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Danbury Board of Ed member challenging State Senators seeking 3rd term

Democratic incumbent Julie Kushner is seeking a 3rd term representing the 24th state Senate District, which includes Danbury and part of Ridgefield.  Republican Danbury Board of Education member Michelle Coelho is looking to unseat Kushner.  Coelho is a design project coordinator who was one of the initial developers of The Rivington.  The mother of three is a Cuban American.

 

Kushner touted work to pass Paid Family Medical Leave, a hike in the minimum wage, 80-percent reimbursement rate on eligible costs for the Career Academy construction and secure a $2 million bond for CIFC to building a parking garage, which will help the organization to create senior housing.  She decided to seek reelection to help connect more people to resources and says the policy work critically important to moving Connecticut forward.

Kushner says one of the challenges in getting people back to work, especially with the fallout of the pandemic, has been childcare.  She says lifting the salaries is important to attract people to the field, and that help was provided in the last session.  Kushner says discussions have started about universal pre-k.

 

During the pandemic, Coelho was concerned about an erosion of parental rights, which prompted her to run for the Board of Ed.  She was then surprised to learn there was no curriculum committee, which there is now.  She says a lot is coming down the pike with the new Career Academy, Social Emotional Learning and other mandates.  She wants to make sure there are safeguards for kids. 

Her first year in office, Kushner was vice chair of the Environment Committee.  They created a stamp that boaters have to buy when they register a vessel.  The $5 fee has created a large pool of money to distribute in the form of grants to lakes and river associations to address invasive species.  She says that will help centralize the work.

 

Coelho called Candlewood Lake an asset and wants to make sure it's protected, including from algae and invasive aquatic species. 

When it comes to gun safety reforms, Kushner says the current laws should be upheld.  She says there's more that can be done, including closing loopholes in the ghost gun bill approved last session.  She says serial numbers on firearms is helpful to law enforcement trying to solve crimes.  She says limiting the number of guns someone can purchase at a time per month is also something to look into.

 

Coelho was endorsed by the Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police.  She says the Police Accountability Bill was another reason she got into the race.  She would repeal the portion of the law that got rid of qualified immunity.  If a car for example is stolen and used in a shoplifting incident, Coelho says the only thing police can do is escort them off the property because they can't engage in pursuit.  She says that should be revised. 

As for the Police Accountability Bill, Kushner says she doesn't believe some of the fears of unintended consequences have come to fruition, but legislators will keep an eye on that.  When there is an extreme use of force, that's not warranted, she says those cases should be investigated.  She touted the training included in the measure.

Amending the state constitution to allow for early voting is on the ballot in November.  Kushner hopes it's approved.  She says with COVID-era absentee ballot drop boxes and no excuse absentee balloting led to an increase in voter participation.  She says everyone should have access to the ballot box.

 

Coelho would support early voting, as long as people still have to present ID or prove their identity. 

Kushner says she's impressed with the way the Danbury school administration has planned the rollout of the Career Academy. The curriculum will be available to all Danbury High School students. She wants the state to help municipalities embrace innovative programs to address challenges in public education. Kushner is the Senate chair of the Working Group on Indoor Air Quality.  She says that's an issue that also needs to be addressed.

As for the proposed Charter school in Danbury, Kushner says it doesn't address the magnitude of the challenges Danbury is facing.  She is concerned that charter schools only address a portion of the population. Over the 7 years to grow to full enrollment, Kushner says the City would lose $10 million and the overhead of public schools won't be reduced.  She says that will lead to more serious problems.  Kushner notes that the elementary schools have won numerous blue ribbons.

 

Coelho prefers supporting the proposed public charter school over the Open Choice program, which would allow 50 students from Danbury to attend school in a neighboring district.  Coelho says a one-size fits all approach on education, zoning and other matters won't work.  She called for keeping control local. 

Kushner says the cost of gas needs to be addressed and would support continuing the 25-cent tax holiday.  She also touted the child tax rebate for families and wants to continue that program as well.