School board member Karen Kowalski is a culture war firebrand
Karen Kowalski often votes exactly the opposite of both her Republican and Democratic colleagues. But now First Selectman Fred Camillo has indicated he’s backing her for school board chairman.
This pivotal moment comes after the four Democrats and four Republicans on the Board of Education couldn’t agree on a consensus candidate for chairperson. Now the impasse must be broken by the Board of Selectmen at their meeting on Thursday. Given that Camillo’s running mate, Laura Rabin, will vote the same as him, the decision looks like a done deal.
But there are many reasons why this is a concern, and why Karen Hirsh, the other candidate for BOE chair would be a better choice.
Kowalski is a lone wolf on important school decisions
Karen Kowalski has frequently acted as an outlier compared to her fellow BOE members, both Republican and Democratic. She was a lone wolf who repeatedly voted against Central Middle School (CMS) funding, and continues to signal her opposition to a project broadly supported by her colleagues, and the community. “I think I’ve been quite clear on how I feel about CMS and the size of the project. I have voted it down, every vote for the past two years,” she said during an election debate.
Just last week, Kowalski was the only BOE member from either party to vote against a common-sense, 10% increase in a per-pupil funding allocation at elementary schools. (That formula hadn’t been adjusted in a dozen years, even as inflation soared.)
Kowalski was also on the losing end in a 6-2 vote to approve the Board of Education annual budget on Monday.
Kowalski repeatedly voted against multi-year contracts for superintendent Toni Jones, even though the industry standard is three years. Jones’ four-year tenure has been a welcome break from the revolving door of 12 superintendents during the previous 20 years. Stability at the top is important for fostering strategic planning and seeing through implementation. There is real concern that a board led by Kowalski could usher Dr. Jones out and create yet more swirl in our school system.
Even in clear-cut instances, such as the censure of former BOE member Peter Sherr for hurling unprintable, profanity-laced language against a colleague at a public meeting, Kowalski broke with her Republican and Democratic colleagues, as the lone vote against censure.
On other important votes, Kowalski defiantly abstained—at odds with her obligations to her constituents.
Kowalski foments culture wars
Extremist pot-stirrers cause nothing but strife when they sit on school boards. Kowalski is a culture war firebrand. She made that clear on a right-wing Newsmax segment, where she agreed with the host’s characterization of Greenwich schools as rife with “pornography, gender ideology, and woke garbage.” Elsewhere, she has opposed a state-mandated Black and Latino studies elective, falsely conflating it with Critical Race Theory.
Our board of education should not be chaired by someone who uses our schools as a political football. The board should focus on running an educational system. The qualities we need in a chairperson include the ability to work collaboratively with colleagues, advocate for our students, and reflect the values of the whole community, not a fringe.
Kowalski’s selection will not satisfy the “will of the voters”
First Selectman Camillo has hinted his support for Kowalski is because “it is important that we respect the will of the voters,” later claiming she was the highest vote-getter in the recent election. That’s just not true.
Only half of the board members were even on the ballot in November. Of those, Republican Wendy Walsh, an untested newcomer, garnered more votes than Kowalski. What’s more, this election cycle for the BOE candidates was not a competitive one. Any candidate with their party’s endorsement automatically became a BOE member. So vote tallies in this uncontested race are meaningless.
The question Camillo ought to be asking is, who is best suited for the job?
Karen Hirsh, the other candidate for BOE chair, is moderate, sensible, and experienced. She is the obvious choice to work across the aisle and with the superintendent, and set a collaborative tone for the BOE.
Democrats have long demonstrated a willingness to work across the aisle. This year they nominated Republican Cody Kittle for board chair, as a compromise. They also voted for Republican Joe Kelly as the prior board chair. The truth is, a consensus candidate would be the best way forward, and it is clear Kowalski will never be that. On the heels of a recent RTM election where voters resoundingly rejected the extreme right wing, choosing Kowalski would run counter to what our community clearly wants.
So this impending vote feels wrong. The only other time that an impasse forced the Board of Selectmen to vote on a chair was in 2016 when they selected Peter Sherr. At that time, they interviewed the other candidates. This time, interviews weren’t even conducted. Why not let residents hear Kowalski and Hirsh defend their qualifications for board chair?
How you can help
The Board of Selectmen will be voting on the BOE chair decision at their January 11th meeting at 10 a.m. Anyone with concerns about Kowalski becoming the BOE chair should contact the Board of Selectmen at SelectmenOffice@greenwichct.org
Reminder: Biennial town Democratic caucuses are this week!
One hundred people make up the voting members of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee. They set our principles and policies, and lead our election efforts. If you’re a registered Democrat, you can vote for who represents your district, or stand to serve as a party member yourself. Now is the time to get involved in the all-important 2024 election! Attend your district caucus next week. Make your voice heard in your party. Check your RTM voting district, then show up at your district caucus. Questions? Reach out to email@example.com.
|Volume 2, Number 31 • January 8, 2024
|Paid for by the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.
|Greenwich Democratic Town Committee P.O. Box 126 Greenwich, CT 06836