On school board, the times they are a changin’

Greenwich-Voices-von-KeyserlingIt won’t be your old Board of Education anymore. Tuesday’s election forces a change from the stagnated board of six versus two. The voters spoke loudly for change, cooperation and progress.

The big winners were Mssrs. Sherr and Bernstein and the big losers were Mssrs. Campbell and Dadakis and the Republican Town Committee. Both winners garnered a well-defined constituency after a well-aired and contested campaign.

When including the Democratic board members (and kudos to two most excellent new members) it would seem to leave the BOE in its old rut of a six-to-two faceoff. After all, the only changes are the leaving of some traditional foes and the fact that both Sherr and von Braun have gained a substantive mandate from the public (with higher votes than the selectmen) for their solutions and ideas. The BOE resisted their proposals, but they are now board positions.

However, by vote count, it’s not six/two but rather a 50/50 split. Neither side can simply ignore the other anymore. Each must respect the constituencies each board member represents and finally consider principles, not personalities, and what is said, rather than who says it.

The Republican Town Committee, long the “king maker” of Greenwich elected offices, failed miserably. The RTC’s waffling and blunt attempts at political machination was pathetic and laughable. It was exposed by its desperate, negative mudslinging against one of its own by foolishly trying to tie Sherr to Marianna Ponns Cohen, a candidate they personally championed twice before Sherr arrived. It was the established, educational “RINOS” which swept Bernstein into office, not the RTC or its leadership. The bedfellows in that race were indeed a strange group of cats in a bag.

The other significant outcome was the demise of the old educational leadership. Sherr’s heavy vote was gained in direct opposition to almost every BOE chair of the last 15 years, the present superintendent (his apology noted) and all the outgoing incumbents. Their position, advice, and counsel were repudiated by one-half of the electorate.

There is one final component which must be factored into the BOE’s future: the new chair. Last year the Republican caucus was set to nominate Barbara O’Neill after some real consensus building. But 15 minutes before the BOE met, O’Neill announced to her fellow Republicans that she had struck her own deal to vote for Leslie Moriarity, a Democrat, for chair in exchange for the Democrat caucus support for her next year.

This week the Democrats made good on that deal, announcing that “Barbara O’Neill is the Republican board member whom the Democratic caucus unanimously supports for chair.” The Democrats will, in effect, appoint the most compatible Republican as chair, not the Republican caucus, not the RTC. Mr. Farricker, DTC chair, must enjoy stoking the conflicts within the RTC. One must wonder how that will sit with the Greenwich GOP.

Perhaps the most significant election outcome is the public enunciation of its distaste for the BOE dithering and bickering. The BOE must change itself. No one expects, or desires, unanimity of thought, only a respectful and mature consideration for the other member and position.

After all, it is not “their” BOE, but the public’s, upon which they are each placed in trust to manage the public education of Greenwich children. People want a management, not advisory board, one that will take control and manage the school district. We have heavily invested in our present superintendent, but he is a town employee, not a representative of the citizenry.

We need Greenwich education to move into a completely new paradigm for the new century’s education. What this BOE accomplishes will set the direction of Greenwich education for the next 50 years.

This new board must change, consider and act.

 

Christopher von Keyserling is a Republican and a longtime member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting, though the opinions expressed in this column are his own.

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