Backroom deals

FI-EditorialSo the recent election will bring an era of peace and cooperation to the Board of Education, right? Well, as the old joke goes, why start now?

The new members aren’t even sworn in yet and there’s a fight over the chairmanship. The presumed chairman-to-be, Republican Barbara O’Neill, is getting a challenge, not from within the Democratic caucus (at least not yet) but from fellow Republican Peter Sherr, who says the recent election gave him a mandate for change and new leadership on the board.

Of course, Ms. O’Neill can also point to a mandate of her own from two years ago, when she was the top vote-getter among the four Republicans vying for two seats and her vote total then exceeded Mr. Sherr’s now by more than 2,000. So this will lead to a showdown at tonight’s meeting at 7 at Old Greenwich School.

But while it’s easy to break out all the snarky remarks and say, “Here we go again” when it comes to board dysfunction, the truth is there’s nothing wrong with Mr. Sherr standing for chairman. He faces a difficult path to election and, barring an unforeseen twist, probably will not win. But he should stand for it, just as Ms. O’Neill should.

Too often we demand a “go along, get along” false unanimity from our boards, particularly the school board, where any challenge to the status quo is looked at as a disastrous disruption. Let Mr. Sherr and Ms. O’Neill both stand for what they believe and let their colleagues decide who is the best choice for this critical board. There’s nothing wrong with a little democracy now and then.

What is an issue is the alleged backroom deal that could end up short-circuiting this challenge as soon as it begins. Because, as one looks at the prospect of an evenly split Republican caucus with two supporting Ms. O’Neill and two supporting Mr. Sherr, one has to wonder, Where the heck are the Democrats?

For the last two years the Democrats had the chairmanship of the Board of Education for the first time in decades. Now it is again being handed to them on a silver platter. Yet no one seems to want it. There are four Democrats on the board. They are the key vote, yet they won’t put forth their own candidate despite having two as qualified as Ms. O’Neill to be chairman.

Since Democrat Leslie Moriarty was re-elected chair last year after a challenge from Ms. O’Neill reared up and then suddenly fizzled, there have been reports of a backroom deal between the parties. You support Ms. Moriarty this year, the Democratic caucus allegedly said, and we’ll support Ms. O’Neill next year. Are we now seeing that deal put in action?

Democrats have never had a better chance, so why won’t they take it? Is it this deal? Are the two newly elected Democrats being pushed into an agreement they never signed onto? Is any of this going to improve our schools?

As we noted last year when this issue came up, this is leadership of the school board, not some cheap political prize meant to be held up like a trophy by one of the parties. That’s as true with the Democrats as it is with the Republicans. It shouldn’t matter which party runs the board. But it also does our schools no good to have these positions decided by under-the-table deals.

If Democrats are going to support Ms. O’Neill, let it be because she is the best candidate to lead the board. She may well be. The side of the board the public sees is different from the one working behind the scenes. Ms. O’Neill could well be an excellent leader, but let her get that position because of her merits and not because it’s her turn or because Democrats promised it to her.

The board owes it to the town to pick the best leader tonight, whether it’s Ms. O’Neill, Mr. Sherr or one of the Democrats. No more political games. No more backroom deals. Do what’s in the best interest of the kids and this town.

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