What in the world is going on with the Board of Education?
This afternoon, Jackie Pioli submitted her letter of resignation from the Board, effective June 15, 2020. Pioli was elected in 2018 in an upset win over incumbent (and Board president) David Mannis in 2018 (who now sits on the Board of Finance). If Mannis was an “establishment” candidate, then I suppose that made Pioli an “anti-establishment” candidate by default, although, of course, these descriptors do not tell close to the whole story.
In her two-paragraph resignation letter, Pioli noted “I feel that my contribution has met its limit and that it would be beneficial to the organization if I were to step down.”
This is just the latest development in what can only be called a bizarre couple of months on Stamford’s Board of Education. To recap:
In February, a Board of Education meeting ended in a shouting match when Nicola Tarzia (R) objected to repeated budget recommendations by fellow Republican, Becky Hamman, who had been recently appointed to the Board. For reasons that still are not clear to me from watching the video of the meeting, this ended with Mike Altamura (R) and Pioli leaving the meeting, which president Andy George (D) subsequently ended.
A few days later, Tarzia apologized at a subsequent Board meeting. Pioli did not accept the apology, objecting (at least in part) that the apology came only after the meeting had started and was being filmed (as all Board meetings are on tape).
On March 11, following Director of Administration Mike Handler’s resignation, superintendent Tamu Lucero called for a “reboot” of school options. As readers likely know, Handler had been the driving force behind the administration’s proposal to sell and leaseback certain school facilities to private developers, in response to the mold crisis in Stamford’s public schools.
On March 16, Stamford Public Schools announced they would be closed through at least April 10 due to the coronavirus. That closure has since been extended to the end of the school year.
At the beginning of April, the Advocate reported that Westhill principal Michael Rinaldi had been suspended for three days without pay for speculating as to future school closure. The appeal of his suspension has not yet been resolved.
On April 16, newly elected member Jack Bryant (D) tragically passed away after contracting the coronavirus. The seat he occupied remains vacant, leaving the Board with 8 of its 9 members.
Apparently again on good terms, on April 29, Hamman and Tarzia, along with the third Board Republican Altamura, authored an opinion piece titled “A progress report on Superintendent [Lucero]” heavily criticizing the superintendent and the Board on issues of transparency, communication, and leadership.
The Board Republicans’ writing was met with swift denunciations. First, on May 5, the Advocate published a piece signed by “Stamford parents” in support of Lucero. Second, on May 6, all Democrats on the Board submitted a response to the Republicans’ letter, defending Lucero as “extremely hardworking” and criticizing the Republicans’ ability to read emails, among other infirmities. Pioli’s appearance as signatory to this letter stood out, as her voting record on the Board of Education had been least supportive of the superintendent’s agenda out of every Board member, at least according to my somewhat informed chart recording substantial votes on the Board.
Finally, today, on May 7, Stephanie O’Shea and Susan Vidan, former Stamford Parent-Teacher Council co-presidents, submitted a piece published by the Advocate defending Lucero and calling the Republicans’ letter “biased and inflammatory.”
This afternoon, Pioli submitted her resignation. (I assume she made her resignation effective June 15 to give the Board of Representatives time to appoint a replacement to fill the current vacancy.)
What are we to make of all of this? I have no idea, other than to observe I do not envy anyone involved—Lucero, her staff, or the Board of Education—as they try and manage providing education to tens of thousands of Stamford students in the unprecedented uncertainty and budgetary constraints imposed by the coronavirus.
[Updated a few minutes after posting to add in Rinaldi's suspension.]