When it comes to approving mayoral appointees to the city’s Board of Education, many New Haven residents want more stringent regulations.
At a Board of Alders Aldermanic Affairs Committee meeting on Monday night, dozens of members of the New Haven Public Schools Advocates — a community organization formed after a contentious prolonged superintendent search — urged the alders to revise the Elm City’s charter. The committee passed a motion creating a task force to consider the organization’s requests.
“We are students, teachers, administrators and people from the community who realize that so much of our school district has to do with the Board of Education,” district parent Sarah Miller ’03 said at the meeting.
Of the seven members who currently sit on the New Haven Board of Education, four are appointed directly by the mayor and brought before the Board of Alders for a confirmation vote, two are elected and the last is reserved for the mayor herself.
In the spring, the New Haven Public Schools Advocates first circulated a petition to require Board of Education mayoral appointees to have some expertise in education, demonstrate commitment to public education and have no personal or financial conflicts of interests. As of this month, over 1,000 New Haven citizens have signed the petition.
“Since there is currently only one member of the board with background in education, we consider it a top priority to seek out this expertise in the next appointee,” the petition reads. “We also consider it vital that parameters are formalized and communicated to the public in advance of considering any new appointee.”
The process of selecting members for the city’s Board of Education has become increasingly democratic in the past few years. In 2015, the board made a shift from seven mayoral appointees to its current configuration. As an upcoming vacancy to the Board looms in December — to replace the chair of the Board of Education Financial Committee Frank Redente — NHPS Advocates are hoping to convince alders to approve of their suggestions.
At the beginning of the meeting, NHPS Advocates’ representatives held signs bearing “SOLIDARIDAD” and “Build a Board of Education That Puts Kids First.” NHPS Advocates highlighted long- and short-term solutions to what they find problematic in the appointment process.
Attendees also cited examples from cities across the country with more democratic policies to select Board of Education members. In Cleveland, Board members are appointed by a committee consisting of parents, business leaders and other community members while in Baltimore, there is infrastructure in place to vet appointees for conflicts of interest. Miller said that there has never been a policy in place in New Haven to address this issue formally.
However, district parents in attendance did not all support the NHPS Advocates’ suggestions. Camille Ainsley, a community advocate from Cedar Hill suggested getting someone from a background in finance to ensure checks and balances within the budget. She said parent engagement in Board decisions is 100 percent necessary.
“I don’t think it should be deemed that they have to come with an education or some kind of certificate,” Ainsley said.
Carol Birks was appointed as the superintendent of New Haven Public Schools in 2017.
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