Four Shelton Democrats back GOP school board chair in 5-4 vote

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Kathy Yolish was reelected chairman of the Shelton Board of Education during its meeting Wednesday, Nov. 17.

Kathy Yolish was reelected chairman of the Shelton Board of Education during its meeting Wednesday, Nov. 17.

Brian Gioiele / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Republicans may control the Board of Education, but it was four Democrats who backed the winning candidate for its chair by a 5-4 vote.

Kathy Yolish, a Republican and board chair the past two years, was reelected to the position Wednesday by a 5-4 vote, with Yolish voting for herself and the four Democrats joining her. Republican Amy Romano nominated James Orazietti, the board’s vice chair the past two years, but the bid failed.

“I knew that I was not the candidate of choice by my party and board mates,” Yolish said after the meeting. “Although I felt a sting of disappointment in not having their support, I felt honored that the people that were opposing me two years ago were now favoring me.”

The vice chair post went to Democrat Kate Kutash. Orazietti was nominated for the position by Romano, but before a vote took place, he removed his name from consideration. Democrat Lorraine Rossner, a board newcomer, was elected secretary without opposition.

The board now has two new members, Rossner and Republican Joseph Pagliaro Jr. Rossner replaced Amanda Kilmartin, who had an unsuccessful run for a Ward 4 alderman seat. Paglairo replaces John Fitzgerald.

“It is certainly interesting to see that there are three educators with more than 120 combined years of educational background now leading the board,” Yolish said. “I am hopeful that I will earn back the confidence, trust and collegiality that we previously had together as a team.”

Kutash, in nominating Yolish for the chair post, said she watched Yolish meet the demands of the role that was faced with challenges unlike ever before.

“The challenge of leadership was one where we witnessed her grow stronger in her convictions, yet not rude. Kind, but not weak. Thoughtful, not thoughtless. Humble, but not timid. Proud, but not arrogant, and bold without being intimidating or bullying,” Kutash said.

In nominating Orazietti, Romano credited the former vice chair with being the key to the improved communication between the city and school board.

“He has spent endless hours repairing the damaged relationship,” Romano said. “He was in constant contact advocating for our students to the (Board of Aldermen) and city officials. He was actively involved with the budget process, spearheaded the reimbursables, new technology for the buses and even advocating for updating our program licenses for students.”

Romano said Orazietti was the GOP team’s voice, keeping Republican board members “informed when others didn’t” and that Orazietti would be the first one to call a caucus.

“It is imperative to keep the lines of communication open with the BOA to advocate for our students’ needs and Jimmy needs to continue this service by being chairman,” Romano said. “Not considering him, in my opinion, is not putting the children first.”

Orazietti said the vice chair and chair need to be in constant communication to form a successful team to lead the board — something that did not exist between himself and Yolish in recent months.

“Having little communications and dialogue between the elected Republican team and (Yolish) over the past year, compounded with a contributing barrage of false accusations and innuendos on social media from both current and past BOE members, undermined and impeded our progress and success,” Orazietti said. “The promotion and advancement of our programs within our Shelton schools would ultimately diminish with the continual ongoing operational atmosphere.”

Orazietti’s comments come only a day after a Facebook post by Kilmartin accusing Mayor Mark Lauretti and Republican leadership of attempting to “push” Yolish from her chairmanship and replace her with a “more ‘compliant’ member.”

Lauretti did not immediately return a request for comment. Republican Town Committee Chair Anthony Simonetti said the RTC “does not comment on the Facebook rants of Democrats.”

Simonetti said the RTC expects all board members to “work collectively to enhance the educational experience of all Shelton public school students.”

Yolish said she has worked to increase collaboration and bring transparency to the board, and members completed their most recent term more unified than they had started.

“The work of the board should not be political - either Republican or Democratic driven,” she said. “It should and will be student-centered and staff and Central Office supported. It is a pleasure to continue a mutually respected and cooperative bond with our superintendent and his leadership team.”

Yolish said she has already begun efforts to hold regular meetings with Lauretti and Board of Aldermen President John Anglace, Jr. to continue the relationship between the city administration and the school board.