Republican Board of Education member Donna Szewczak is a voice of reason on the Board. Under both Republican and Democratic leadership, she has used moderation, fairness, and intelligence in making her decisions. The Republicans of Enfield should thank Donna. Her vote Wednesday night helped Republicans foster the image that they like to portray-that they are the party of fiscal moderation. They didn't show much fiscal moderation that night-except for Donna that is. Let me explain what I mean.
Since 2010, the town has been under a legal cloud surrounding the settlement of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over high school graduation ceremonies held at First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield.
The ACLU brought suit against the town, on behalf of two students and their parents who believed that holding graduation ceremonies in a church, violated their First Amendment Rights concerning separation of church and state.
The insurance company that represents Enfield was willing to settle for approximately $500,000. If the town refused to settle, the insurance carrier informed the town that they would not be responsible for any higher costs. The town had two options.
Option number 1 was to settle as the insurance carrier suggested. This would mean that Enfield had to promise not to hold graduation ceremonies at the Cathedral. It also meant that no taxpayer dollars would be spent on the settlement. And case closed!
Option number 2 was not to settle. Option 2 meant lengthy litigation with a potential loss to the Enfield taxpayer in the millions of dollars if we lost the case. No one could guarantee the outcome. Which option would the Board choose? Would the Board vote to save the taxpayers a lot of money and settle, or gamble with our tax dollars. No brainer, right?
Well not really, to three Republicans sitting on the Board. They all understood the ramifications of not accepting the settlement. It meant that if the Town pursued this longer (perhaps for years and for millions of taxpayer dollars) and ultimately won, we could then "stick it to the ACLU". To the Republicans on the Board, fighting the ACLU was a fight of "principle" and a fight for "freedom". But if we lost, then the town would be on the hook for millions of dollars.
The three Republicans who voted against settling were convinced that principle (fighting the "bullies" of the ACLU) was more important than saving the taxpayers potentially millions of dollars. Look, the fact is the town may have won. I don't know and the attorneys don't know. If the case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, it would have taken years to resolve. This Board, and perhaps those following, would have been burdened for years with this one distraction. That, to my way of thinking, is absurd. The potential cost if we lost would stagger our fragile education budget. And who would lose, but you, me, and our children.
Donna understood this. She wanted the Board to focus on education. That is what the Board of Education is supposed to do. She wanted the Board to focus on the eventual merger of the two high schools. She was more interested in saving the town potentially millions of dollars in attorney fees-money that is needed to balance the budget each year and to educate our children. Donna is pragmatic. She is also principled, but not to a point of being ridiculous. Listening to her Republican colleagues talk of socking it to the ACLU out of principle, something that would potentially cost millions, is just downright stupid.
The majority Democrats who supported the settlement, and Donna Szewczak, truly represent our kids and our taxpayers on the Board of Education.