WALLINGFORD — Board of Education Democrat Tammy Raccio crossed party lines in helping to re-elect Republican Roxane McKay as school board chairwoman this week.
Raccio nominated McKay, which resulted in a 5-4 vote that otherwise fell along party lines on Monday, the first meeting for newly elected board members.
Democrats, who hold a 5-4 majority, thought they had reached an agreement last month to elect Michael Votto, the board’s longest-serving member and a past chairman. Votto was ultimately elected unanimously as vice chairman during Monday’s meeting, and Democrat Patrick Reynolds was elected secretary by a 5-4 vote.
Raccio’s vote for McKay drew criticism from fellow Democrats.
“Her doing this is a slap in the face to the Democratic Party, who supported her, and to me, who encouraged her to run for the board in the first place,” Votto said. “It’s unprecedented that this would happen, that a member of one party would throw support for leadership to a member of the other party.”
“I was disappointed,” Reynolds said. “It’s been a tradition that the majority party usually appoints the chair. I have a lot of respect for Roxane, she’s very qualified, but so is Mike ... Obviously I thought Mike should have gotten it.”
Raccio didn’t return calls for comment Tuesday, but emailed a statement to the Record-Journal late Tuesday saying, “I believe continuity in leadership will be critical to preserving the high-quality education students currently receive given the unprecedented state fiscal challenges.”
At the meeting, Raccio told board members that she was nominating McKay, who has chaired the board the last three terms, because she wanted to continue the board’s recent progress.
“Maybe she just didn't feel I could move the board in the direction that it's going, but I don’t understand why,” said Votto, who is entering his ninth elected term and has been an educator for 45 years. “I've been on the board this whole time.”
Democrat Kathy Castelli, who nominated Votto at the meeting, said Votto “is more than capable of holding the position, having successfully done so in the past, and even during some very tumultuous times.”
“It's unfortunate (Votto) did not receive the support he deserved,” Castelli said in a statement. “As far as Mrs. Raccio and her decision to nominate Roxane McKay, I have nothing publicly to say. What’s done is done, and now we must move forward in the interest of what’s best for the kids.”
Democrats gained a majority on the school board for the first time in eight years last November. One of the biggest advantages in holding a majority for a party is getting to choose board leadership.
The board chair is responsible for creating meeting agendas with the school superintendent and running meetings. The chair also assigns board members to leadership positions for the board’s operations and instructional subcommittees.
After Democrats met last month and agreed to elect Votto as chair, Votto said he met with Raccio and she “implied pretty strongly that she didn’t want change” in leadership, but didn’t definitively say she would vote for McKay. “In the 11th hour, it became apparent that Mrs. Raccio wasn’t going to support me,” Votto said.
“Obviously, I feel betrayed after being promised support by someone I considered a friend,” Votto said about Raccio’s vote. “When someone promises you something and then they flip, you have to question their trustworthiness, their integrity, their character.”
McKay said Raccio approached her about supporting her for chairwoman prior to the meeting, but declined to go into detail. McKay wasn’t sure Raccio would support her going into Monday’s meeting.
“I didn't really know what to expect,” McKay said.
Raccio was elected to her first term in November after serving as chairwoman of the district’s systemwide Parent Teacher Advisory Council since 2013.
Jeffrey Knickerbocker, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said he was disappointed by her vote.
“She’s there to look out for the students’ best interests, and in my humble opinion, this decision is not looking out for the best interests of the students,” Knickerbocker said. “However, I would not judge her entire two years based on this one decision. I hope she can work well with the other Democrats in the two years coming up.”
Votto said he hopes Monday’s meeting doesn’t “set the tone” for the new term.
“To begin this term of office by putting people in uncomfortable positions is not a good way to start,” he said.
Board members emphasized they want to move forward from the meeting. The board will begin preparations for its 2018-19 budget later this month, which McKay said will be “very, very challenging.”
“My focus, and I’m sure the focus of all the board members, is to do what's right for the town, the district, the kids,” Reynolds said. “I think as long as everyone keeps that mindset, we'll be fine.”