Clear split among mayoral candidates on charter schools

At an education debate at the Brooke charter school in Roslindale tonight, most candidates supported lifting or increasing the current cap on charter-school seats in Boston.

Watch the entire forum.

John Barros, Charlotte Golar Richie, Mike Ross, John Connolly, Bill Walczak and Dan Conley all said they favor increasing the number of charter seats in Boston.

Felix Arroyo, Charles Yancey and Rob Consalvo all opposed it.

Arroyo said as mayor he would double down on BPS and invest more money to ensure every student has a chance at an excellent education. "We must at long last say to every family in the city of Boston you're a taxpayer, you deserve best school system in the United States of America," Yancey said, adding BPS needs more investment, not disinvestment.

Marty Walsh said he recognizes the good work charter schools have done but did not explicitly say whether he supports expanding them in Boston.

Among the pro-charter candidates, the level of enthusiasm varied.

Conley said the question for him is why the city hasn't already fought to increase the number of seats in charter schools, because they've proven their worth. He said limiting charter seats is like limiting the number of iPhones Apple can sell.

But Ross, while saying that "charter schools have made Boston public schools better," also said, "That doesn't mean you turn every school into a charter school." Public education is "a delicate ecosystem" and major changes need serious study first, he said, adding BPS also has to be careful not to disrupt education for kids with autism and other special needs.

Golar Riche agreed and noted that charter schools can take years to develop. "We have students who need attention now," who can't wait for new charter schools to ramp up. "They need a champion."

Both Ross and Barros called for a single lottery system for student assignment that would combine both BPS and charter schools. "We need to reclaim charter schools as public schools," Barros said.

Walsh said parents and students need more choices. He asked why Boston has just one trade school.

Connolly, a charter advocate with two children at a BPS school, said "we're trapped in a big false choice of a political debate right now:" BPS schools vs. charter schools. What kind of school it is shouldn't matter, he said. "The question should just be: Is it a great school?" Orchard Gardens and Hernandez are examples of how BPS can innovate, he said, adding we need a mayor bold enough to bring them together.

Walczak said equally important is increasing the length of the school day.

Other questions and answers:

What ddo you want in a new superintendent?

Barros. Committment to our children and a track record in management and executing policies. Decentralized system that gives more power and resources to individual schools. Because that's where students learn.

Golar Richie. Track record in an urban school district who will be prepared to hit the ground running. Somebody who can raise standards so that all our children can succeed in Boston public schools. Increase parental involvement by at least 10% in the first year.

Ross. Collaborative, ability to work with everybody. Someone who can engage at grass roots level. We need the best urban superintendent in the country. Have to expand the school day. Called on school committee to hold off on new supt. until new mayor is elected.

Connolly. Top-heavy centralized bureaucracy has to be decentralized. Has to remove the dysfunction. We have to reform our teacher contract. I'm a former teacher. It's a sacred job. But it's not OK give our kids one of the shortest school days in the country.

Walczak. We need a visionary and an entrepreneur. Partnerships with downtown businesses and colleges. Has to inspire, recruit and retain the absolute best principals.

Arroyo. Someone who has shown committment and dedication to urban PUBLIC education. Who believes Boston can be the best urban school system in the country.

Walsh. Most important decision I will make as superintendent. We need real change in the school system. A good negotiator. I'm going to pick somebody to run the schools.

Conley. Person of integrity, experience and with respect. Innovation. Someone who believes they don't have all the answers. Goal-driven, results-oriented teacher evaluation system. Building a complete education pipeline. STEP. Parental engagement.

Consalvo. Strong educator, with proven record in innovation. Latest, most innovative practices from across the country. Somebody willing to fight on Beacon Hill and even Washington for funding.

Yancey. Supt. who has high expectations of students and teachers. Proven record of success in closing the achievement gap.

Ideas for recruiting and retaining high quality teachers and holding principals accountable?

Yancey. Obviously we have to replace teachers who are not performing, so we need an effective evaluation system.

Consalvo. We have to recruit the best of the best. Boston Public Schools have a great story to tell. We have to sell BPS, but reality is people want to come here. All time high in enrollment, waiting lists at some schools.

Conley. Look at what I've done as DA. Boston is a great city, the way to recruit talent is to run a great office or school system. Young teachers are going to want to come here. I run a very diverse office, a welcoming office, an inclusive office. That's all doable in BPS. Training key.

Walsh. Important to listen to teachers.

Arroyo. Training. You have to value diversity. School system is 87% of color, we need more minority teachers. Pay and treat teachers like the professionals they are.

Walczak. 36-year track record of hiring people from the community at Codman Square Health Center. Inspirational leadership needed.

Connolly. Adam Gray, 2012 Mass. Teacher of the Year wasn't allowed to continue teaching at his school because he didn't have enough seniority. We need to treat education as a profession, not an assembly line. Have to change our teachers' contract.

Ross. Quality has to be above seniority. Then we have take highest quality teachers and pair them with students who need their help the most. Need to hire teachers who look like the students they're teaching. And more male teachers. Merit pay. We need to give teachers real training.

Golar Richie. In the Athens of America, it's so frustrating that we have to find fixes for our public-school system. But our local colleges and community-based organizations are places to look for good teachers. In terms of diversity, it's not rocket science, but it's hard work. We want our teachers to be residents, so we need affordable housing and safe communities for them.

Barros. We need to have a strong pipeline, give students good experience so some of them would come back as teachers. Need more male teachers of color. Support for training. Leadership opportunities.

48 of Boston's 127 schools are in lowest 20% of school achievement. How to turn these schools around?

Connolly. I'm a BPS parent at a low-tier school, the Trotter. Longer school day, merit-based hiring, today the school is in a dramatic turnaround. I want that at every Boston public school. Let the principals hire teachers for merit without regard to restrictions in the contract.

Walczak. We have to make sure we have strong leadership in every school. We need to lengthen the school day.

Ross. We have to get expanded learning done. For all schools. We could have done that with the last teacher contract. The reality is it didn't happen, the realiity is, we failed. Music, arts, gym classes, things that keep kids in school, keep them engaged.

Golar Richie. Move best and brightest from central office to schools that need them.

Barros. We have too much disparity in Boston public schools.

Early childhood education - how to ensure all children have access to it?

All the candidates agreed that early childhood education is important and that they'd support funding to ensure seats for all.

Yancey said it needs to be paired with programs to get books into kids' homes, to convince parents to read to their children - as he said he did to his son, even in utero.

28% of BPS students are in English-learning programs. What improvements will you make to ensure they have access to quality education?

Walsh. We can't turn our back on them. We spend $1 billion on our school system every single year. Our graduation rates are low. I will be expecting a 100% graduation rate.

Arroyo. I was an ESL student. Dual-language programs like at the Hernandez work. We can't fix schools until we end cycle of poverty in this city.

Yancey. We must fight to improve level of diversity of all languages and teachers in our system. We need more Latino, African-American and Asian study programs.

Consalvo. Number 1 is quality schools. Need to invest in buildings. Strong quality teachers. And we need to fight on state and federal levels, we've been shortchanged on ELL programs.

Conley. Not sure what the answer is, but all the studies agree that quality education is the key.

Male students of color continue to graduate at below-average rate. What to do?

Ross. As long as a kid is showing up to school scared, or going to sleep hungry, we have problems wider than what schools can fix. Community-based organizations.

Golar Richie. We have to care about our girls as well. But epidemic of them not doing well in school and then ending up on our streets, perhaps dealing drugs, then filling our jails. We need to prevent this from happening in the first place.

Barros. Education is a way to make sure we have productive systems. And right now, the performance of our black and brown males is unacceptable. We need a welcoming and respecting school systems. We need to have good teachers who look more like their students.

Walczak. We need to make sure young males of color feel they have a future. Reconstitute our high schools and build partnerships with businesses and organizations so students have a real shot at getting a job after they graduate.

Connolly. Need early childhood education. Fully staff social/emotional support staff in schools to help students stay on path. Raise the graduation age to 18. Let's collaborate with our charter schools, which have a better graduation rate.



Free tagging: 



Adam - thanks for the report. I was interested in attending but couldn't make it.

Was there an open Q&A section and if so, what were the public questions like? I think there was a lot of effort on both pro and anti charter sides to get people to the forum.

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No Q&A

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The questions seemed pretty fair, except for one from a Brooke School parent who basically asked "Do you support expanding charter schools to improve education in Boston, or do you still beat your wife?" (OK, not her exact words, but that was the implication).

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Sounds like a weasel. He likes the idea of charter schools, but had no opinion on whether there should be more, even though that was focal point of the forum? Guess he is trying for the BTU endorsement.

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Charters Are Not Magic

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I don't understand why, with the amount of evidence and studies showing that charters are not performing better than public schools people insist on centering education reform on their expansion. Its not new as a BPS Alum I can tell you education reform or rather "experiments on education done to those most in need".

Fancy private schools like Exeter and Cranbrook aren't reinventing education. They are simply funding the educational methods proven to work. BPS simply needs the support to do that.

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Even though charters are open to all students, it's still a student population of families who have their ducks in a row enough to have applied and followed through and everything. I think that's the appeal for many families. If they don't have access to charter schools, then their kids will have to go to a public school that really is the general population.

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Not quite

The BPS doesn't represent the general population of school aged kids even without charters though. Many parents opt out for non charter options because they don't think the BPS is the right choice for their kids. Seems like if the BPS could engage more of these families to stay, the system would improve, but there's zero political will to add seats where the kids are.

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Yes, you're right

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I didn't mean BPS represents the entire population, because obviously kids do go to private school and get homeschooled and whatnot, and there's a really small population of kids who BPS sends to MAAPS placements or other out of district placements.

What I was referring to was the charter school advocates who claim that charter schools work with the same population as the regular public schools, yet do a better job. Charter schools, while open to the public, don't have the same sorts of families in really difficult situations as public schools do. Yes, they have poor families and whatnot, but they serve families who are invested enough and stable enough to have found the school and followed through with registering. They don't have the families who didn't register their kids for school and were registered by DCF when someone realized they weren't in school. They aren't required to take any child who shows up in Boston in December like the public schools are, so they don't have as many families who can't keep a stable address.

And despite some people's insistence that charter schools are required to serve special education students, this actually only applies to children who are working at grade level and maybe get speech therapy or tutoring; charter schools don't serve children who need a small self-contained autism program or something like a deafblind program. And yes, clearly every charter school can't have all these specialized programs, but I'm just pointing out that they really aren't serving the entire school-aged population like people want you to believe.

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You could say the same

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about all of the desirable schools that families who have done their homework are desperate to get their kids into, whether it's because of a certain curriculum, principal, etc. Ditto METCO, the AWC program, the exam schools. If you get rid of this so-called "elitism" you might as well throw in the towel altogether.

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See above

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Right, there are obviously more opportunities for kids whose families are on the ball, and it's generally a positive thing to have the availability of these programs for free. The "elitism" referred to the parents who love charter schools because their kid isn't around kids with substantial disabilities and/or families who are transient and have major social problems, but they can still wave their liberal flag and say that their child goes to a public school that's open to all kids, even though charter schools aren't de facto open to all.

And I know all charter school parents aren't like this, and few will openly say that they don't want their kids around certain families. I'm just pointing out that charter schools don't solve the underlying problems of poverty, parents with mental illness, kids who are afraid to go to school, etc., because those children and families are still at other schools.

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Solving the Underlying Problems

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Neither charter schools, nor traditional public schools, "solve the underlying problems of poverty, parents with mental illness, kids who are afraid to go to school etc." Schools are not intended to solve those underlying problems, nor, in my book, are they problems that can be solved. They will always exist. That said, if the issue is that children are hindered from entry into charter schools by those problems (which I agree is an issue) then perhaps one solution is to set up an organization that helps them apply to charters when their parents are unable to due to the factors you raise. By doing so, perhaps those children can get a good education and thus "solve" the problem for themselves and the next generation.

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There are programs...

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Early Intervention and Head Start and other programs can help parents with the registration process if they have trouble with paperwork, but that still doesn't solve things like transient families who weren't here for the lottery deadline, parents with paranoia or cognitive disabilities who don't believe that a charter school is public and their child can attend it, or families who didn't register for school at all.

My point is that it's inaccurate to portray charter schools as serving the general population. The population isn't anywhere near as privileged as, say, a school that requires money to attend, but it's still people who are in a bit more of a position of privilege than the public school population.

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I hear you.

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It's tricky though. I guess I'm one of the liberal flag-flyers who was kind of heartbroken back in the day when so many families we knew either left the city or went private. But we also endured our share of really awful schools--out of control classrooms and buses, etc. It wasn't kids with disabilities (and we knew many of them)--it was kids with serious behavior issues and often parents who were indifferent or absent. The general feeling too of being a helpless cog in a vast, mostly indifferent machinery--we were denied a spot in our walk-to school three times--was discouraging--I couldn't blame the people who left for not wanting to deal with the uncertainty and instability. And yes--we ended up in AWC classes and BLS which has been its own particular adventure. So, having navigated the "elitist" route, I'd still argue strongly that keeping the strivers in the system and trying to find ways to make that pool of parents and students bigger, as well as increasing the overall sense of community investment and engagement in schools, is the way to go.

Wow--sorry for the rant!

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Same boat here

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Yeah, we're in a similar situation. Our first choice is public schools, but if we got enough financial aid and found a private school that meets our needs, we wouldn't be totally opposed to private either.

I guess it's just frustrating for people in our situations that there are so many families who would be involved parents and whose kids would presumably add to the stability of the school community, but who won't even consider public schools for what I think are some pretty misguided reasons. Some of these families try to deny their prejudices and say that they'd eagerly send their kid to a charter school, but never a BPS school, and they claim it isn't for reasons of prejudice because the charter school is the exact same population.

And yeah, I don't think any one family needs to send their kid to a struggling school if they have other choices, but then they do miss out on the valuable experience of knowing kids who don't have other options.

(BTW, I was including kids with behavior disorders in kids with disabilities. Charter schools are allowed to just kick them out, but BPS can't unless they're paying for a therapeutic school for them to attend.)

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Leaving BPS

I would also argue there's a pretty clear lack of interest in keeping the middle class families in the BPS. As it is, the middle class parents who send their kids to parochial schools, private schools, etc... are still paying taxes which fund the BPS without incurring any costs.

If the BPS built a k-8 in Roslindale tomorrow, it would be fully subscribed and I imagine it would be a success on a par with the Kilmer or Ohrenberger/Beethoven. This would probably never happen though for political reasons.

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Just a reminder that

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kids with disabilities, even "substantial" disabilities (whatever that means) can still achieve at very high levels. I work at an elite university with students who have disabilities, even learning disabilities, and one does not preclude the other.

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See, this is exactly the point!

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Yes, people with certain disabilities who have intelligence in the normal range can and do attend college. I don't think anyone is arguing this. Charter schools do have to accommodate these children.

Charter schools do not have to accept children with severe intellectual disabilities, so they get to use their whole budget for regular education with a few special education services like speech therapists. Public schools, on the other hand, have to educate children who are nonverbal, nonambulatory, need to be spoon-fed their lunches, need their disposable briefs changed, need to be in small classrooms, and are working at nothing close to grade level. There are classrooms in the BPS where adolescents are working on staying still to listen to a story, grasping and feeling objects, noticing peers, etc.

I've been told by many a parent of a child with severe intellectual disability that it's disingenuous and patronizing to say that these kids can be anything they want to be, and so forth. They can't, and that's OK, and they're still great and valuable people, but we make these people and their needs invisible when we suggest that "anyone" can work at grade level or attend college.

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Thank you so much for posting this!

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Arroyo hasn't always thrilled me but this: "We can't fix schools until we end cycle of poverty in this city." is dead on. Granted, what I really want to know is what can we do to improve the schools WHILE we're trying to end the cycle of poverty, but I'm still glad he mentioned.
Our 4 year old is entering BPS K1 in the fall, so there's our vested interest.

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Dead Wrong

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Arroyo's rhetoric is ass-backwards. Yes, socioeconomic factors have long been understood to correlate with educational outcomes but the only way out of poverty is through a good education. Kids don't have an eternity to wait for the "cycle of poverty" to end. They have one shot at a good education NOW.

I grew up on welfare in Boston housing projects. The main reason I'm not still there is because I got educated (the first 8 yrs. by nuns, then GLS). Of course, there were other lucky factors as well, including personal aspirations, discipline, parents and teachers who believed in me, etc.

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Obviously you didn't

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Obviously you didn't understand his argument. He did not use poverty as a crutch but rather as a reality schools don't live in a vacuum. BPS can succeed with proper support as a Mayor understanding that poverty and socio economics bleeds into everything is essential.

He simply spoke to a reality that exists, children in tough socio-economic statuses need all the extra resources BPS can give and thus the doubling down statement he had made.

I personally believed the poverty statement to be the best and strongest one I heard. It showed an understanding of the larger world in which we all exist.

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Thanks for posting a great

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Thanks for posting a great recap. I felt like everyone really needs to hear where the candidates stand on the issue of education reform at such a critical juncture of a mayoral election and superintendent appointment in the same year.

I was surprised at the number of candidates who went on record stating that they would not raise the cap on charter schools. Full disclosure - I am a white charter school parent. I have been amazed at the progress in one year of all the students in my daughter's kindergarten class. This school is already closing the achievement gap on poor students of color. They are ready to open two more campuses and were stopped this year because of the cap. There are no more charter seats available and wait lists of 5,000+. For parents who KNOW that the education of their kids is the only way out of a cycle of poverty and violence - charter schools are a life raft.

I believe fully that the charter schools can exist alongside the BPS and don't understand why anyone would stop a great school from opening another campus in a neighborhood where there are NO tier 1 schools when they have a Tier 1 track record. I know that as a parent, I selfishly feel that my kids cannot wait for the BPS system to try to change a 30+ year history of busing students around to try to fix the problem when there is a solution already there. To me, its like waiting for the Titanic to correct its course instead of getting into a lifeboat that is heading to safety.

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In an ideal world...

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I think most opponents of the lifting the charter cap point to ways that charter schools aren't quite living up to the idealized notion of what charters could bring to public education. As I see it, most of the opposition boils down to a few things:

  • Charter schools aren't educating all kids well. In particular, English language learners and students with disabilities are underrepresented in charter schools, and studies show that charter schools do not actually benefit these students.
  • Charter schools take funding from traditional public schools. This one is controversial, because most people (myself included) don't fully understand the way that charters are funded. However, the idea is that when a student goes to a charter school, their funding goes with them (there's more to it than that, I think, but it's roughly true). At face value that doesn't seem so bad, but my understanding is that for most students that attend charter schools the charter school receives more funding for that student than the public school would have. So losing the student actually takes more money out of the public school budget than it would have cost the public school to educate that student.
  • The charter school movement is largely being driven by corporations. Many public school advocates would prefer that our public schools be accountable to the public rather than private entities.

I'm sure there are other issues, but these are the ones I've seen the most. And really, I think it largely comes down to the first bullet point above: are we ready to start applying charter techniques broadly without having evidence that they really work for the entire BPS population? The numbers for ELL students in particular are alarming. While 30.7% of BPS students are English language learners, the numbers at some of the most successful charter schools are much, much lower. At MATCH, it's 2.1%; at Smith Leadership Academy, 3.7%; at the Brooke in Roslindale, 0.4%; at Codman Academy, 2.0%.

What I see when I look at charter school data is that they do a great job of educating poor minority students who speak English and don't have learning disabilities. Educating poor minority students well is a great thing and too rare, and I don't want to imply otherwise. But they're achieving those results without including the ELL and SWD populations, and that raises some important questions. First, are we really OK with a school system that (intentionally or not) separates our kids based on their characteristics? And second, if we decide that charters are a step forward, what complementary improvements are we going to make to be sure that the (large) population of students who may not be helped by charters will get a good education? I can't answer those questions for anyone but myself, but hopefully most people can at least acknowledge that they're legitimate concerns.

In an ideal world, where charters and publics really could coexist without budget issues and attacks on each others' techniques, and where charters demonstrably benefitted the entire population, I'm guessing that the opposition to lifting the cap would diminish significantly. It's certainly not an easy issue, and I understand why charter parents whose families are having a great experience support lifting the cap. But I don't think the concerns that are being raised are unreasonable. Any cause that is vying for government support should expect to go under this kind of scrutiny. Charters were originally conceived as a sort of innovation laboratory for education. If they want to move into the mainstream, it's reasonable to expect that we do our diligence to make sure they're ready for it.

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Improvement through reduction

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Charter schools can and do use any means necessary to improve their student's score. One of the easiest ways is to remove low scoring students from the charter and ship them back to BPS citing behavioral problems. My daughter's BPS school earned about a half dozen charter "drop-outs" this year.

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And kids with severe disabilities, who don't take the MCAS at all but are still counted in the numbers as "not passing" are not admitted to the charter schools in the first place.

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Thank you Adam.

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Since the Globe's reportage was so dinky and general, they pretty much only pointed out Dan Conley's "iPhone" comment as anything substantive. Depressing coverage.

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Great post!

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Thanks for putting this together. I did not have an opinion about the candidates before.

I like what I read about Connolly.
Arroyo, I'm very disappointed.
Yancey, you are even more clueless than I originally thought.

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