Mayoral candidates trade barbs over Board of Education nomination at Aldermanic meeting
Mayoral candidate calls on Board of Alders to reject or delay all BOE nominations until his demands are met.
Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer
With public ire growing over the Board of Education’s refusal to meet in person, mayoral candidates clashed with Mayor Justin Elicker over his nomination of current BOE vice president Matt Wilcox to another term.
On Monday evening, former McKinsey executive and mayoral candidate Tom Goldenberg called on the Board of Alders to reject or delay all nominations to the BOE until it committed to publicly discussing data on absenteeism, open up its search process for superintendent and return to in person BOE meetings. Hours after his statement, the Board of Alder’s aldermanic affairs committee met to publicly interview Wilcox and the Aldermanic Affairs committee recommended him to the Board of Alders in a four to one vote.
“Given the level of dysfunction on the Board of Education and the horrific underperformance of our schools, our current Board of Education should be under serious review,” Goldenberg wrote to the News. “We need much more from our leadership — more transparency, more accountability and more rigor.”
Former Beaver Hills alder and mayoral candidate Shafiq Abussabur supported the nomination but raised concerns on incumbent Mayor Justin Elicker’s leadership on education.
Elicker criticized Goldenberg for politicizing the nomination of Wilcox.
“Matt Wilcox has been one of the hardest working and dedicated members of the BOE,” Elicker wrote to the News. “Calling for the Board of Alders to reject qualified people does nothing to improve outcomes for our students. This is a distraction from the important work we all need to carry out together. Rather than playing politics, let’s focus on our kids.”
Aldermanic Affairs committee chair Rosa Ferraro-Santana questioned Wilcox on why the BOE was “suppressing the voices of parents,” as well as why in-person meetings were not possible. Ferraro-Santana said that she would reject the nomination of any BOE member going forward who did not attend meetings.
Ferraro-Santana added that she wished for the entire BOE to eventually come before the Board of Alders for questions on NHPS’s performance.
Wilcox told the committee that parents were not having their voices suppressed since they could speak during the 90 minute public comment session of every BOE meeting. He added that in-person meetings were not occurring currently because the online format allowed for more people to participate while also helping protect BOE members who are immunocompromised or have close family members who are immunocompromised.
“We have a good attendance at our Zoom meetings and I hear from many that are appreciative of the meetings being virtual,” Wilcox wrote to the News. “I also hear from many that we should be meeting in person or a hybrid. I hear excellent cases made on all sides, and I committed this evening that I would raise the issue with the board.”
Goldenberg’s third criteria for lifting his proposed moratorium on BOE confirmations of reverting BOE meetings to back in person mirrors Ferraro-Santana’s comments. Abussabdur joined in those calls on Monday.
“I respectfully disagree that I’m not putting my heart and soul into it,” Wilcox told the Aldermanic Affairs committee. “I don’t see that an in-person meeting is the only indicator, but I do accept and understand the criticism. And we’ll certainly be bringing it up at the next BOE meeting.”
Beaver Hills alder Thomas Ficklin voted against the nomination, explaining to the News that he believed that Wilcox’s seat should be given to a New Haven Public School parent so that there is parent representation on the BOE.
Tom Goldenberg says reappointing BOE members who have overseen decline is the “definition of insanity”
According to Goldenberg, the blame for falling test scores and chronic absenteeism falls squarely on Elicker and the Board of Education.
“We can not continue to blame the pandemic,” Goldenberg told the News. “We are dead last in the state behind Stamford and Waterbury thanks to the leadership of this Board of Education and Mayor.”
Goldenberg believes that the solution begins with a public presentation of data and solutions to deal with both issues.
Wilcox wrote to the News saying that most recent data as well as plans to deal with low test scores and chronic absenteeism are both available on the NHPS website. Elicker added that chronic absenteeism rate has fallen 16 percent since the beginning of the school year.
Elicker told the News that “delaying a Board of Ed member’s appointment isn’t helpful to the important work we need to accomplish.”
While disagreeing with Goldenberg’s opposition to any BOE appointments, Abdussabur used the committee meeting to criticize the BOE and Elicker.
On absenteeism, Abussabur said that the recent spike in crime in New Haven including five homicides in 21 days lays bare how important school attendance is in New Haven. Abussabur added that on top of chronic absenteeism more than 130 teaching spots are empty currently in New Haven, which has forced administrators and paraprofessionals to step in as substitutes regularly.
“I agree with Matt being reappointed,” Abussabur said. “We can’t afford to take resources away from the board. We are already in crisis. The last thing we need is absenteeism on the board. So we’re in too much chaos and crisis to start picking apart the last of the brick wall.”
Goldenberg’s second criteria to lift his proposed moratorium on BOE confirmations centers on the ongoing process of hiring a successor to retiring NHPS Superintendent Ilene Tracey. Goldenberg accused the BOE of denying parents and stakeholders a voice in the process. According to Wilcox, previous superintendent searches have been defined by rancor and the BOE’s refusal to abide by public sentiments.
“The BOE is repeating history by not listening to the public on NHPS’s next superintendent,” Goldenberg charged. “This is exactly what the BOE does over and over again and then they moan publicly about not getting a different outcome. That is the definition of insanity, and the Board of Alders must put an end to this insanity.”
Wilcox commented that he would not make the same mistakes as his predecessors on the BOE.
According to Wilcox, NHPS has hired a search firm that incorporates public comment sessions on potential candidates. Wilcox added that the search firm has a proven track record of finding well -suited candidates for districts.
New Haven’s Board of Education has six members of whom two are elected and four are appointed by the mayor.