The new-look Board of Education was truly a partisan affair Wednesday, as all members voted along party lines in naming new leadership and changing its legal team.

The board, by a 5-4 vote along party lines — Republicans hold a 5-4 lead over Democrats — elected Kathy Yolish the new chairman, James Orazietti vice chair and Amy Romano secretary. Democrats had nominated Kate Kutash for each position, but she was defeated in each case.

With the new leadership in place, the board then voted, again 5-4, to hand its legal services to the city’s corporation counsel, Teodosio and Stanik, which raised concerns among Democrat board members about conflict of interest since the city, represented by Fran Teodosio of Teodosio and Stanik, is presently suing the Board of Education.

In all, there are six new members, with incumbent Yolish joined by Republicans John Fitzgerald, Carl Rizzo, Romano and Orazietti, who has served on the Board of Education twice before. Incumbent Democrats Amanda Kilmartin and Kutash were joined by fellow Democrats Diana Meyer and Patti Moonan.

Yolish, who is replacing fellow Republican Mark Holden who was not nominated by the Shelton Republican Town Committee and later lost his primary bid, thanked her supporters for the confidence shown in her leadership abilities.

“My goal is service,” said Yolish. “Together we will be strong and united in our journey for the good of the children and the staff of Shelton public schools. I am confident our journey will merit success.”

But Kutash said the partisan votes are troubling.

“I am deeply concerned the direction Shelton schools is headed with a 5-4 split on the BOE, and all the mayor’s nominees voting together,” said Kutash. “In the past few years, there were clear differences of opinion within parties. However, Democrats and Republicans regularly voted together on the same side of an issue, even though the BOE as a whole may have been divided. At this point, I cannot see an issue passing unless it has been rubber stamped by City Hall.”

Past board members Holden, Anne Gaydos and Tom Minotti were not nominated for re-election by the Shelton RTC, and Mayor Mark Lauretti said his main campaign goal was reshaping the Board of Education. The trio failed in their primary bids to be placed on the November ballot.

“This was not about power for me,” said Kutash about her push for board chair, “but I felt that I could do the best job in a nonpartisan manner for the students of Shelton. The mayor’s quest for control of the actions of the Board of Education frighten me.”

School Superintendent Chris Clouet said he remains positive about working with the new board.

“I am committed to working in the best interest of our thousands of students,” said Clouet.

Wednesday’s meeting opened with Orazietti taking the gavel and announcing that the Board of Education would recognize the city’s corporation counsel, the law firm of Teodosio and Stanik, as its legal advisor. Once the board was officially seated, members voted, again 5-4 along party lines, to approve the move and terminate Chinni and Mueser, the board’s present legal team.

“Most of the motions read by Jim Orazietti at the start of the meeting were never posted in advance,” said Kutash. “Democratic members were voting on motions they had heard only moments before, did not have in writing, and had not had time to read, absorb or question in advance. We were completely blindsided. This is not a positive start.”

Yolish called for unity among the board, saying she would take what she has learned from past board chairs and work collaboratively with her fellow board members “to come to a suitable compromise in a bipartisan manner.”

Kutash questioned Yolish’s calls for unity, pointing to her decisions on committee assignments.

All board committees will be chaired by Republicans. Fitzgerald will chair the finance committee, with Rizzo as vice chair and Kilmartin, Kutash, Meyer and Orazietti as members.

Orazietti will chair the policy committee, with Fitzgerald as vice chair and Romano, Kilmartin, Kutash and Moonan as members.

Romano will chair the teaching and learning committee, with Rizzo as vice chair and Moonan and Meyer as members.

Other business

* The board voted to accept a $3,000 donation for Shelton High School from the Weller Foundation to purchase new greenhouse supplies.

* The board voted to accept a $10,000 donation for Shelton Intermediate School from the Mabel B. Fischer Grant Foundation to fund ballroom dance conducted by Gabriella Takacs-Fabry.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com