Refreshing nonpartisan choice for New London school board

In an era of partisan, zero-sum politics, it was refreshing to see the Democratic majority on the New London Board of Education turn to Green Party member Mirna Martinez Monday to serve as its new president.

Martinez is an excellent choice, one of only two returning members to the seven-person board. She begins her third two-year term. A former teacher and mother of two school-aged children, Martinez has proven to be a fierce advocate for the kids of the city and for parental involvement. She supports the conversion to a magnet-school district to create an engaging learning environment and improve academic performance.

Selecting Martinez was not the political norm. Following tradition would have meant choosing a Democrat, since the party holds five of the seven seats. Running as a Green, Martinez barely returned to the school board, winning the last seat by nine votes.

She takes the leadership position in a challenging period, with the city working to move a school construction project forward and the search for a new superintendent continuing.

It will be interesting to watch how well Martinez works with the person elected vice president, former superintendent Manny Rivera. A Democrat, Rivera’s surprising retirement last summer created the current vacancy. For good or ill, that’s a powerful figure to have in the second chair.

The selection of Martinez did not come without controversy. Former Republican turned Democrat Jason Catala, having served 14 years on the board and gained the most votes in two straight elections, felt it was his time to serve in the leadership position.

Disappointed as he may be, Catala appears better suited to continue his role as a critical member of the board with a record of challenging superintendents. Catala’s combative approach explains the lack of support from fellow Democrats for the leadership job, but voters like him.

Interviewed Tuesday, Catala contended Rivera is spending too much time out of district, criticized the shape in which he left the system, and expressed concern Rivera could dominate the process of selecting his successor.

In other words, Catala is still stirring things up. He is in a better position to do so as a board member, rather than as its leader.

 

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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