Superintendent returns as school board candidate in New London
New London — Former School Superintendent Manuel Rivera, who initially was praised by the local school board as a visionary and later criticized for his decision to retire earlier than expected, officially became a Board of Education candidate on Monday.
Rivera was one of two names submitted to the city clerk by Democratic Town Committee Chairman Kevin Cavanagh to fill vacancies on the Democratic slate of school board candidates. Rebecca Amanti is the other candidate.
“It certainly wasn’t my plan,” said Rivera, who retired last month and is now working as a consultant.
Rivera said that with all of the projects and initiatives underway in the district and with just two board members seeking re-election, his working knowledge of the district and relationships at the state level would be an asset.
“It’s hard for me to know what I know and not be able to contribute,” Rivera said. “To volunteer my efforts as a school board member is something I certainly can do.”
When he retired, Rivera said the decision was for personal reasons. He had cited health concerns among other factors.
Jason Catala, a frequent Rivera critic and the lone remaining Democrat seeking reelection to the school board, called Rivera’s candidacy a “definite conflict of interest.”
“It’s counterproductive from my perspective. Here’s a guy who abandoned the school district with several years left on his contract. He could potentially be hiring his (successor)," Catala said. “It’s a concern of mine.”
The district is now being run by Interim Superintendent Stephen Tracy, who like Rivera has served as superintendent in several other school districts and had at one time worked for Edison Schools, Inc. a for-profit school management company. Catala voted against Tracy’s hire, citing the fact that Rivera had put forth his name.
Republican Town Committee Chairwoman Shannon Brenek called Rivera's candidacy “perplexing,” “distracting,” and a move that threatened “to overshadow a lot of the positive discussion about moving New London forward.”
“The word desperate comes to mind,” Brenek said. “It was so unsettling the way he left. To come back in this manner, I don’t think it’s a positive note. If the (Democratic Town Committee) was in a jam and needed to fill a last minute spot why would they fill it with someone who left the superintendent’s position before his contract was up?”
Rivera said he expected some criticism but said he thinks the district is headed in the right direction.
“People will say what they have to say. I had my reasons for needing to leave…why it was right for me to retire at the time. And I did. It’s a personal call that people have to make in life,” Rivera said. “I’m sure there are people that are angry. I can’t help that. I do know I still have a lot left to contribute. This is my volunteer time. Let the voters decide.”
Rivera and Amanti fill vacancies left when Democratic candidates Wanda Cotto and Robert DeRobbio withdrew from the race earlier this month.
The Democratic slate of school board candidates now includes Rivera, Amanti, Catala, Michael McLaughlin, Jeffery Hart, Mark Matson and Regina Mosley. Republican candidates are Karen Paul, Jasmine Collins, Eleanor Day, Antonella Muscarella, Kathy Skrabacz and Susan Tierney. Incumbent school board member Mirna Martinez is joined on the Green Party ticket by Erick Carrión. Alisha Blake is running as a Working Families Party member.
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