The votes are in. On Thursday morning, the Greenwich Board of Selectmen voted to establish a committee who will be responsible for reviewing proposed charter changes.
If the committee approves the proposal, these changes could expand the board by two members and modify the current ways in which the board is elected.
First Selectman Peter Tesei, who is in favor of the proposed changes, argued Thursday that a revised charter would eliminate the partisan balance and allow for greater “voter choice” and potential for “competitive elections.” The proposed charter change would expand the BOE from eight to ten members.
Selectman John Toner was also in favor of the committee, while Selectman Drew Marzullo was not.
Historically, in Greenwich the Board of Education has always been a “balanced board,” or a board in which no more than four members can be of the same party. By expanding the board and allowing for competitive elections, one party could potentially hold the majority. This is not new for Greenwich. Charter revision and opposition to bipartisan boards have been an issue of debate since the 1990s.
Those in favor of charter revision expressed frustration with the current system of voting and with the constant turnover of school superintendents and elected officials. Greenwich resident and voter Randall Smith called for increased accountability of the BOE.
“We have these elections in which the people who are most favored frequently aren’t seated on the board. We have this bizarre process by which we may have choice, or we may not have choice,” Smith said. “But it certainly isn’t up to the voters in the town whether we do or not.”
Bipartisan boards, Smith argued, would “ignore the will of the people at the ballot box” in order to ensure a necessary outcome.
Since the Republican party holds the majority of municipal election voters in Greenwich, much of the vocal opposition to the charter change came from Democrats and independents who fear that the Republican party would dominate the Board of Education and allow political agendas to get in the way of what is best for the students.
Debbie Appelbaum, Cooperative Educational Services (CES) Representative and Greenwich liaison, expressed support for the current bipartisan system.
“While it would be naive to presume politics is not at play in education, to the extent possible, it should not be. Our current board structure allows for decisions based on student achievement to be at the forefront, not party politics.
Our board structure requires discussion and consensus, and promotes dialogue. This benefits everyone.
Right now every voter has the ability to select which members from each party will represent them. As such, I do not understand the need to expand the Board of Education to provide voter choice. Voter choice exists.” – Debbie Appelbaum, Democrat, Greenwich Board of Education
Current Connecticut statutes require that all elections be partisan, so a nonpartisan Board of Education is out of the question unless changes are made statewide.
After almost two hours of impassioned speech from both sides and eventual deliberation, the Board of Selectmen voted to appoint a committee of five members, with no more than four members of the same political party, to review the proposed charter change.
The committee is expected to hold public hearings before coming to a decision. The final committee will be established on July 14th.