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Passion first: Darien's McNamara and Martens ready to go on BOE

Published 10:22 am, Monday, October 21, 2013
  • Republican Board of Education candidates Christa Sheehan McNamara and David Martens Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed / Darien News Contributed
    Republican Board of Education candidates Christa Sheehan McNamara and David Martens Photo: Contributed Photo, Contributed

 

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Republican Board of Education candidates David Martens and Christa Sheehan McNamara are ready to hit the ground running if elected.

"This is a very challenging time for the board," McNamara said. "They need someone who is ready to go on Nov. 6."

Martens and McNamara are vying for two of the three available seats on the board. They would serve a two-year term. There are four candidates overall.

They have both served on the Eduction Committee of the Representative Town Meeting and consider themselves experts in the field of the Darien education system.

"We've been used to working with our constituents, the policies and our town each year," McNamara said.

For Martens and McNamara, joining the Board of Education is about the students.

"It's difficult sometimes when you talk about these issues and what you want to do with these issues, you lose sight of the fact that the passion is about the kids," Martens said.

McNamara said she feels -- after reading the Board of Education bylaws -- that it could improve communication between itself and the district.

"It is a meeting of the Board of Education which takes place in public, it is not a public meeting of the Board of Education," McNamara said. "To that point is that the Board of Ed currently doesn't have public comment and I would wholeheartedly support changing that policy, of course with the other eight members. That is an important piece that the board should implement."

Martens echoed McNamara's opinion that communication needs to improve.

"They need to be making sure that the stakeholders -- who are the parents -- are really involved and understand how the board works," Martens said. "The public comment that Christa was mentioning, that will help the communication aspect. So the physical efficiency has, as with any board, got its ups and downs and there are lots of checks and balances, and that's by design."

The duty to keep the school budget, which rose by 4.05 percent in 2012-13 from the previous year, increase low can seem daunting. Much of the budget is comprised of negotiated contracts, but Martens and McNamara think the secret is to target the smaller details.

"I think there is more efficiency in the little items, in the boring items. The things people don't want to talk about," Martens said. "We'll all be talking about special ed ... where I think the real efficiencies can be gained is in the boring stuff, in the little stuff."

Martens suggested school lunch prices, facilities and utilities when asked what "little stuff" could be scrutinized. "It's there, but it's there year after year and people gloss over it."

"So much of the budget is baked in," McNamara said. "It's multi-year contracts, so what we're looking at is a very small percentage (of the budget). To David's point, we need to look at the things that we can tackle."

While a majority of the pressing decisions in the aftermath of the special education complaint, which revealed numerous systematic and legal violations within the district, McNamara thinks the board has made unprecedented actions, especially in the hiring of independent investigator Susan Gamm, to "restore that trust that had been shattered."

"They have to start believing in providing that transparency and the accountability. We believe in accountability," McNamara said, adding that it appears the board is now doing everything it can to rectify the situation."

Some of the criticism the board has faced is in regard to the amount of communication it had with the community.

"Having been on many boards with lawsuits flying around, it's a very natural reaction to not say anything. Especially if there are lawyers involved, you tend to not want to say anything because you're afraid that if you say anything before you know all the facts, you're going to make it worse" Martens said. "It's innate in anyone, and anyone involved in litigation knows that they probably shouldn't say anything. That's what happened here, and with passions involved, it just infuriated the situation."

But was there a better way for the current board to handle the special education complaint?

"In the initial stages, what are they going to comment on if they don't know the facts?" Martens said. "We're just getting the facts now and it's six months later. So I know it is hard but we needed a more open communication where we were told what they know and what they don't know instead of not saying anything and I think that may have helped the situation."

McNamara, who has three children in the Darien school system, has been a member of the RTM Education Committee for six years. She served as clerk during four years and as vice chairman during the past two years. She received a bachelor's degree from Holy Cross College and a master's degree in elementary education from Manhattanville College. She was active for six years as the Royle Elementary School PTO vice chairman, a room parent, the budget representative for the Coalition of Darien School Parents, on the enrichment committee and the health committee. She was also a YMCA parent awareness board member for seven years.

McNamara has also volunteered for Person-to-Person Board, Community Fund of Darien Allocations Committee and Darien Foundation for Technology & Community Benefit Committee and is a Darien League of Women Voters member.

She works in sales for Bloomberg LP Financial Software.

Martens, who has two children in the Darien school system, has served on the RTM Education Committee for eight years. He has been an assistant coach youth hockey, football and lacrosse teams. He has worked for large banks in risk management and distressed debt investing and chairs five global credit steering committees with hundred of stakeholders.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews