTC believed all the candidates were qualified, but as a parent in the system, I felt it was important to put myself out there.”

 

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