Sen. Bob Duff’s bill allowing mayors to appoint the chair of the board of education in municipalities where the education budget comprises more than 50 percent of the overall municipality’s budget is wrong-headed.

Sen. Duff, D-Norwalk, has provided a weak explanation to justify this proposal: “elected officials of a community are the one that put budgets to their residents and ultimately are held accountable.” Duff is suggesting the mayor is held accountable for the board of education budget, so the mayor should have more power over it.

Municipalities that have elected boards, as we do in Middletown, already have that accountability in place. Duff’s proposal would put an appointed person, not an elected official, in a position of significant sway over the education budget – this decreases accountability and transparency, rather than increasing it. Duff knows that saying this proposal would increase accountability makes it more palatable to voters, but what it really does is increase the mayor’s power at the expense of the community and the superintendent.

Having an appointed chair unnecessarily complicates the relationships between the board members and potentially with the superintendent. The mayor’s appointee may feel beholden to the mayor and may therefore act in his/her best interests and not in the best interests of the children, and s/he may not be willing to work in good faith with other board members and the superintendent.

Essentially, this bill would require certain municipalities to have a hybrid board, that is a board comprised of both elected and appointed members. There is no clear evidence within education research that a particular board structure is more effective than another, probably because municipalities are so different that what works in one place may not work in another.

That is why this is a choice communities should make for themselves, not be foisted upon them by outside lawmakers. Anyone who values community voice in school governance should call on Sen. Duff to withdraw this bill.

Lisa Loomis is a member of the Middletown Board of Education.

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