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Greenwich School Board Hopefuls Focus on Conduct

GREENWICH, Conn. – Questions were raised in the final school board debate Thursday night about the conduct of the board, stemming from the public tensions aired last spring after Sidney Freund’s resignation as superintendent.

All four Republican candidates vying for two spots on the board — including incumbent Marianna Ponns-Cohen as well as Peter von Braun, Anna Povinelli and Barbara O’Neil — attended the debate at Central Middle School. Democratic candidates Jennifer Dayton and Adriana Ospina, who are running unopposed, were both there, too. The League of Women Voters and the PTA Council were the event’s sponsors.

Last spring, Freund resigned, citing difficulties with certain Board of Education members. He was replaced in August by former Greenwich superintendent Roger Lulow, who will serve as interim head of schools until a replacement is found.

One question concerned implementation of board decisions if a member believes the majority vote was made in error. “If the vote goes against you, you have two choices: you can support the decision or you can resign and fight it from the outside," Von Braun said. "How the board behaves in public has tremendous effect on the morale and on the school system at large.”

Ponns-Cohen said policy can be reached only after a full and open discussion. “In the case of a decision made based on flawed information, or if they’re made and rushed through without adequate vetting, then I think it is the obligation of a board member to speak out. In this country the minority opinion is not silenced,” she said. “If we didn’t allow dissent, we would still have segregated schools today.”

Every board member “has a responsibility to do their homework,” O’Neil said, so that when topics arise, decisions can be made based on fact.

“We are all mature adults here," Povinelli said. "And we can agree to disagree, but at the end of the day it has to be what’s best for the children.”

In a more pointed question, the candidates were asked to describe the disputes on the board last year and how they would react if a similar situation were to arise. Von Braun said that before recruiting a new superintendent, clear goals need to be established and then the district’s management development program needs to be expanded to “grow our own.”

O’Neil agreed, saying the role of the superintendent needs to be made clear. “I think it comes down to respect for each other on the board and respect for the superintendent," she said. "And practicing what we learned in kindergarten – share and be nice to each other.”

The board needs to perform more due-diligence in selecting the next superintendent, Ponns-Cohen said. Dayton said board members should meet one-on-one with the new superintendent and meet often. Povinelli agreed that open dialogue would be necessary to dispel tensions. Ospina said the board should understand the difference between setting policy and implementing procedures as far as the roles of board members versus role of the superintendent.

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