WALLINGFORD — Democrats claimed a 5-4 majority on the Board of Education for the first time in 8 years this week, but board members from both parties said the change won’t have a big influence on the board.
“We’re pretty nonpartisan,” said Democratic incumbent Patrick Reynolds, who won re-election this week. “We may have our differences on money or curriculum, but I’ve never really seen a Republican vs. Democrat mentality.
“We’re not one big happy family, we have our differences...but we generally come to a consensus,” he added.
“I think the general mindset of all board members in the past, and I think this will continue going forward, is that we put students first in our decision-making process,” said Republican incumbent Roxane McKay, who also won re-election.
Republicans currently hold a 5-4 majority on the board, but that will change in January.
Jeffrey Knickerbocker, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, argued that a majority on the Board of Education “does matter a lot” because “a majority of the town budget is made up of Board of Education issues.”
“To say it doesn’t matter what party, I think it does matter,” Knickerbocker said.
Democratic incumbents Michael Votto, Patrick Reynolds and Kathy Castelli and Republican incumbents Roxane McKay and Karen Hlavac won re-election Tuesday. Democratic newcomers Patty Pursell and Tammy Raccio and Republican newcomers Ray Ross and Erin Corso will round out the new board. Republican Shauna Glidden was the only incumbent not re-elected.
Republican Karen Hlavac said that even though Republicans hold a 5-4 majority this term, Votto serves as board secretary and Democrat Jay Cei, who did not seek re-election, chairs the instructional committee.
Votto said the biggest change that will come from the majority shift is that a Democratic board member will now likely become board chair. McKay, a Republican, has chaired the board for the last three terms.
The board chair is responsible for the creating meeting agendas with the superintendent and running meetings.
“I will very much miss it. I’ve always enjoyed being the chair,” McKay said. “The chair doesn’t have any additional clout as far as their vote being any more important.”
Knickerbocker said he spoke with the five elected Democrats on Election Night and “they all seemed to agree that” Votto was a good choice for chair.
Votto will enter his ninth term and is the longest-serving board member. He has served as chairman in two previous terms in 2004 to 2005 and 2007 to 2009.
Votto said Democrats have to caucus before a chair is picked.
“I would never want to assume that’s going to happen yet until I caucus with my fellow Democrats,” Votto said.
Regardless of political affiliation, Votto said he likes to see board members, “question the superintendent and question other people’s ideas, as long as we come to consensus.
Knickerbocker said Democrats won the majority because their candidates, including Raccio and Pursell, were well-known in the education community.
Pursell was a longtime teacher In Wallingford and won Teacher of the Year in the school district. Raccio has been involved with the Parent Teacher Advisory Council for 10 years and has chaired the district-wide PTAC since 2013.
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