Playing politics

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Board of Education, discord and disruption are back.

This Thursday’s meeting was not supposed to be a showdown over who will be chairman of the board. Current chairman Leslie Moriarty’s term is up after one year, as it always is for any chairman, but now Vice Chairman Barbara O’Neill is expected to challenge her for the spot.

All this comes less than a year after Ms. Moriarty replaced then Chairman Steve Anderson in a similar maneuver, putting a Democrat in charge of the Board of Education in Greenwich for the first time in decades. Now things are in motion to change that, and it is possible, if not probable, that this could lock the board in a four-four split, with the Democrats voting for Ms. Moriarty and the Republicans for Ms. O’Neill.

If that happens, the leadership vote goes into a state of flux for the next 30 days, and if no resolution is reached in that time, the Board of Selectmen, with its two-to-one Republican/Democrat split, will make the final decision. And for the next four weeks, school budget and racial balance questions would be shoved to the side as the board played a game of who’s the leader.

We weren’t entirely convinced last year that Mr. Anderson had to be replaced by Ms. Moriarty because we didn’t see any true difference in educational philosophy that separated the two. By that thinking, there’s even less reason to replace Ms. Moriarty with Ms. O’Neill now. If there was a clear split between them over the best path to follow for our public schools, that would be one thing, but based on the past year it seems extremely likely that the Board of Education under Ms. O’Neill would be exactly the same as it is now under Ms. Moriarty.

The only difference, of course, would be the R for Republican next to Ms. O’Neill’s name. This is a political power grab, and that’s not opinion. It’s fact. One of the Republicans on the board even admits it. This maneuvering is as partisan as it is blatant, and it should lead taxpayers in this town, many of whom could care less which political party the chairman belongs to as long as progress is being made on the district’s issues, to wonder where the priorities really are.

Republican board member Peter von Braun told the Post this week that he likes the job Ms. Moriarty has done and that this is not meant to be a criticism of her. Then why will he vote for Ms. O’Neill? Because he had been told that things would go “much more smoothly” when it came to the school budget and other funding requests if a Republican was chair.

When you hear something like that, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s like opening a business and then being greeted one day by the friendly local neighborhood protection racket and being told, “Nice place you got here. It would be a shame if something happened to it.” The polite adjective for this is brazen, but there are number of less kind terms for it as well.

Last year when board member Peter Sherr gave the deciding vote to Ms. Moriarty, the reaction of Republican leaders at the meeting was angry and public. One could be forgiven if they thought that ever since that day the party leaders have been lying in wait to take back what they consider the property of the Republicans.

If this does indeed end up before the Board of Selectmen, we hope politics stays out of the decision. Both Ms. Moriarty and Ms. O’Neill have reasons to be considered for the job. There should be a full discussion about who is best to lead this vital board based on what is in the best interests of all of Greenwich’s public schools and students, not on which political party they belong to.

The decision should be made on the merits and nothing else. To make the call based solely on partisan affiliation is not in the best interests of Greenwich’s students or taxpayers. If Ms. O’Neill is the right choice then she deserves support, but for her policies, not because of politcal party.

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