FINN: Fred Camillo Can Make Karen Kowalski Next BOE Chair. Should He?

Submitted by Jim Finn, Cos Cob

When the Board of Selectmen (BOS) meets on Thursday, they will decide who becomes the next chair of the Board of Education (BOE) after that body was unable to break two 4-4 Republican versus Democrat deadlock votes in December.

First Selectman Fred Camillo is widely expected to pick Republican Karen Kowalski to be the next chair of the BOE over the current acting chair, Democrat Karen Hirsh. Lauren Rabin, the other Republican on the three-person Board of Selectmen, is anticipated to mirror his vote.

First, a bit of housekeeping.

For a nominee to become chair of BOE requires five out of eight votes. Failing to break the stalemate, the state statute kicks the decision over to the BOS if the BOE fails to elect a chair with five out of the eight votes.

At the outset, let me be clear: Fred Camillo has the authority to break this deadlock and he maintained just last week that he was going to abide by “the will of the people,” which many in the education community have interpreted as his support for Ms. Kowalski since she was a higher vote getter than Ms. Hirsh.

Without getting into the details of our quirky New England style of governance, the will of the people argument is a bit disingenuous as the vote in the BOE is not like the stacked voting regarding the majority in the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET).

Simply put, I do not believe anyone voting in the local elections knew they were voting for the next chairman of the BOE, unlike their votes for the majority vote in the BET.

This is where Mr. Camillo can make the right choice or he can make a political one.

Just because the First Selectman can make this decision does not mean that he should, or that it is in the best interest of our students, teachers and community.

Here’s why I think Mr. Camillo and the BOS should reject Ms. Kowalski as the next chair of BOE…

Last spring, Ms. Kowalski went on Carl Higbie’s Newsmax show to deride “the radical ideas flooding into schools” and talked about wokeism, parents rights, book banning and the national MAGA school board agenda that has unfortunately washed up even at Tod’s Point. I urge everyone to go on YouTube and view the piece. This was not advocacy for the schools my children went to; it was a hit job.

At a time when our schools literally need to be rebuilt, Ms. Kowalski tore down the reputation of our schools.

When people bemoan how divisive our politics has become, they act like everyone is being divisive. Not true. When one party in town calls the other the Hamas party, I think we’re in new and uncharted territory. And, after an exceedingly acrimonious year around funding Greenwich Public Schools (GPS), the last thing we need is division on the BOE.

It is inconceivable that the BOS would pick as the chair the outlier that is against the BOE capital budget and whose job it would be to represent a board that is supposed to speak as one for the benefit of our students and teachers. Should we trust that person to represent the needs of (GPS) before the BET? After the fight at CMS and the one that’s coming around OGS?

The so-called parents rights, book banning, takeover the school board national agenda is out of step with the values of this iconic town. We are too smart for this nonsense.

And guess what…last November, this so-called parents rights movement got clobbered at the ballot box with a clear message that voters want to invest in public schools, not fight culture wars. Will the First Selectman and the RTC once again double down on an agenda that is inconsistent with the values of Greenwich?

Back to the will of the people.

Local politics is a contact sport. But Greenwich is amazing in that we have a very talented and educated citizenry that is willing to give their time to governing and guiding this town.

And everyone can get involved now!

On January 9th, 10th and 11th, the Democratic Town Committee (DTC) and the Republican Town Committee (RTC) will be holding caucuses to elect their new leaders and voting members. Please come out and get engaged.

You should be engaged because these are the political committees that will surface the nominees/candidates of the future for all offices, including the BOE. It is vital that we find the right people for the right jobs if we want to keep pushing forward this historic town. That’s where and when we will truly understand the will of the people.

As Thomas Jefferson said: “No duty the executive had to perform was as trying as to put the right man in the right place.”

Mr. Camillo, please reject Karen Kowalski as the next chair of the BOE.

Jim Finn is a resident of Cos Cob and is an RTM District 8 member. His opinions are obviously his own.