Letter: New Milford school board needs change

To the editor:

The New Milford Board of Education is currently made up of six Republicans and three Democrats. Two of the nine members are hoping to be reelected on Nov. 3, one Democrat and one Republican.

Each voter will be able to vote for five people on the town ballot. For the past four years, the six Republicans, due to the fact that they controlled two-thirds of the seats on the board, have been able to do just about anything they wanted and in a number of instances, did not feel they needed to represent the wishes of the majority of New Milford citizens.

1. On the closing of Pettibone: Between September 2013 and June 2014, the board heard many parents speak against the closing of the school and these people had the backing and agreement of many other parents in the room. During those months, just about the only people who spoke in favor of closing Pettibone were members of the Town Council. Before the board vote was taken, the Republicans gathered in a caucus (out of public view) and decided that five of the six would vote to close Pettibone so there would be a minimum amount of discussion at the board meeting. The vote was 5-4, with all Democrats voting not to close the school.

2. On giving Pettibone School back to the town: During the early months of 2015, there were occasional comments from the public about possible uses of the school if it was not returned to the town, but no mention was made of the issue on any full board agenda. For the June 2015 board meeting, no mention of any discussion on giving the school back to the town was on the printed agenda, and therefore, the general public did not know it was to be discussed. During the meeting, the six Republicans voted to add the Pettibone issue to the agenda much to the surprise of the Democratic Board members and to the few citizens in the audience. The Republicans had met before the meeting in a caucus (again out of public view) and agreed to vote as a block to give the school back to the town. Had this intention been made public before the meeting, the chances are good many citizens would have had plenty to say about the idea.

3. The Board of Education has four major committees each with four members assigned to each committee. At every board meeting, the chairs of each committee report on the content of each recent committee meeting, since five of the board members are not on any given committee. A few months ago, the three Democratic members of the board asked they be allowed to ask questions about these monthly reports. The Republicans had another caucus and voted together to deny the Democrats the right to even ask questions on these committee reports.

Is this kind of party politics necessary in a small town where the total emphasis should be to work together for the betterment of the children? Shouldn’t it be the expectation of the people of New Milford that the board discuss all issues openly and in front of the public, rather than in a caucus configuration? In New York, board members are not nominated by political parties and anyone getting the number of signatures on a nominating petition can run. Also, in New York, school board elections are held in May with no party designations on the ballot. Maybe Connecticut should give some thought to this.

David Shaffer