Goulding Talks COVID, Party Politics and 8 Years on the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Ed

After eight years on the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education, Rick Goulding, along with three other members, including the current chair Diane Linderman, will not seek re-election this November, leaving nearly half of the seats open for first-time members.

“Eight years was enough of a contribution to the community for now,” Goulding said. “We decided family-wise and job-wise it just didn’t make sense to continue.” 

According to Goulding, when he first took his seat on the board in 2013 it was a very different time politically.

“At the time I reached out to both parties before the election and they were more than willing to co-endorse, that made feel okay about running. I didn’t want to be a partisan,” said Goulding.

In fact, Goulding said he would not have been comfortable running for office as a single party affiliate.

“In some ways I wish we didn’t have a party-affiliated system for local elections, the way other states do,” he said. “I think the affiliations allow party politics to be at play in local, school decisions.” 

And that’s just what is happening in many towns across Connecticut as candidates for Boards of Education get ready for the election this November. 

According to Goulding, however, Lyme-Old Lyme has largely been able to avoid a partisan divide on the Board of Education.

“We have some ideological differences, but I was never on a board that was dysfunctional … people didn’t really vote with party allegiances,” Goulding said. “We never had a board meeting where I walked out really, truly angry. I’m pretty fortunate to serve with the people I served with.” 

Instead, during the last eight years Goulding said he has only seen relationships between the two towns and the regional board improve. The reason for the improvement, according to Goulding, comes down to better planning and better transparency, especially when it comes to big cost projects, like school renovations.

“We now have a 30-year plan so that a district as small as ours can look forward and see when each big project is going to happen,” he said. “The financial committee can predict when there will be expenditures which allows the school to save and the mill rate to stay stable.” 

Looking back at their eight years on the board together, Goulding said he and the other members that will be leaving in December are most proud of the financial stability they have secured for the school district and the towns. 

“If you look at the last eight years no other district can touch us when it comes to our budgets,” he said. “We have one of the most conservative increases despite having some of the least appreciation in population.” 

That’s not to say there hasn’t been and won’t be any public concern about new initiatives or expenditures. Frankly, Goulding said, that’s unavoidable. 

“The toughest thing for the public to understand is how the school is legally allowed to use its funding,” he said. 

As a physician, Goulding also said he is proud of how Lyme-Old Lyme handled education over the past school year when precautions against the spread of COVID-19 shut down every other district in the state for at least a few days. 

“We are the only district that was able to remain open 100 percent of the time,” he said. “We are on the razor edge of pushing the limits in terms of getting kids into the classroom.”

Goulding said he was sad to hear of the Governor’s mask mandate for students this fall instead of allowing individual districts to make their own decisions. 

“I think it’s unfortunate that science has been politicized here,” Goulding said. “As a board we demonstrated that we are willing to push the forward envelope with safety being in mind, but we are going to have to probably follow state mandates, it would be hard not to.” 

Goulding said he hopes the district will continue to move forward with metrics at the center of their decision making. 

“It’s hard to respect a decision if there isn’t a number behind it,” he said. “You don’t want to feel like the decisions are wishy washy.”

For Goulding, the toughest and most memorable meetings were not the townwide debates about adding pre-kindergarten, or even allowing dogs on campus – against which he cast the only dissenting vote – instead they dealt with the impact to students, such as an expulsion hearing. 

“I’m thinking of one in particular where our different philosophies on everything from drugs to what’s allowed on campus really came out,” he said. “It was challenging and surprising. When you join a board you definitely are not thinking about those responsibilities.”

Looking forward to the next few years, Goulding said he is hopeful the board will remain nonpartisan and focused on the Lyme- Old Lyme students.

“Knowing some of the candidates up for election and the ones that are not up for re-election I think we are in good hands,” he said.

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