Mayor Toni Harp will not run for another term as president of the Board of Education, she announced in an interview with WNHH Radio on Monday.
Harp’s one-year tenure as BOE president was fraught with controversy: Past mayors customarily served on the Board, but not as its president, which led residents both within and outside the BOE to accuse Harp of assuming too much power and responsibility.
However, Harp told the News Monday that her decision not to run for re-election was “not at all” influenced by pressure for her to step down, and that she had planned from the start of her presidency not to run for a second term. Harp explained that in past years, all BOE members were appointed by the mayor, but that beginning this year, two of its nine members were elected so she wanted to oversee the BOE during this transition period. Harp said she believed that transition period to be over and, therefore, no longer saw a reason for her to serve as president. However, she added that she will continue to serve as a member of the BOE.
Coral Ortiz, one of two high school students on the BOE, said she believes a change in leadership will be positive and might ease tensions on the Board, as some board members believe it is a conflict of interest for Harp to simultaneously serve as mayor and board president.
According to Darnell Goldson, one of the two elected BOE members, board members have known for at least a month that Harp would not run for re-election. He said he believes that with a new board president and superintendent, the BOE will have a “different focus” over the next year.
He said he believes Daisy Gonzalez, a current BOE member and the parent of a child in the NHPS system, will succeed Harp. Goldson said Gonzalez would have the necessary votes and is, as far as he knows, running unopposed. In her interview with the News, Harp said she has the “utmost confidence” in Gonzalez, who she described as committed to parents and improving educational opportunities.
Gonzalez confirmed to the News that she is thinking about running for the seat.
If she is elected, Gonzalez said she will focus on making parent and teacher voices heard and ensuring the district’s policies are up to date. She said she is also concerned with ensuring the district’s “most vulnerable children” — those with special needs and life-threatening allergies — are being taken care of.
Gonzalez has never worked for the NHPS and became involved with the BOE after volunteering in the district and serving as president of the Parent Teacher Organization at the East Rock Magnet School, which her sons attended.
“I have always been a concerned parent, but I know there are a lot of parents that are concerned but don’t have the time to do anything,” she said. “If they come to me, I try to speak for them.”
The new BOE president will serve alongside a new, though experienced, superintendent. Reginald Mayo returned to New Haven Public Schools last October as interim superintendent after former superintendent Garth Harries ’95 resigned in September. Mayo will serve in that position for a four to six month period.
Goldson added that he hopes the BOE focuses more on improving academic achievement within the school system and ensuring that money spent on school contracts is being used efficiently. He explained that school administrators have frequently approved contracts without coming to the BOE for permission. It is necessary to see data proving that the district’s contracted programs are having a positive effect on children’s learning, he said.
“There was wholesale ignoring of rule and proper procedure in the NHPS system,” Goldson said. “That has begun to change in a positive direction, and my hope is the new leadership continues with that change.”
The BOE will hold elections at their next meeting on Monday evening.