Letter: BOE Elections Should Be More Than a Mere Formality

Letter to the editor received from Kimberly Fiorello, March 7, 2017  

The Greenwich Board of Education, BOE, is a powerful body of 8 members controlling a nearly $200 million budget, or 40% of the overall town budget.

They serve 4-year terms, with staggered elections for 4 seats every other year.  When I vote for BOE seats, I would like to know what each candidate’s views are on issues like the direction of the school budget, student achievement gap, capital building projects, racial-balance mandate and other pressures coming from Hartford, and more.

But the reality is that the candidates’ selection by the Democrat Town Committee, DTC, and the Republican Town Committee, RTC, is what matters most.  Each year when 4 seats are up for election, state law requires that 2 seats are guaranteed for the losing party.  Most times, the DTC and RTC run just 2 candidates each, rendering the election a mere formality.  Candidates do not campaign on ideas in the public arena.  They do not need to, when there are 4 of them vying for 4 seats.  As a result, the BOE functions or dysfunctions with no clear mandate from Greenwich voters at large, over a 1/3 of whom are unaffiliated with either party.

This is not good.  Today, thanks to Peter Tesei’s leadership, we have a chance to give all voters a real choice in BOE elections.  If the BOE charter was changed to require 5 seats in one election and 3 seats in the next cycle, then this new system of having an odd number of seats up for grabs would incentivize the parties to compete.  The winner of the odd seat wins a mandate to do the will of the people.

This change would see that each year voters engage in an important dialogue about education as BOE candidates campaign on the issues.  All voters would have a clearer understanding of who and what they are voting for in the BOE elections.

We are grateful to all volunteers who serve our community, but these positions of power deserve real competitive elections.  I urge the Representative Town Meeting to vote YES for a change to the BOE Charter and let all voters have a real choice in who they want governing our schools.

Kim Fiorello
Greenwich, CT