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Should Perez Step Aside?

That's The Question Parents Will Be Asked Of The Mayor's School Board Chairmanship

By RACHEL GOTTLIEB FRANK, Courant Staff Writer

November 17, 2007

When he named himself to the school board two years ago and became its chairman, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said "it's not about being king." As soon as the board had a solid plan to meet his goals of sending all students to four-year colleges and improving school safety he would step aside, he said.

Basking in the afterglow of a triumphant re-election, Perez says he has a mandate to stay the course, with lots of work yet to do on the school board, and he won't be giving up his chairman's seat.

So today, the PTO Presidents Council is asking parents in a questionnaire whether they agree. Should the city's powerful mayor step aside and let one of his appointees to the school board step up as chairman? When parents gather at the annual "Day of 1,000 Parents" meeting at Bulkeley High School, they will be asked to answer that and other questions to help the presidents council made up of PTO presidents from all the city schools set an agenda for the coming year. The questionnaire is nonbinding.

"Some parents think he can't give full attention and he needs to pass it on to somebody who can really focus," said Sam Saylor, the group's outgoing president, explaining why one of the questions on the questionnaire asks whether Perez should step aside. "We're changing the landscape of our schools. There has to be a policymaker that people think is totally immersed in education."

Besides, said Milly Arciniegas, a candidate for president of the presidents council, with Perez occupying both the school board chairmanship and the mayor's office, if parents don't like a school board decision, they have nowhere else to turn.

"He said himself that once he gets things where they need to be he will step down," Arciniegas said. "It's time now he step down as chairman of the board. ... He has a lock on power and it's quite intimidating."

Perez, who appointed himself to the board in December 2005 as one of his five appointees to the nine-member board, said the question of his chairmanship was settled when voters re-elected him as mayor.

"One of the biggest debates in my campaign was my chairmanship," he said. "People elected me to continue what I'm doing in education, crime and development. Parents support the fact that we have a reform plan."

After two years at the helm, Perez said, he's accomplished some of his goals such as instituting a policy for school uniforms and hiring a new superintendent to reform the school system.

"But everything's not in place. We're still going through redesign. There's still work to be done. We've laid the foundation, but we need time to finish the work."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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