Four active parents and potential school committee members gathered at one table Wednesday night to share their views on issues facing Duxbury students as part of this year’s candidate forum. Four active parents and potential school committee members gathered at one table Wednesday night to share their views on issues facing Duxbury students as part of this year’s candidate forum.

The three individuals on the ballot ñ Karen Wong, George Cipolletti and Ernest Nichols ñ were joined by Kathy Bittrich, a recent addition to the race as a write-in candidate, as they tackled everything from tough fiscal times to the increasingly tense atmosphere at Duxbury High School due to threatening notes.

Asked how school administrators have handled these threats, all four praised the work being done by both police and educators.

Cipolletti said that he thought "the school’s hands were tied" in that they have to take these threats seriously, even though everyone hopes it is a lark.  He added that he was happy to see that administrators weren’t taking a heavy-handed approach with questioning kids and was hopeful it would all be over soon.{sidebar id=4}

Bittrich also pledged her support to the school’s Crisis Intervention Team and others to do all they can to keep students safe.  She did, however, hope that after the issue was resolved, that administrators take another look at the culture at the high school to ensure that there is appropriate outreach and help for kids that need it.

Wong praised specific actions taken by the schools and police such as assemblies with each class at DHS to solicit their help as well as the potential creation of an anonymous tip-line, while Nichols said he was also hopeful all the hard work by these individuals would lead to a quick resolution of the issue.

All candidates were also asked their opinion of the police releasing parts of the note to the media and if this should continue.  Again, all four candidates said they supported whatever decisions law enforcement made as it is ultimately their decision.

Regarding the school committee’s recent work on their $22.9 million budget, each candidate was asked how many committee meetings they had been to recently and if they attended the February meeting where the budget was debated for five hours.

Bittrich said she did not attend the February meeting, but instead the January public forum to express her thoughts and concerns.

"I felt my attendance wasn’t [required] because I really felt the administrators and committee members put a lot of thoughtful work into the processÖand my impression was that the February meeting was for deliberating after considering, to a great extent, public input," she said.  "They did a nice job accumulating public information and reaching out to the public in the budget process."

Nichols said that the February meeting was his first opportunity to attend after deciding to seek election and went to get all the information he could.

Noting the length of the meeting, Wong said she stayed the entire time and has attended as many committee meetings as possible.  In addition, she noted her attendance at other school-related meetings and her "good track record" at various events.

Cipolletti said he has attended two meetings, including the February budget meeting, noting he knew the latter would be a difficult decision-making process and he wanted to see how current members reacted to it.  He credited all involved with the meeting for their hard work on crafting a final budget as well.

On the issue of a full-day kindergarten program, that was defeated last year at Town Meeting, candidates varied a little on their opinion of the physical and financial structure of such an endeavor.

Nichols said with a child entering kindergarten next year, he favored such a program with payment from parents. 

Wong, who was involved with trying to get the program created last year, said she believed in the merits of the program, but seeking its creation is not the reason she is running.  She noted that all of the families that would be using the program were asked in advance regarding their participation and financial responsibility, and an overwhelming majority of parents supported it.  The option was then taken away and this year, she said, and a number of fees have been increased in the schools for next year without anyone’s input.

"I find that unfortunate," said Wong.

Also voicing his support for the program, Cipoletti said he liked the option of parents being able to have a choice and with a child entering kindergarten next year, it was something he’d be interested in but was unsure if he’d take advantage of.  He mentioned he did not want to see the funding for the program become part of the school’s budget and get "engendered into the system."

"I think, while in theory, I’d like to see the option available to parents, I think it has to be scrutinized with every other thing we spend money on," he said.  "Frankly, I wouldn’t spend money on full-day kindergarten at the expense of other programs."

Bittrich said that while she saw this as a fundamental public education issue, she couldn’t get past the financial burden potentially coming to the school budget.  Even if that could be overcome, she said, there were still other obstacles regarding the implementation of the program but it could be worthy of future investigation.

Candidates were also asked about the recent arrest of a Duxbury Middle School student for possession of marijuana and their opinion of the prevalence of these issues.

Wong said that the implementation of a substance abuse counselor included in the budget for next year is a good step and that in terms of communicating incidents to the public, she advised that parents call the school and get information directly versus the rumor mill.

In addition to the counselor, Nichols suggested the implementation of a DARE officer, similar to the one at the high school, for middle school students.

Bittrich said that these situations are difficult to navigate as parents and takes a "big leap of faith" in the school committee and administration and she’d like to work to increase that communication.

"I’ll work towards building that trustÖon sensitive issues like this," she said.  "That lack of trust and lack of leap that our community can’t make at times is polarized and makes the problem even worse."

Cipolletti said he was not surprised by the situation and that "anyone who is surprised is not paying attention."  From his time with the Substance Abuse Advisory Committee last year, he noted the need to change the acceptability of using substances among young people and their peers.