Bill allows for school board balance

Published: Friday, March 27, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Although nonpartisan boards of education are common in other parts of the country, they are almost nonexistent in Connecticut.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, introduced a bill that would give communities the option to make their educational bodies nonpartisan. He told a handful of town residents Thursday he did not think the bill has a strong chance of passing this year, but he would continue raising the issue in Hartford.

Meyer and Gary Brochu, chairman of Berlin’s nonpartisan Board of Education — the only one in the state — discussed the bill in an event presented by the Guilford Parent-Teacher Association.

The bill, “An act concerning members of local boards of education and repealing of minority representation requirements for boards of education,” was referred to the General Assembly’s Education Committee. Meyer said he hoped it would make it to the floor for discussion.

“This is a bill that looks to me as if it’s not going to be passed the first year,” he said. “People have to think about it, they have to take on a tradition, think about it in a broader way and see that nonpartisanship can be a good thing.”

The bill would allow municipalities to decide to have nonpartisan elections for the board of education, and would eliminate requirements limiting the number of candidates from one party on a board.

“It’s what we legislators call an enabling act — it’s not a mandate,” Meyer said. “It says among the choices you have you can do a nonpartisan board.”

Brochu said that Berlin has had a nonpartisan school board since the 1960s and was “grandfathered” in when the state passed laws requiring minority representation on the boards. He said he was not advocating that Guilford adopt a nonpartisan board, but that he is in favor of towns having the option to do so.

“I’ve seen wonderful partisan boards, I’ve seen horrible partisan boards,” Brochu said. “Things change — this is not any guarantee whatsoever.”

Brochu said that in Berlin, people run for the Board of Education by obtaining the signatures of 1 percent of residents; there is no nomination process for the positions. In Guilford and many other towns, local Republican and Democratic town committees nominate people for the posts.

PTA President Lisa Fiala said she thinks that — although independents can also run for seats by getting signatures from local residents — the party nominating process may discourage some people from running for the Guilford board.

“It’s very difficult, I think, to run and win a campaign in any town as an independent,” she said.

Meyer said that he hopes to continue the discussion about the bill even if it does not pass this legislative session.

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