Reader Letter: When is having an opinion on School Start Time a conflict of interest?

Letter to the editor submitted by Alexis Voulgaris, Old Greenwich

To the editor,

At a recent Board of Education meeting, board member Peter Bernstein, expressed concern regarding two volunteer parent members on the School Start Time committee, who were allegedly “recruiting and prepping people to speak at meetings,” which he believes is a “conflict of interest” because those members could not “objectively analyze the data.”

I think it is reasonable to assume that when a resident volunteers to sit on a committee, it is because the individual believes in the initiative the committee is charged with evaluating and hopes that ultimately the action the committee takes aligns with their philosophy.  Committees are often comprised of individuals with differing opinions so the ability to effectively lobby is necessary in order to achieve a majority consensus. It is unrealistic to expect someone to be a successful advocate for a cause if s/he is expected to remain neutral.

For example, Mr. Bernstein is currently a member of the New Lebanon School Building Committee(NLSBC).  It is likely that he has joined this committee because he supports the construction of a new school.  Wouldn’t he be demonstrating the same conflict he accuses SST members of by publicly stating his support of this project while at the same time sitting on the NLSBC as a voting member?   Obviously, the mission of the NLSBC is to successfully build a new school and one would expect that every building committee member supports the initiative and is actively working, publicly and privately, to garner support for this project, yet no one is accusing those members of a “conflict of interest” or asserting that they are unable to “objectively analyze data” that supports a contrary opinion.  Extrapolating, one could conclude that the parents electing to serve on the School Start Time committee, support a later school start time and are actively educating members of the community about the merits of the proposed change as well as lobbying people to support the initiative.

We should applaud those who step up to volunteer on the many boards and committees that Greenwich has created with the intent to solve problems and make the community stronger, and we should avoid the suggestion that their motives are overshadowed by a conflict of interest or an inability to evaluate an issue critically.

Alexis Voulgaris
Old Greenwich