Submitted by Cody Kittle, Republican candidate for Board of Education
Here is a question I have been pondering through this campaign season: Why is the Board of Education a political body? I am not aware of a single company that divides its Board of Directors by political affiliation. Political parties are a useful way for people with different objectives for the government to organize. But in the case of the BOE, similar to businesses, there is no disagreement about the objective. Everyone, regardless of party and despite what certain lawn signs posted around town may suggest, wants to make the Greenwich schools the best schools possible. How to achieve that is an empirical question that involves measuring tradeoffs, not an ideological question.
I am one of the three Republican candidates this year for the BOE (there are two spots that are required to be filled by Republicans). Originally I was interested in serving because of my personal attachment to the public schools in Greenwich. I graduated GHS in 2007 and found the public schools here to provide some of the most important and formative experiences of my life. I was drawn to the opportunity to help an institution that has done so much for me, and that I hope will be equally impactful on my daughter and future children’s lives.
What I have come to realize is that the real reason to serve is to help depoliticize the Board. The BOE has been plagued with dysfunction and controversy. Certain members do not speak with each other and the BOE meetings have turned unruly with protests and counter-protests. Even in this campaign, it has amazed me how often people have oriented themselves around personalities and ego, instead of what will be good for students.
All of this happens as a backdrop to continuing erosion of confidence in our schools, as evidenced by the 25% private school enrollment in the town (vs. the national average of ~10%) and the 182 student decline in enrollment this year (~2% decline), despite the recent influx of families into town. We now have fewer students in the public schools than any year since 2000. This reflects a recognition of the underlying reality: Greenwich’s schools have become laggards. Only 59% of our 5th graders met the state proficiency benchmark for Math this year. 68% of our 6th graders met the state’s reading proficiency benchmark. US News ranks Greenwich High school as the 7th best in the state, behind Darien, New Canaan and Wilton even though our per student spending is higher than those districts. Meanwhile our own BOE’s study from 2017 lists parts of Central Middle School as structurally unsound, and yet does not plan to address them until the end of this decade. This is dysfunction on full display.
How to fix this? First, start with the premise that despite some unsavory tactics and behavior, everyone actually cares about the schools and the students. A lot of ground can be made up by first recognizing that fundamentally we are all on the same team. One way I have done this as a candidate is by getting to know the Democrats who currently serve on the BOE. They are good people and I’m convinced that no matter what we may agree or disagree on, we can have civil conversations that focus on the empirical analysis required to make sound decisions. I am grateful for their friendships and support for my candidacy.
Ironically, I make the case for an apolitical board even though I have very strong personal political views. My intellectual inspiration comes from Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman and George Will. But I struggle to see how their philosophies impact questions such as: (1) how to set capital project priorities, (2) how to set up an evaluation framework for the superintendent, (3) how to evaluate curriculum’s impact on student performance, (4) how to evaluate the costs and benefits of line items in the budget; let alone the myriad of random topics that the BOE must address. Does the issue of AstroTurf vs. grass sports fields divide by political party?
There is a chance that I will lose this election because I have avoided framing it as a choice between good and evil, which is a great way to get votes but not a great way to govern. What is needed on the BOE is actually fairly boring: rigorous, analytical and apolitical approaches to questions with a high degree of transparency for the town, especially parents. Sound governance, accountability frameworks, transparent measurement. These phrases do not get voters animated like accusations that “the opposition wants to cut spending for our schools” or “indoctrinate our children with Marxism,” but they are actually the prerequisites for having a board that maximizes student outcomes and minimizes waste. By getting them right, many of the issues with our schools, which are really symptoms of weak governance and diminished confidence, will get resolved.
I hope to use my academic background, which is mathematics and econometrics, as well as my professional background, which is as an investor and corporate board member, to bring this type of approach to the Board. I’m running because it would be an honor to serve the town in this capacity. Thank you for your consideration.