SOUTHINGTON — Republicans are looking to hold their majority on the Board of Education as the top vote-getter and chairwoman switches to the Democratic party.
Republicans are running three incumbents and three newcomers on November’s ticket. Democrats have three of their own incumbents plus former Republican Terri Carmody, a former board member and one newcomer on their slate.
Carmody said she switched parties after she wasn’t nominated to run for the board. Republican party officials criticized her leadership on the board over the past two years.
Carmody has been on the board for 14 years and was a local teacher. She received more than 6,000 votes in the 2019 municipal elections, the most of any board candidate.
“I don’t want to leave all of the hard work and devotion that I have put in to what is absolutely best for the children of Southington,” Carmody said.Leadership criticisms
Carmody took over the chair position from former board member and Republican Brian Goralski two years ago. She cited some “run-ins” with other Republican board members.
“I would have to at certain times tell certain members that they couldn’t say the things they were saying,” she said.
Carmody stopped David Falvo, a Republican board member not running for reelection, from reading emails from former school superintendent Tim Connellan during a meeting earlier this year. Falvo was upset about Connellan’s response to teachers’ requests for remote learning.
David Derynoski, an incumbent Democrat, said Carmody was right to head off what she believed to be an attack on school officials.
“We don’t allow the public to do that, we don’t allow board members to do that,” he said.
Steve Kalkowski, Republican Town Committee chairman, said Carmody deferred too much to the superintendent. The board is the district leader and should provide direction to the superintendent, not the other way around.
“The Board of Education needs to be a strong team, they need to set the direction,” Kalkowski said.
Derynoski said Carmody has had her challenges as a leader but got no support from her party.
“In her defense, they didn’t help her along,” he said.
Derynoski said he didn’t understand why Republican party leaders believed Connellan was directing Carmody and described the criticism as unfounded.Masks and questions for administrators
Joe Baczewski, a Republican incumbent and board vice chairman, said part of the role of board members is to ask questions. Those questions shouldn’t come off as a personal attack, though.
“It’s really all about asking the right questions, having that open dialogue,” Baczewski said.
He’s asked questions about the district’s response to the pandemic and why Southington has put into place more restrictive quarantining rules that some other districts. Baczewski is a nurse.
Last year, Baczewski declined to wear a mask to board meetings. Some other board members disagreed with his decision and the board returned to remote meetings.
Baczewski said the board may have to make a decision about masks in the upcoming year if there’s not an order from Gov. Ned Lamont on the issue. He believes the decision on whether students wear masks should be up to families.
“We have almost 18 months of data now,” Baczewski said. “This is an elderly disease that affects people with comorbidities much more than kids that are healthy.”
Erica Byrne, Southington Democratic Town Committee chairwoman, said her party’s welcome for Carmody was in part based on her decisions that “put the health and safety of our children first.”
“That the Republican Party does not value and respect elected officials who make decisions that are based on science and who have shown their dedication to our school district over many years is a sign of how far right they have gone,” Byrne wrote.
Kalkowski conceded that Carmody is popular but was surprised that the Democrats chose to run her.
“I think they’re just trying to get a win with someone who’s popular rather than trying to focus on educational excellence like we did on our slate,” he said.
Derynoski said a decision on masks would have to take into consideration infection rates as well as recommendations from local and national health experts.Business, education and parentalbackgrounds
The Democrats’ slate includes a stay-at-home mother, people in the workforce and two educators. The newcomer, Katie Wade, has been active with PTOs in the district.
“I think it's important to have a mix of experience on any elected board so that multiple perspectives are brought into any discussion,” Byrne wrote.
Derynoski and fellow incumbents Zaya Oshana Jr., and Bob Brown are running for re-election. Lisa Cammuso, a former board member, is also running. With five of the six candidates having served or serving on the board, Derynoski was optimistic about November.
“I think we’ve got a pretty strong slate,” he said.
November’s Republican slate, consisting of three incumbents and three newcomers, has a mix of board, leadership and financial experience. One of the newcomers, Sean Carson, works in finance for Yale University while another, Jasper Williams, works in product management.
“We felt very strongly that we needed to bring up our muscle on financial acumen and financial expertise,” Kalkowski said. “That’s something we really need on the Board of Education.”
Incumbents include Baczewski, Colleen Clark and James Chrzanowski. Clark was the second top vote-getter in the 2019 elections.
The third Republican newcomer is Dawn Anastasio who Kalkowski described as a strong Republican who brings a contemporary perspective to education.