Whatever you do to the Board of Ed—how about putting some real live kids on it?
That was one of the most passionate ideas offered Thursday night about how to change New Haven’s charter.
Some 50 concerned citizens in all offered public testimony in the Hillhouse High School auditorium at the second public hearing of the Charter Revision Commission.
The commission is preparing to recommend questions to be placed on the November election ballot about how, or whether, to change New Haven’s charter, which is in effect its constitution.
Much of the discussion has centered on the future of the city’s Board of Education, which is now the only one in Connecticut fully appointed by a mayor. Some people have suggested changing the charter to make the board elected or creating a “hybrid” elected-appointed board.
Advocates of those positions all spoke again Thursday night as Charter Revision Commission Chairman Wooster Square Alderman Michael Smart sat center stage at Hillhouse, with his 15 members arrayed silently on either side of him. “We are the jury,” Smart said, there to hear any and all testimony.
New to the mix of ideas Thursday night was the proposal of the evening’s first speaker, Garrett Munroe, who represents the grassroots parents’ advocacy group Teach Our Children.
“The city has made leaps and bounds [in education] in the past decade” but it has a ways to go, Munroe said. To continue to make progress he recommended that in either scenario of a new board—elected, hybrid—it include “student representation, even if they’re not voting.”
Westville Alderman Sergio Rodriguez endorsed the idea of a hybrid board, and went further. He endorsed expanding young people’s representation on both the panels of power in the city.
“Consider [a young person] an ex-officio member of he Board of Ed. This will give young people a voice. They could even sit on the youth committee” of the Board of Aldermen, Rodriguez suggested.
He praised the range of young people’s organizations that have sprung up in town and suggested such a representative could come from the Youth Commission or Elm City Dream.
Other speakers called for a fully elected board, others to leave the appointed board as is.
Moti Sandman, a former Beaver Hills alderman, and current Board of Ed member Susan Samuels both cautioned against an elected board.
“My concern is politicizing the Board of Ed,” said Sandman.
“What could be more politicized than a mayor having complete control over it?” countered Frank Panzarella (pictured).
He called for not only students but parents as well on the board.
If you want parents, you need look no further, said Samuels, who had two kids in the New Haven public schools when she accepted a seat on the board in 2007.
She told a story of a friend who ran for a seat on an elected board in another Connecticut town. Her friend won but then grew disenchanted and stressed at the political pressures that followed, Samuels said. She mentioned that her friend had a massive coronary and died.
Jesse Philips, of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, said the most reform-minded boards statewide are appointed. If you want to elect somebody to the Board of Ed, elect the student representatives, he suggested.
The most passionate testimony on the subject was offered by Rachel Heerema, executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition. She said her group came to offer a formal recommendation to the commissioners that the Board of Ed needs to involve young people in its discussion and decision making process.
She called for more vetting of BOE decisions by both students, parents, and teachers. Regarding the possibility that an elected board might elect a completely unprepared but politically positioned “Joe Shmo,” she said: “If we trust the people to elect the mayor, we can trust the people to elect a Board of Ed.”
And that should include kids, she said. “Student representation has three decades of history [with kids] as advisers,” she said.
Heerema said that 25 states have student representation on their local boards and several states have student reps on the state boards of education. That includes Connecticut, which has two high school kids currently serving on the board.
Click here for a story about the testimony delivered at the charter commission’s first hearing, convened at the Davis Street School last week and for background on the newly formed commission.
The third of four public meetings will be held at the Jepson School on Feb. 5, and the fourth at Conte/West Hills on Feb. 7.