Shelton charter commission backs increasing one-party control of school board
SHELTON — The Charter Revision Commission will be recommending that six members of one political party can control the nine-member Board of Education.
The commission, at its virtual meeting Monday, reached consensus on shifting the board from a near even political split — 5 to 4 — to a heavily weighted 6 to 3.
The Board of Education is presently under Republican control, with many of the meetings since the November election being more contentious than in past years and votes following a party-line split.
Changing the political makeup of the school board was among several suggested modifications to the board’s composition during the charter commission’s meetings. Others called for the board being non-partisan with no parties listed on the ballot; members elected by ward, with two from each ward and one at-large member, with no limit on party members elected; or expanding the board to 12 with three elected by ward with no more than two from any party.
The commission, appointed by the all-Republican Board of Aldermen, is made up of four Republicans, two unaffiliateds and one Democrat.
Commissioners said they felt that increasing the number of candidates from a single party who were permitted to hold seats would benefit voters by providing more choice. This change would allow for 12 people to run for the Board of Education, instead of nine, as in the past.
“This is more democratic, more inclusive,” said commission Chair Dan Debicella.
Commissioners debated the board being elected in a non-partisan manner, with no parties listed on the ballot, but Debicella said this could ultimately end with no minority representation.
Debicella said allowing candidates to run without announced political affiliation relies on the electorate educating themselves on each candidate. Candidates with the most money and name recognition would garner the most votes, and “the board could end up 9-0, controlled by one party,” he said.
In other discussion, the commission, while not offering a final consensus, is in favor of increasing the percent level of borrowing against the city budget that would trigger a referendum. Currently, the aldermen can authorize borrowing up to 2 percent of the $127.6 million adopted municipal budget — or $2,551,469 per year — for capital improvements.
Commissioners agree that the percentage should be increased — the debate remains on whether it should be 3 percent or 4 percent of the total city budget. The commission is considering 3 percent with a majority vote, 4 percent with a super majority vote.
Board of Aldermen President John Anglace Jr., speaking as a private citizen, recommended increasing the amount aldermen can borrow to 3 percent.
“We use every penny of it,” said Anglace of the borrowing done at the 2 percent trigger.
Increasing the trigger to 3 percent, according to Anglace, would allow the aldermen to borrow $3,827,144 for capital projects to work with annually. Capital projects most frequently done affect schools and grounds, road improvements, building improvements, fire apparatus and similar upgrades.
Any borrowing in excess of 3 percent would require voter approval at referendum.
Cautioned Anglace, “We would be locked into this annual bond limit for the next 10 years despite the fact that the cost of living is sure to escalate. Perhaps you might want to consider inserting a provision or process for review after the fifth year for possible escalation of the annual bond limit if certain conditions are met.”