Shelton charter revision group considering BOE composition change

Shelton City Hall.

Shelton City Hall.

Contributed photo

SHELTON — Allowing six members of one political party to control the nine-member Board of Education would stifle any minority input, said longtime board member Kate Kutash.

Kutash, a Democrat now serving her fifth two-year term on the school board, told the Charter Revision Commission during its virtual meeting April 13 that shifting the board from a near even political split — 5 to 4 — to a heavily weighted 6 to 3, as has been suggested, would give “all control to the majority party, with no checks or balances.”

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.

“It is only since November that there has been any true party-driven friction among the members,” said Kutash, “and that’s coming off a highly contentious election season.”

Changing the political makeup of the school board is among several suggested modifications to the board’s composition. The others call for the board being elected in a non-partisan manner, 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 Charter Revision Commission has not voiced any stance on the choices, and Chair Dan Debicella said further discussions on the suggestions will be held in coming virtual work sessions.

The commission, appointed by the all-Republican Board of Aldermen, is made up of four Republicans, two unaffiliateds and one Democrat.

“It it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” said Kutash.

“Five-to-4 is the closest we can get to bipartisan without totally eliminating party affiliation,” added Kutash. “I do not favor a 6-3 split. Our country’s constitution is built on the concept of checks and balances so that no one abuses power. With 6-3, it gives all control to the majority party, with no checks and balances.”

Two weeks ago, Board of Education Vice Chair Jimmy Orazietti, a Republican speaking as a private citizen not as a board member, offered his stance on the board’s composition to the committee.

Orazietti has served on the Board of Education on three separate occasions, twice as a Democrat, and now as a Republican. During the 2011 charter revision process, he said he spoke on the same situation.

“I said this then, and I feel the same way now, the 5-4 composition is a complete circumvention of the will of the people,” said Orazietti. “It diminishes the purpose of electing representatives.”

In November, eight of the top nine vote getters for school board were Republican, but the charter dictated that only five Republicans be on the board, with four Democrats.

John Anglace, a Republican, submitted his opinions to the commission as a private citizen and not in his role as Board of Aldermen president, said a 6-3 board “more accurately follows the will of the voting public.

“Is it any wonder why the public feels disenfranchised when they cast 5,318 votes for a candidate only to see a minority candidate seated on the board that received 4,153 votes, 1,165 votes less?” asked Anglace.

“A 6-3 board allows the majority to implement the education philosophy approved by the voters,” added Anglace.

Orazietti said the 5-4 makeup is a problem because a two-thirds vote is needed to add or change board policy, and if the board were too politicized, progress could be stagnated.

Kutash had served as the board’s policy committee chair the past two years and said there is “usually no dissension in passing policy.”

She said policy is the rulebook for the school system, not for the Board of Education, and most policy is based on state statute.

“Two-thirds vote is indeed needed to approve policy, but because the work on policy is done in committee, we have rarely ever had an issue passing a policy,” said Kutash.

Kutash said there is discussion at the board level at times, but she cannot remember a time that the board was not been able to pass a policy.

She added that if any change were to be made to the board’s composition, she would favor a non-partisan approach, with one single list of however many candidates are on the ballot in an order based on lottery with no party affiliation attached to each name.