Once again, my town has shown admirable common sense in the face of a media onslaught urging us to do otherwise.
Longtime Salisbury Board of Education member Jennifer Weigel soundly defeated radio host Marshall Miles to win a seat on the Region One Board of Education as the town’s representative. Her 682-442 margin of victory corresponds roughly with the three budget votes Salisbury approved, even as most of the other towns were voting them down. Salisbury was not fertile ground for her opponent, who continuously urged voters to reject the budget for non-budgetary reasons.
I’ve known Jennifer for ten years. She is whip-smart, has sent all three of her children to our public schools and has a track record of building relationships with board members and other stakeholders to move Salisbury Central forward and solve problems. Plus, she actually knows something about education and can speak and act knowledgeably on the subject.
With Andrea Downs’ apparent victory in Falls Village, perhaps the board will be able to move beyond the quarreling over procedure that has marked the last few years. Maybe we can focus on making Housatonic the best high school it can be, and not on spending tens of thousands of dollars on meaningless budget referenda to intimidate board members and administration.
Of course, we do have the task of finding a new principal after the abrupt resignation of Matt Harnett in August. Harnett’s departure came after the equally abrupt exit of the principal and her assistant only three years earlier.
My guess is the pool of strong candidates to assume the helm at Housatonic will be thin, given the school’s reputation in the wake of the recent strife. This is, however, one case where I hope I’m dead wrong.
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One of our local radio stations, which brands itself as “the smallest NPR station in the nation,” has been slammed for poor ethics after its head decided to run for a regional school board seat that is often a subject of the station’s own news coverage.
Yes, you heard that right. Marshall Miles, who is the president and chief executive officer of Tri-State Public Communications, has been told by the Corporation For Public Broadcasting that his candidacy for Salisbury representative to the Region One Board of Education “is wrong; it is unfair; it is a conflict of interest and it should stop.” And what does he intend to do about the findings of CPB ombudsman Joel Kaplan? Nothing, according to a post Miles put up on his sloppy and artless blog on Friday.
Less shocking than the fact that Miles is ethically challenged — we who have followed his career have known that for years — is his absurdly flimsy defense of his actions and his attack on one of those who filed the complaint that prompted the ombudsman to weigh in.
I’ve been late in commenting on this because I’ve been swamped with work. But some very good news arrived last week when we learned that State Police arrested and charged four suspects in the murder and home invasion of Luke Vitalis in Sharon last summer.
As I suspected from the beginning, the murder is almost certain to have been drug-related. But the troopers deserve praise for pursuing this case just as doggedly as they would any other. And the animals who did this deserve swift and harsh justice.
Trooper Lonny Mo and the detectives from the Western District Major Crime Squad are to be congratulated for their persistence and skill in putting this case together. But I would urge restraint on the part of Luke’s friends on the Facebook page Mo established more than a year ago. In their jubilation, they should remember that there’s still a lot of work to do in order to get a conviction.
Some of the suspects have a history of drug involvement and arrests. We have not yet seen the arrest warrants, because they’re still sealed. But presumably the defense team has reviewed them. The attorney for one of the suspects charged with felony murder said at the arraignment, “This is one of the weakest murder cases I’ve ever been involved with. There is absolutely no forensic evidence involved.”
This could be the usual defense-attorney bluster, but the lawyer’s statement could also be a harbinger of the challenges the State’s Attorney’s office will have in securing a conviction. Or perhaps the suspects will plead guilty to lesser charges that will still keep them off the streets for many years.
I share the excitement of Luke’s family and friends that justice is close at hand. But at this time the case does not appear to be a slam dunk.
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There is a fascinating article (paywall) in this morning’s Republican American by Ruth Epstein on the last time Regional School District Number One endured multiple budget defeats.
At that time, almost 20 years ago, my wife and I were childless and both working out of the region, so we paid little attention to the local school budget, even though two-thirds of our property tax dollars went to it. Now with two kids in the high school, we’re “invested.” Oh, what a difference a couple of decades can make.
Ruth’s research indicates a situation that was, in many ways, remarkably similar to the one we have now. It was 1994. Marvin “Muff” Maskovsky was the superintendent and the late great Jack Mahoney was Housatonic’s principal. Interestingly, following the first budget defeat, several administrators agreed to one-year wage freezes and several positions were also cut: “a language arts coordinator, a part-time math coordinator and several secretarial positions.” After the fourth rejection, the board conducted forums in some of the district’s towns. But voters seemed to indicate that the repeated budget failures weren’t about the money:
Speaking at one meeting was board Chairman Geoffrey Drury of Canaan, who said he was perplexed by the continuous defeats. “The logic of the negative vote seems elusive and the most difficult aspect of how to respond. We’ve been told time and again that it’s not a dollar issue and that other things are eating at voters. But those other things are scattered. Everyone seems to have a different reason for voting it down.”
And there was this:
A quick note of amusement: My wife, who is slightly better at math than I am, pointed out an obvious flaw in Marshall Miles’ dimwitted assertion that the repeated rejections of the Region One budget have saved the district money, even factoring in the cost of all those districtwide referenda.
In an embarrassingly inept post this morning, Miles argued that my figures in a previous post are wrong because the $40,000 that has been spent so far on the five failed referenda has been dwarfed by the $250,000 in cumulative cuts the Board of Education has made to its proposed budgets since the first rejection. So he has saved us money and deserves thanks.
But as of today (and for the foreseeable future), we are still operating on last year’s budget — not the budget that was rejected yesterday. So where are the savings? And where is the money coming from to pay for the five referenda? Does the Region One BOE have $40,000 sitting around in a line item for budget votes? I don’t think so.
Next time you want to do the math, find someone who had Ed Epstein as a teacher in middle school. I went to a fancy prep school after KCS and I can tell you that Ed, who graciously defended me in Miles’ hideous post, was the best math teacher I ever had — bar none.
My reaction to Region One’s fifth budget defeat in a row can be summed up in one tweet:
Region 1 budget fails for the 5th time. Boring! Keep holding these votes at town halls. At $8k a pop, they’re fun monthly social gatherings.
— Terry Cowgill (@terrycowgill) August 21, 2013
I am officially no longer interested. My kids are getting a good education and the political agitators continue to press for a pound of flesh. If those folks insist on spending thousands of dollars — none of which will go toward education — on monthly referenda, then so be. I have better things to think about.
P.S. The Region One Report blog is hyperventilating that the Central Office misreported the above results. Evidently, the Sharon yes votes should have read 82 instead of 28.
Lest anyone doubt that Housatonic Valley Regional High School Principal Matt Harnett’s recent resignation had anything to do with the political climate in Region One, read excerpts of his resignation letter to Board Chairman Jonathan Moore, as reported (paywall) by the Republican American:
“Over the past several months a series of events have caused me to re-evaluate and reconsider my personal and professional goals. The past two years have been very challenging and rewarding. However, the current political climate and the tension that exists in the relationship between the administration and some members of the school board and the community have led me to this decision.
“Unfortunately, there have been too many occasions in the last two years where I have felt that some members of the board and the community has had little understanding or respect for what is taking place at the high school and the work that we do here.”
I understand where Harnett’s coming from. I once worked at a private school here in Connecticut. By my sixth year at the school, I had become head of the English Department, director of professional development, a member of the curriculum committee and chair of the panel that decided the fate of students involved in serious disciplinary infractions. In other words, I was becoming an increasingly important administrator at the school.
That fall, I was approached by a board member asking if I would be willing to meet with a group of other trustees to talk about the school without any other administrators present. At that point, I knew the headmaster who hired me was in serious jeopardy of losing his job. So I started looking for employment almost immediately, did not find anything suitable and so stayed on for the next year to work for the new head. Then in March I was informed by the new head that, along with several other administrators and teachers, my contract would not be renewed for the following year.
Harnett had to know that the days of the superintendent and her assistant were numbered and that the board was poised for significant change as well. In other words, the people who hired him wouldn’t be around any longer to protect him, so he jumped ship. Sound familiar? It sure does to me.
I do think the Region One BOE is making the right decision in appointing Assistant Principal Ian Strever as interim principal. From what I hear, Strever is very capable and has the respect of both the students and the faculty. His appointment also injects a measure of stability into a chaotic situation.
Update: View the entire letter by clicking on the image below.