School board to again vote for chairman

Will the third vote for chairman of the Board of Education be the charm? That will be the question answered early at tonight’s special board meeting at 7 p.m. at Cos Cob School.

The purpose of tonight’s meeting is to continue discussion about the $144-million 2014-15 school budget, which is scheduled to be voted on Dec. 19, but the first agenda item of the night will be the latest attempt to elect a slate of officers on the Board of Education. If the vote takes place, it will be the third vote and the fourth attempt to find a chairman for the board after former Chairman Leslie Moriarty didn’t run for a new term.

At the first vote, on Nov. 21, the board deadlocked in a tie, with the four Republicans voting for Republican Peter Sherr and the four Democrats voting for Democrat Adriana Ospina. After the second scheduled vote on Nov. 26 was deferred by the board, it was hoped that the vote on Dec. 5 would provide a resolution. However, it ultimately ended up leading to only two more tie votes, as lobbying to get a board Republican to vote for Ms. Ospina did not work and the deadlock remained.

The time for a resolution, though, could come tonight as the clock continues to tick. When the board did not elect a slate of officers at the Nov. 21 meeting, it began a 30-day countdown until the Board of Selectmen would have to get involved, a development that members of both boards have said they wish to avoid.

After the two votes did not reach a consensus last Thursday, the Democrats entered into a caucus, a highly unusual step at a Board of Education meeting, and the Republicans quickly followed suit. After close to 10 minutes, both sides returned and Mr. Sherr made a motion to delay the vote until tonight.

“I’ve been talking to a number of people on the board, and I know a number of people have been talking to me,” Mr. Sherr said. “I think we need to create a little bit more time and space for a few more conversations. My own view is that I think it’s best if [this] board resolves this and others do not resolve this for us. I would hope we could have that dialogue and find a path forward.”

Mr. Sherr noted that with tonight’s meeting and next week’s budget vote, there were “two more bites of the apple” that the Board of Education could take.

“Hopefully we can find a way to bring this to a resolution,” Mr. Sherr said.

The vote to delay the vote was unanimous.

Town Attorney Wayne Fox was on hand for last week’s vote in case he was needed, and several other high-ranking town officials, including First Selectman Peter Tesei and Selectman Drew Marzullo, were also in attendance. The lack of a resolution did cause frustration among those at the meeting, as the involvement of the Board of Selectmen is not seen as a popular option. Republicans have a two-to-one majority on that board, making a victory for a Republican candidate extremely likely. Mr. Marzullo, the board’s lone Democrat, said in a statement to the Post that he hoped the Board of Education would come together to support Ms. Ospina.

“Adriana is well qualified and well respected to lead the Board of Education during this very important transition period,” Mr. Marzullo said. “She is the overwhelming consensus choice and when you strip away ‘political interests,’ as petty as they mostly are, Adriana’s name on both sides always emerges in a positive light. Who will best serve as chair should be the only consideration when deciding on how to vote. Not some delay tactic orchestrated by a few behind the scenes individuals trying to block or exclude a certain member.”

This is the third year in a row that the vote for a Board of Education chairman has become a controversy. Two years ago Ms. Moriarty, a Democrat, was elected after decades of Republican control of the board when Mr. Sherr did not support then chairman Steven Anderson. At first Mr. Sherr abstained, creating a four-to-three vote for Ms. Moriarty that did not meet the definition of a majority of the board to allow her election. Ultimately, with the decision headed to the Board of Selectmen, Mr. Sherr switched his vote to Ms. Moriarty.

There have been multiple reports of behind-the-scenes negotiations leading into each of the votes, and it was unclear, as of Tuesday night, what impact that would have on tonight’s scheduled vote. The nominations of Mr. Sherr and Ms. Ospina from the original Nov. 21 election were carried over to last week’s vote and the floor was not opened to additional nominations. Several alternatives have been discussed, including either Mr. Sherr or Ms. Ospina withdrawing to allow the other to get consensus support or for a third candidate to come forward.

Barbara O’Neill, who was vice chairman under Ms. Moriarty for two years, is currently serving as the acting chairman. Ms. O’Neill, a Republican, had been viewed as the consensus choice for chairman going into the election of officers until Mr. Sherr stepped forward saying that his victory in last month’s election, where he was the top vote getter despite not having the Republican Town Committee’s endorsement, showed a mandate for change. Ms. O’Neill did not stand for election at the Nov. 21 election and has not indicated yet if she is still interested in serving as chairman if she were to be nominated.

Check on Friday for the latest in this ongoing issue. There will be full coverage of the budget meeting in the Dec. 19 edition in anticipation of that night’s budget vote at 7 p.m. at Greenwich High School.


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