Meet the Candidate: Jay Sarzen

Jay Sarzen. Submitted photo

We-Ha.com is offering our readers the opportunity to meet the candidates running for election on Nov. 7, 2017.

Compiled by Ronni Newton

We-Ha.com is offering our readers the opportunity to “Meet the Candidate” – designed to help them get to know the candidates running for office in West Hartford’s Nov. 7, 2017, municipal election.

Identical questionnaires have been sent to all major party candidates, and each profile received has been submitted directly to We-Ha.com by the candidate or the candidate’s campaign management. The responses have not been edited but have been formatted to match our publication style. Questions left blank have been deleted.

As profiles are received, they will be published on We-Ha.com under the “Government” tab. We-Ha.com is not making endorsements of any political candidates but we are publishing this information in order to assist West Hartford voters in being informed and prepared when they go to the polls on Nov. 7.

If you are a candidate and wish to submit a profile, please return it by email to Ronni Newton at [email protected] as soon as possible.

Name: Jay Sarzen

Age: 44

Party, position seeking:Republican (incumbent), Board of Education

Family information:Wife Amy; Son Andrew (6th grader at Sedgwick)

Other occupation, if applicable:Senior analyst with Boston-based Aite Group. Leads the P&C Insurance practice by providing consulting, advisory, and research concerning insurance technology issues to clients that include insurance carriers, venture capital firms, private equity shops, and technology vendors.

Political experience: Served on Board of Education since late 2012; served on West Hartford Busway Advisory Commission from 2012 until it disbanded; ran for Town Council in 2011

Other relevant experience: My work is focused on delivering advice and guidance to clients; this means I have to be able to drill down into a problem fairly quickly, identify root causes, and make recommendations about a course correction. This is the approach I have brought to the Board table for the past five years and regardless of party affiliation, this perspective has always been welcomed when presented.

Why are you running for office? I am running for re-election to the Board of Education because I want to preserve our children’s educational opportunities while keeping a mindful eye on our spending. I don’t feel that these two are mutually exclusive. I honestly believe that we can retain most, if not all, of our District’s educational delivery by being smarter about how deploy our tax dollars.

What issue(s) are your primary area of focus? Budgetary efficiency. Unfortunately, as Superintendent Moore outlined in the 10/17 BOE meeting, this Board may not be able to avoid budgetary efficiency during our forthcoming budget season. We know, for example, that there are duplicative programs in our District such as the ASK program. We have received assurances from Administration that if this program were to go away, the students who benefit from ASK would have their needs met through other programs. Another example would be our QUEST program. I think it’s a fair question to ask if a $1 million line item is being deployed as efficiently as possible with a QUEST teacher at each of our elementary schools. The list is longer than this, obviously. The key takeaway is that my primary focus will be to ensure my fellow Board members employ rigorous scrutiny to the budget this year if we are facing “Armageddon” as Administration described it at the 10/17 BOE meeting. If the Board follows the same path as last year’s budget process, we could be in real trouble. I did not think the level of scrutiny applied by the Board during the last budget process was sufficient. Superintendent Moore unilaterally presented budget reductions of ~$2M (which we as a Board accepted). When presented with other options for reducing spending by ~$9M because of the size of the funding gap, the Board went ahead with only $304,000 of additional reductions (not counting the additional $300K we were asked to excise by the Town Council, nor the final number for our Pay to Play program). The net result of all the talking, public forums, and hearings? In a $160M budget, the Board voted play chicken with the State of Connecticut and voted to reduce spending by only 0.002%. We cannot take that approach again in the upcoming budget cycle. The Board needs people who are willing to stand up and make the tough and unpopular decisions.

Several topics are likely on the minds of West Hartford voters this year. Please provide a brief statement regarding your opinion about:

  • The Town of West Hartford budget Our tax increases are not sustainable. With all the talk of ECS funding, it is worth noting that West Hartford has fallen short of our targeted ECS funding level for most of the past two decades. This is a major contributor to the unrelenting 2% to 4% annual increase. The Town has to keep making up the shortfall – being underfunded for 20 years will do that.
  • The State of Connecticut budget situation A bi-partisan budget was passed and the Governor refused to sign it. There is a clear lack of prioritization going on at the State level. Zeroing out or severely reducing ECS funding to towns that are already being underfunded relative to their target funding is going to make things worse. The State needs to decide: is it more important to keep workers in gold-plated benefits, or is it more important to fund our children’s education?
  • Regionalism In terms of educational spending, West Hartford is already at scale. We would not benefit from any regional cooperation. As long as I am on the Board, a merger with Hartford would be a non-starter.

What do you feel is the biggest issue facing West Hartford today? Not to minimize other legitimate issues, but I would say that the state budget impasse is the biggest issue facing West Hartfordians

What do you feel differentiates you from other candidates also running for this position? I have a willingness to make choices in the face of economic adversity. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we won’t have to cross that bridge, but am willing to cross it if need be.

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