Weston school board elects chairman

Weston’s Board of Education elected Gina Albert as its new chairman at a meeting on Nov. 20, but the vote was split along party lines and discussion at times was contentious.

The vote to elect a new chairman came following the municipal election on Nov. 7, which saw the majority party on the board shift from Republican to Democratic following the defeat of Republican incumbent Elise Major and the election of several Democrats.

Superintendent William McKersie guided the seven-member board through the election of officers. Three candidates were nominated for chairman.

Jacqueline Blechinger, a Republican, nominated Democrat Sara Spaulding, saying Spaulding had four years of experience on the board and had “demonstrated leadership.”

However, Spaulding declined the nomination, saying it was in the best interest of the school board not to have its chairman married to the first selectman. Spaulding’s husband, Chris Spaulding, was elected first selectman on Nov. 7.

Spaulding, in turn, nominated fellow Democrat Gina Albert for chairman. Albert was elected to the school board in November after filling a vacancy on the board. Spaulding said Albert had attended many school board and PTO meetings and had considerable experience leading meetings outside the school board.

Republican Dan McNeill nominated the sitting chairman, fellow Republican Ellen Uzenoff. Uzenoff has served on the school board since 1999, and McNeill said given the relative “youthfulness” of the board, with a number of new members on it, it would be wise for the board to rely on Uzenoff’s experience and leadership as the new members develop into their roles.

With Spaulding bowing out of the chairman’s race, Blechinger threw her support to Uzenoff. She said “experience mattered” and Spaulding had that depth of experience. But if Spaulding did not take the position, she believed Uzenoff was the better choice. “Ellen is our only ‘black belt’ and is best suited to chair the board,” she said.

Addressing the subject of experience, Spaulding said there was precedence in Weston for a new board member to chair a commission, such as two years ago when Republican Tom Failla, who was newly elected to the Planning and Zoning Commission, was elected chairman. “I believe someone who has run other boards in town is able to do the job and I have every confidence in Gina Albert,” Spaulding said.

Albert entered the discussion, saying, “This is always a delicate situation when you have a board that is in a state of transition. The seven of us are the Weston Board of Education. The seven of us chose to take on this task and we are committed to doing our duty and we will continue to work together as a team.”

Albert said that when she needs guidance she knows when to ask for it.

In addition, Albert said the board needed to respect what the voters said. “There was a mandate for change in this town. We need to respect what the voters said. I realize I may have something I need to prove to some members on the board and hope I have the opportunity to prove it,” she said.

McNeill said politics were playing a major role in the election of the school board chairman. He said it wasn’t personal, but he believed it would benefit Albert to have time to develop. He said, “The voters have the right to say who sits at this table, but that is where their authority stops and they do not have right to say what happens at the table.”

Spaulding disagreed with McNeill’s assessment of Albert and said she is doing a good job.

Making a final plea for Uzenoff, Blechinger said that, in the past, officers were driven by their length of service. “I believe for the chairman’s job, you aren’t training into it, you are doing it,” she said.

McKersie then called for a vote. Voting in favor of Gina Albert for school board chairman were Democrats Sara Spaulding, Samantha Nestor, Tony Pesco, and Gina Albert. Opposed were Republicans Ellen Uzenoff, Dan McNeill, and Jacqueline Blechinger.

McKersie also called for a vote on Ellen Uzenoff. The three Republicans voted in favor, while the four Democrats abstained from voting.

Gina Albert was then announced as the new school board chairman.

The election of chairman was substantially different from two years ago. After the 2015 election, the party majority on the school board changed from Democratic to Republican. With no fanfare or discussion, at the school board’s first meeting after the election, the longtime board chairman, Democrat Phil Schaefer, made the motion to elect Republican Ellen Uzenoff chairman. The motion was unanimously approved.

Other officers   

The board also elected a vice chairman and secretary/treasurer. In a 7-0 unanimous vote, Ellen Uzenoff was elected vice chairman, and Sara Spaulding was elected secretary/treasurer.

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