With election looming, will history repeat itself on the Board of Ed?

Greenwich-Voices-DadakisAfter much turmoil within the Democratic Party, candidates for election 2013 are set.

Beth Krumeich, by all accounts a lovely lady, agreed to fill in for Stephanie Paulmeno after Democrats forced her off the ticket over remarks about rape she allegedly made several years ago. Now Ms. Krumeich faces highly effective First Selectman Peter Tesei.

I doubt Mr. Tesei has much to worry about, but Democrat Selectman Drew Marzullo is probably concerned Ms. Krumeich’s popularity could propel her to third place, denying him re-election.

Attention now shifts to other races. Watch voters’ reaction to Peter Sherr, who petitioned onto the Republican ballot for re-election to the Board of Education. People (painfully) remember 2011 when controversial BOE incumbent Marianna Ponns Cohen was overwhelmingly defeated after Republicans gave voters a choice by nominating four candidates. Voters rejected Ms. Ponns Cohen’s aggressive tactics on the board, including harassing emails, numerous freedom of information demands and rearguing already settled issues. This created board dysfunction and impeded educational progress, frustrating parents enormously.

Mr. Sherr and Ms. Ponns Cohen are close allies. Last election, Mr. Sherr penned an op-ed days before the vote attacking Mr. Tesei and his now BOE colleagues Peter von Braun and Barbara O’Neill, emphatically declaring “I’m supporting Marianna.” Despite her defeat they still have a very close partnership, especially on BOE matters.

Remember the outrage when Mr. Sherr and Ms. Ponns Cohen’s tactics pushed Superintendent Sid Freund to the point he resigned? Mr. Freund cited both for his departure in a public letter, saying “…when the discourse generated by these two board members became accusatory, disrespectful and uncivil; when the questions and requests for information became voluminous, repetitive, manipulative and at times incoherent with no clear purpose or outcome; and when work is purposefully misrepresented, maligned and undermined after board approval, it impedes progress.”

Certainly Mr. Freund wasn’t the saint Democrats depicted him as, and nobody condones him paying for $87,000 in parking lot improvements from the wrong account, but he did manage a $125-million plus budget. Mistakes happen. The costs were legitimate and he apologized. He shouldn’t have been repeatedly berated.

While Mr. Sherr followed Ms. Ponns Cohen’s lead on almost everything, he’s not as bombastic. There’s now an appearance of BOE comity, but it’s only on the surface. Will voters decide, as they did with Ms. Ponns Cohen, that Mr. Sherr should be defeated or will they accept his past bad behavior and try to move beyond those dysfunctional days?

The problem is Mr. Sherr’s bad behavior isn’t past. He still employs divisive tactics as demonstrated by a recent email he received from Superintendent William McKersie, who wrote “I’ve moved into a new mode with you [Sherr] because the consequences … are too severe to keep acting on your off-the-path requests.”

Dr. McKersie says there’s serious work to do, but Mr. Sherr raises issues to stall it.

In an earlier email, Dr. McKersie begs Mr. Sherr to be part of a “constructive process” but admits “your questions force us to backtrack and take energies away from priority work.” He added, “You are the only BOE member operating this way.”

I like Dr. McKersie and the town does too. I doubt parents want Mr. Sherr to so discourage yet another superintendent that he leaves. Reading Dr. McKersie’s frustration with him, the community should be concerned.

Greenwich must move beyond the era of board dysfunction. It distracts from important matters and has brought us to where we are today with the state mandating change.

If re-elected, Mr. Sherr would be the only board member remaining from that period. Voters will decide if we need a clean sweep of all involved or whether to keep a single board member who, many say, is one of the largest creators of that dysfunction.

Voters, it’s up to you.

 

Ed Dadakis is former chairman of the Republican Town Committee and has spent more than 30 years serving on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). He may be reached at [email protected] 

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