Party leaders on BOE knock heads

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Following a bid to secure the chair of the Republican Jeffrey Caggiano of the school board has levied cutting criticism at the Democratic leader of the panel and what he views as a partisan atmosphere on the board.

However, in response to the Republican’s comments, the newly-reelected Democratic chair Chris Wilson of the Board of Education offered a more measured response.

At the December school board meeting, the panel elected its officer for the next year. Some of the selections were unanimous (9-0 in favor), such as Karen Hintz, a Democrat, who was picked as treasurer. However, the two top seats, noted Caggiano, did not have cross-the-board support. Democrat Karen Vibert prevailed 7-2 to keep her slot as vice-chair. And Wilson had three dissenting votes in his bid for chair (6-3).

Caggiano had sought the chairmanship of the school board but lost.

“Last Wednesday evening at the BOE officer elections,” said Caggiano in a written statement, “Republicans failed to change our current leadership. We had hoped to bring some stability to this board.”

“Over the past two years,” said Caggiano, who is also the Republican Town Committee chair, “the board has threatened to close schools, eliminate after-school programs, and even lay-off teachers in the early stages of our budget process, well before we knew what funds were even possible from the city. These actions have created friction between our board and the city, and more specifically the Board of Finance, which is unchanged after the election. Open, and honest communication is needed moving forward.”

“In our view,” said Caggiano, “strong partisan politics from our leadership team has left us vulnerable in the basic administrative tasks such as being good stewards of our appropriated funds. We have lost two business managers and overspent $4.5 million in the last two budgets. Alone, we feel this should have led to changes in leadership.”

In response to Caggiano’s comments, Wilson said in an email, “This past month the Board of Education held its elections and reelected the current leadership, with the majority confident that we are continuing, in these difficult financial times, with stability on the board.”

“As chair,” said Wilson, “I welcome the contribution the Republican Party brings, as I have appointed Jeff Caggiano as chair of the Communications Committee and Jen Dube as chair of the Student Achievement committee. I also put Jeff on the Personnel Committee, where he participates in all contract negotiations and Dave Scott serves on the Finance Committee.”

Wilson said, “I know it can be hard to be in the minority on the BOE; I’ve been there. That’s why I’ve tried to create professional development opportunities for all board members so that we can work as a more cohesive unit.”

Wilson said, “The Board of Education along with the new central office team of the superintendent, deputy superintendent (to be hired), director of special education, director of teaching and learning, director of finance and director of Human Resources will work very hard to overcome the challenges put before us on behalf of the students and families in the district.”

Caggiano also offered some other criticism of the current majority. “Recently, we had a sitting BOE commissioner openly ‘protest’ the first controversial decision our new superintendent had to make regarding the cancellation of a proposed Muslim speaker. There was no comment from our leadership on the incident or questioning the clear violation of board policy. This event made national news and did not paint Bristol in the best light, and in retrospect could have been handled more efficiently. This issue highlights the drama and chaos that has surrounded this board. “

However, Caggiano said, “We can do better and now we need to focus solely our children and the citizens of Bristol. We will continue to be a voice of reason, and focus on good policy and educational value. We plan to be cooperative where we can to achieve those goals, but will call out the partisanship that devalues our schools. “