Jeff Ramer: Single Party Politics Jeopardizes Board of Ed Balance

Submitted by Jeff Ramer who is a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and Chair of Greenwich Democrats, Friday June 24, 2016

On Thursday morning, a majority of the Board of Selectmen voted to take the first steps to pull the Board of Education under the control of single Party politics.

From the beginning of time, the Town Charter has demanded that the Board of Ed be a balanced Board of equal Party representation by both major Parties, with the hope that Education in Greenwich not be politicized. Unless the RTM steps up, this thoughtful balance may soon be gone.

Stating that going forward, there needs to be a “clear demarcation as to which Party is responsible and accountable for what the Board [of Education] does”, the Republican majority on the Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 to appoint a Committee to “look at” Charter revision to change the Board of Ed into single Party political control. It is within the hands of that same majority of the Selectmen to hand pick the committee members and then anoint the predictable report. The committee is, of course, just window dressing to vail the raw Power Grab of Party politics. These days, one accepts Party politics, but there are some places where it does not belong.

No question that there are more registered Republicans in Town than Democrats, although that edge is waning. In 1990, 48% of the registered voters were Republican. In 2000, it fell to 45%. By 2010, it was 38%. Possibly the candidacy of Mr. Trump will influence it further.

The new plan would increase the Board of Ed to ten members serving four year terms. Five would come up for election every two years, with three of the five to come from the candidates named by the majority Party. Thus six of the ten members on the Board of Ed would be from the candidates named by the Republican Town Committee. That is a lot of control for a dwindling Party that today represents only 38% of the registered voters in Town.

The proponents of the plan argued originally that the Board of Ed suffered continual deadlock on Party line votes. But a simple review of the Minutes available on-line debunked that, revealing that in the about 350 votes over five school years from 2010-2011 through 2014-2015, there were only three Party line deadlocks, two over election of a Chair and one on the issue on whether to ask to restore three coaches to a school budget.

Last Spring, the same proponents then argued that revision of the Board was compelled because of an abysmal failure of the Town to have ever filed required documents with the Secretary of the State in back 1966. The Town Attorney thereupon produced proof of the required filing, right down to a thank you letter from Ella T. Grasso, then Secretary of the State.

Now the proponents have argued that the Charter change is necessary to create “Voter Choice”. Really?

First, it should be said in response, that all eight members on the Board of Ed serve as the result of competitive elections. Four (Laura Erickson, Peter Sherr, Debbie Appelbaum, and Peter Bernstein) were elected in 2013, over disappointed unsuccessful candidates (Brian Peldunas and Samarpana Tamm). The other four (Barbara O’Neill, Jennifer Dayton, Gaetane Francis and Lauren Rabin) were elected in 2015, over unsuccessful Peter Von Braun and Anthony Lopez.

Secondly, under the proposed new plan, if the Republican Town Committee chooses to select only three candidates for the Board of Ed at a biennial election, all three will be placed on the Board, with no competitive elective process whatsoever. Whether there would be competition would lie within the whim of the Party, on whether to run an additional candidate, which is a purely political decision and is precisely the arrangement that exists now.

The truth of the matter is that none of these are the actual motivation for the proposed change. The real reason is that one Party has the raw power to execute this Grab, and has chosen to do so.

The question for the Town, and most particularly for the RTM, is whether the politicization of the Board of Ed is in the best interest of the Town. It was not the view of our Forefathers when they drafted our Town Charter. That, of course, was the little detail that the First Selectman forgot to address on Thursday. Politicization of the Board of Education. Is it good for the Town, or just for his Party?