NEWSFLASH: Darien Board of Ed chairman not endorsed for re-election by RTC

In an uncommon political move for the Republican Town Committee, the group opted not to endorse Board of Education Chairman Michael Harman for re-election.

Harman told The Darien Times recently via email his intention was to run and he’d be seeking the RTC’s endorsement.

“I have submitted my paperwork to the RTC to run again, and so has Duke [Dineen].  I will defer to the RTC for their decision on my nomination,” he said.

Recently The Darien Times learned that Harman had not been endorsed.

In an email conversation with RTC Chairman Brent Hayes, he confirmed the committee’s decision.

“The Darien RTC had three highly qualified candidates for only two openings on the Board of Education. After a lengthy discussion the RTC endorsed Dennis Maroney and David Dineen,” Hayes wrote.

Maroney serves on the Representative Town Meeting and is chairman of that body’s Education Committee.

“Michael Harman is an outstanding individual that has spent countless hours on the BOE representing the best interests of our students and community. I want to thank Michael for his continued service to the Town of Darien, and ensuring that the Darien public school system remains one of the best in our state,” Hayes said.

On Wednesday morning, Harman told The Darien Times he “respects the RTC decision.”

“For the record would like to state that it has been a privilege to work collaboratively with my fellow board members over these past six years,” he said.  

“I am proud to have been able to contribute to the progress made by the district during this time period.  I am also confident that the Board of Education will always have the best interests of our children at heart and continue to move the district forward,” Harman said.

Harman was named chairman of the Board of Education following the 2015 election in another unusual move, replacing former chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross, who remained on the board but was instead elected vice-chairman.

It was the first time in at least 10 years, and under the last three Board of Ed chairmen, that a chairman was replaced while remaining a board member. Former chairman Sallie Raleigh was replaced by chairman John Boulton in 2005 when she opted not to run for re-election. Boulton was replaced by vice-chairman Kim Westcott in 2009 when he opted not to seek re-election. And Hagerty-Ross replaced Westcott as chairman in 2011 when Westcott stepped down from the board after nine years.

Harman was first elected to the Board of Education in 2011 during a tumultuous time in Darien’s School District history.

A complaint was filed  against the Darien school district in 2013, citing violations of the IDEA act and non-compliance with IEPs. Darien was found to have violated special education laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, in at least 32 instances in 2013.

The complaint and subsequent findings resulted in the resignations of at least seven high-level school administrators in 2013 and 2014 including the superintendent, assistant superintendent, the director of finance, and others.

Current Schools Superintendent Dan Brenner took the helm on July 1, 2015.

Hagerty-Ross is not up for re-election this year and The Darien Times has asked her if she would consider taking over the chairmanship again in Harman’s absence but has not yet heard back.

Hayes said he could not elaborate when asked for the reasons the RTC opted not to endorse Harman.

“Unfortunately, I cannot elaborate on our specific discussions given we held them in "executive session" according to the rules of the RTC,” he said.

Harman’s vacancy on the ballot leaves the only board left without a leader — all four were up for re-election this year.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson recently confirmed her intent to run again along with fellow incumbent selectmen Susan Marks and Kip Koons.

Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman John Sini, and Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky had also recently confirmed their intent to run again to The Darien Times.

According to Haymes, the RTC “finalized endorsements for the entire Republican slate last Wednesday.”

Hayes said that aside from Harman, “All of the incumbents that were seeking reelection on the other Boards & Commissions including selectmen, P&Z, Board of Finance, Board of Assessment Appeals, Constables, etc were endorsed by the RTC.”

Town Democrats, including Selectmen Rob Richards and Marc Thorne, have not yet revealed their intentions for November, including whether or not they plan to challenge Stevenson for first selectman.

In 2015, Stevenson was challenged by unaffiliated first selectman candidates Rob Werner and Chris Noe.  On Election Day, Stevenson prevailed with 2,074 votes. Werner and Noe earned 542, and 77 votes, respectively.

Democrats have not had a first selectman candidate challenge Stevenson in either the 2015 or 2013 election. In 2013, former Darien Democrat Town Committee Chairman Randy Klein served as a placeholder during the nomination caucus for an expected first selectman candidate who did not materialize.