In New London, Rivera makes jump from superintendent to candidate

Former New London Superintendent of Schools Manuel Rivera is full of surprises.

In July, Rivera cited personal reasons, including health issues, in announcing his retirement and walking away from a contract that ran through 2021. In subsequent interviews, however, he also complained of a lack of fiscal support from the City Council and the administration of Mayor Michael Passero.

Now comes the surprise announcement he is running on the Democratic ticket for Board of Education in the city.

Rivera has every right to run. If elected, he would provide some continuity at a time when only two of the seven incumbents are seeking re-election.

“We have a good strategic plan, we have a solid vision. What I think the district needs is a good strong manager coming in,” Rivera said in a Tuesday interview. “I would hate to see the direction that has been set be changed because that would just turn things upside down.”

On the other hand, after having spent his life administrating, Rivera will have to reassure voters he won’t be trying to run things from a seat on the board.

“If elected, I would insist that the board operate as a board should and not think that individual people are going to be running the school system and telling the staff what to do,” Rivera said.

As for stepping down for personal and health reasons, only to then take up this new challenge, Rivera said the job of superintendent is far more demanding than serving on a school board, which it certainly is.

This could be interesting. In a brief interview, he called out three fellow Democrats.

“I’m not interested in micromanaging a superintendent, which is unfortunately what I see happening with at least one member now,” he said.

While not using a name, Rivera was referring to Jason Catala, who is seeking re-election. Catala has been a Rivera critic, contending his administration often did not get him the information he needed to make policy decisions.

Rivera referenced Democratic Councilor John Satti among those who unfairly blame education spending for a big jump in property taxes.

“It was Satti … who talked about education and the rise in taxes,” Rivera said. “Well, guess what, there are other things that drove up taxes other than education.”

While avoiding direct criticism, he questioned Mayor Passero’s decision to decline a $17 million school construction grant from the state because of the 5 percent co-pay. The city is struggling to finance a major overhaul of city schools.

Will his candidacy excite education supporters, or will they remain upset with Rivera’s premature retirement? Will party insiders rebel against Rivera’s straight talk? Should taxpayers be worried?

One thing is for sure, New London politics is seldom dull.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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