Like many of Greenwich’s boards and commissions, the Board of Education holds its officer elections annually. In the case of the Board of Education, the annual elections of chair, vice chair and secretary must take place within 30 days of a municipal election.
Last year, the meeting, held at North Street School, kicked off with swearing in of new members Gaetane Francis and Lauren Rabin, followed by an orderly, but stunning changing of the guard.
Board members each marked their ballots and silently passed them in. With Peter Sherr (R), crossing party lines to vote for Laura Erickson (D), she was elected chair, and Barbara O’Neill (R) was vote in as vice chair, a demotion.
The election, followed the surprising November 2015 municipal election results in which Lauren Rabin, with 6,377 votes, soared past both Barbara O’Neill (6,074 votes) and Peter von Braun (5,898 votes), resulting in von Braun being ejected from the board.
Following a subdued, perhaps shocked, round of applause, the new chair, Mrs. Erickson, quietly traded seats with her predecessor and, from there, the meeting was led by Erickson.
On Wednesday, Nov 16, at Western Middle School at 7:00pm, the Board will again conduct elections for officers. One can only wonder if there will be another surprise.
What’s notable are the different stances O’Neill and Erickson have taken on two significant issues that have polarized the community: the fate of longtime GHS band director, John Yoon in his “teacher termination case,” and the decision on changing school start times.
“It has been an honor and a real pleasure to serve in this role and work closely with the high caliber talent in the Greenwich public schools and our Town partners,” said Erickson in an email this week. “Past precedent is that the position of Chair has a tenure of two years with a change in leadership in the odd numbered election years. We have had a series of challenges this past year, which this Board has met working collaboratively and collegially.”
The board may indeed work collegially, but their split over the two more charged decisions has taken on a pattern, with Mrs. O’Neill and Mrs. Erickson at odds. Mrs. O’Neill did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s election of officers for the Board of Education.
In December 2015, the Board voted on the fate of John Yoon in his “teacher termination case,” deciding to discipline rather than terminate him.
While remarks from Mr. Bernstein, Mrs. Appelbaum and Mrs. Erickson didn’t bode well for Mr. Yoon, Barbara O’Neill’s remarks in his defense were powerful. (GHS Band Director to Return to GHS Immediately. BOE Discipline for John Yoon is “Time Served”)
“I think what Mr. Yoon has been through has been enough,” said O’Neill, herself a 35 year veteran teacher. “I think he’s been disciplined – publicly flogged – should be limited. ”
At the end of the night, the Board voted in favor of a motion to discipline Mr. Yoon rather than terminate, in effect sentencing him to time served.
More recently, at the September 2016 BOE meeting, the board was split 5 to 3 in favor of changing start times, which would impact schools across town, but most notably would push back Greenwich High School start from its 7:30am start.
Mr. Bernstein, Mrs. Appelbaum and Mrs. Ericksonm, the three who did not come to the defense of Mr. Yoon, were again pitted against Mrs. O’Neill, Dr. Francis, Mrs. Dayton, Mr. Sherr and Mrs. Rabin.
“It is essential we continue our work in this fashion as we look to hire the next superintendent and focus on implementing the strategic plan and the change in school start times. I have the time and the capacities necessary to lead this effort and I look forward to working with my Board colleagues as we engage in the important work that lies ahead,” Erickson continued in her email. “I wish to thank each Board member for their dedication and service.”
And while this time last year, Mr. Sherr’s vote in favor of Mrs. Erickson crossed party lines, in the two high profile decisions – the case of Mr. Yoon and School Start Time – Mr. Sherr has been more aligned with Mrs. O’Neill.
There will be an answer after Wednesday night. The meeting is at 7:00pm at Western Middle School.