BOE Dem Will Not Run Again. Education Charter Change Hangs in the Balance.

Debbie Appelbaum

Debbie Appelbaum (far right) with Jennifer Dayton and Mary Lee Kiernan. November, 2017

Board of Education member Debbie Appelbaum, a Democrat, announced on Thursday that she will not run for a second term.

The Board of Education is comprised of eight elected members – four Democrats and four Republicans – serving four year terms. Currently, four members are elected every two years, and neither party can have more than two candidates elected to the school board in a single year. Though the parties usually nominate just two candidates for the two slots, in the last election, the DTC nominated three candidates for two spots. (Gaetane Francis and Jennifer Dayton won, after garnering more votes than fellow Democrat Anthony Lopez).

Also, candidates have the option of petitioning their way onto the ballot, as did Laura Erickson.

Mrs. Appelbaum, whose two children attended Greenwich Public Schools, and who was active active for a decade in that PTA at North Street School, Central Middle School and Greenwich High School, was officially endorsed by the DTC when she ran for her seat.

“After considerable thought, I have decided not to seek re-election to the Board of Education,” Appelbaum said in a statement on Thursday. “It was a difficult decision because my work on behalf of the Greenwich Public Schools and community has been personally and professionally rewarding.”

Mrs. Appelbaum’s decision not to run comes at a time when the town is considering a charter change that would impact how the town picks its school board members.

Recently, after the Board of Education were unable to settle on a chair despite multiple votes, the Board of Selectmen voted to install Peter Sherr, a Republican, though Democratic Selectman Drew Marzullo, called his fellow Selectmen’s reluctance to re-appoint Laura Erickson (D) as “wrongheaded, partisan politics.”

Marzullo, the lone Democratic selectman has also been an outspoken opponent of a Board of Education charter revision.

The proposed charter change would eliminate the rule that precludes either party from holding the majority. There would also be a change to the system of having half the seats on the Board in play during municipal elections. The system of  having a maximum of two seats for Republicans two for Democrats would be replaced. Instead, five spots on the Board would be up for election in one municipal election, and three seats would in the next.

First Selectman, Peter Tesei, a Republican has said repeatedly that a revised charter would eliminate the partisan balance and allow for greater “voter choice” and increase potential for “competitive elections.”

During his Friday morning Ask the First Selectman radio show, Mr. Tesei brought up the the Board of Education’s failure to elect a chair, and referred to spent time, “in back room jockeying.”

He talked about Greenwich’s home rule charter, with its town-specific provisions, and described the special acts passed in the 20th century as “treasured” by the town because they provide local control, particularly in the area of land use.

“We don’t abide by a state standard,” he said.

Tesei went on to say that the issue with the Board of Education is that it is “a creature of the state.”

“The state constitution requires we provide public education to all students. There is no reference to the Board of Education as far as how you change the charter,” he said. “It speaks to the Board of Education and RTM, and says any changes to those have to go to referendum.”

“The parties have considerable control of the nomination process and ultimately the voters’ choices are not reflected. …. Fundamentally, the issue has people on both sides of the question so impassioned.” – Peter Tesei

The education charter revision committee that recently recommended the Charter change was chaired by RTM Moderator Pro Tem Joan Caldwell, who has since died. Her committee voted four-to-one to recommend that the school board no longer be required to be balanced between parties.

The majority’s “3-5” recommendation would mean that five seats go up for election in the first municipal election, and three seats in the next municipal election. Each party would offer three candidates, or five candidates accordingly.

The committee wrote, “This structure allows the electorate to decide whether a balanced or unbalanced Board of Education best serves the Greenwich Public School system. It allows competition among the candidates of the two major parties and will likely result in more candidates being presented for election.”

Committee member Bill Finger, wrote in a dissenting opinion a recommendation to maintain the existing Town Charter provisions. He said he believed the existing balanced board, with no party holding a majority of seats, is optimal.

He said that Board of Ed members are already held accountable to voters. As for voter engagement, he wrote that a Charter change would not result in greater voter engagement. Mr. Finger pointed out that the Town Charter and state statutes already provide pathways for an unlimited number of potential candidates to run for a seat on the Board. He noted that the candidates can and have petitioned their way onto the ballot.

Registered Democrats can petition onto the ballot by obtaining signatures of 1% of registered Democrats. Unaffiliated residents can petition onto the ballot by obtaining signatures from 1% of the total number of voters casting ballots in the previous BOE election. Current RTC rules require a petitioning candidate receive signatures from 5% of the total number of the Town’s registered Republicans.

In fact, when BOE chair Peter Sherr was snubbed by the RTC, who declined to endorse him when his first term ended, obtained the requisite number of signatures to make his way onto the primary ballot.

Tesei, on his Ask the First Selectman radio show on Friday, disagreed with the assumption that the outcome of an education charter change would go in favor of the Republicans.

“How can you presume that, knowing that people vote for people, not parties?” he asked.

On April 27, the Selectmen had been set to vote on the Charter change, but they did not.

“The RTM will have to decide, ‘Do they want to have sole discretion or do they want to open it up to the voting public?'” Tesei said on Friday, referring to a possible referendum.

Tesei explained that the town legal department had advised having a committee research the question and present results to the board. “Then,” he said. “The board either accepts, rejects, or takes no action. From there, the RTM goes through the same process.”

Tesei, who said Greenwich teachers are overwhelmed with programs and initiatives, emphasized that he is the only Selectman with children attending Greenwich Public Schools. Mr. Toner (R) has no children. Mr. Marzullo (D) has a son who attends private school.

See also:

Marzullo Announces Intent to Run for a Fifth Term


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