A Perfect Storm Doomed Region One

region 1My letter to the editor in today’s Lakeville Journal:

In his letter to the editor of this newspaper last week, Brian Kavanagh misrepresented remarks I made in my blog CTDevilsAdvocate.com, as reported by The Litchfield County Times, regarding the Region One budget.

I did not “demonize” those who opposed passage of the budget as “churlish.” I labeled their message as churlish. That’s an important difference, as sometimes even smart people do less-than-smart things. Furthermore, I did not suggest all budget opponents are disengaged from the goings on at Region One and don’t care about education. I was referring only to the “shrillest voices” — a distinction that was lost on Mr. Kavanagh because he evidently did not read the blog post but relied only on the LCT’s reporting of it. If Mr. Kavanagh finds my words to be “rude, in a mean-spirited way,” then he should visit the Region One Report blog to see the fevered invective routinely hurled at school officials.

As a parent of two students at Housatonic, I too visit the campus often and watch board meetings. For what it’s worth, I covered the Region One board for almost four years as a reporter and blogger for this newspaper and offer the following observations on what brought us to the current mess:

  • A leadership vacuum since the defeat of board chairman Judge Manning two years ago. Say what you want about Manning, but he knew how to run meetings, follow procedures and make stakeholders feel as if their voices were being heard. I can’t say the same about the two subsequent board chairs.
  • The election of Gale Toensing as Fall Village representative two years before that. For better or worse, Toensing has proved to be a disruptive force, holding her own public meetings and filing freedom-of-information requests, while challenging board actions and the superintendent’s office at every turn.
  • The decision this year to present a budget that cuts four teachers, while adding an administrator and tens of thousands of dollars for iPads. The former alienated education advocates, while the latter turned off those who aren’t big fans of technology in the first place.
  • The turning of the local news media against the board. Print, digital and broadcast media flooded the zone with critical coverage on a subject (the regional school budget) that most residents had previously paid little attention to.

The objective of the early opponents of the budget was clear. They wanted to achieve through hectoring what they failed to accomplish through the electoral process. That is, create board turnover and force Superintendent Chamberlain and Assistant Superintendent Diane Goncalves out of the Region 1 central office. That highly motivated faction won’t soon be appeased. Both administrators are under contract, so removing them would either invite costly litigation or necessitate a prohibitively pricey buyout.

But there is one faction that might be swayed: The voters who did not want to see teacher layoffs while adding expensive technology. Delay the iPad program until next year and you just might see a yes vote later this month.

Terry Cowgill

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