GREENWICH – For a decade the job of superintendent has been in a revolving door, and again on Wednesday – split along party lines – the Board of Education was unable to agree to an extension of the current superintendent’s contract.
Democratic board members rejected a proposed one-year extension and instead demanded a two-year extension in what they said was an effort to end the turnover. Greenwich Public Schools Superintendent Toni Jones, hired in 2019 under a three-year contract, is the sixth superintendent to lead the district over the last 10 years.
Republican Chair Joe Kelly pleaded with his fellow members to come to a unanimous decision on her contract extension, regardless of length, to combat “negativity” from the community.
“I don’t want to hear any more negativity because we all – 100 percent of us – are voting in favor of you,” Kelly told Jones, who sat beside board members. “That’s the reason why I think there’s a very, very high importance of having a unanimous vote.”
Kelly’s pleas for unity came after a lengthy public comment portion of the meeting in which a few residents asked the board to reject Jones’s contract extension altogether, criticizing what they said was a lack of transparency and respect for parental rights under her leadership.
David Lancaster, a Republican member of the Representative Town Meeting who said he was speaking as a private citizen, stood to oppose the extension.
“I’m asking that this board not to renew Dr. Jones’s contract as superintendent of schools,” Lancaster told the board. “The reasons are many, but primarily [the] continued presence of social engineering in curriculums, a lack of transparency and respect for parental rights, academic results and discriminatory hiring practices.”
Lancaster said that Jones supports “radical gender ideology” and uses social-emotional learning to promote critical race theory.
The push to oppose Jones’s contract extension comes almost a year after a hidden-camera video showed a Cos Cob School Assistant Principal claiming to have participated in partisan and discriminatory hiring practices within the district, and one month after the superintendent told parents that town Republicans were handing out “flyers of a political nature” at Central Middle School.
All eight board members were in favor of extending Jones’s contract, but the Republican members voted for a one-year extension instead of two – which Democratic Vice Chair Christina Downey suggested was politically motivated.
“One could surmise there are some political motivations involved, or personal or professional. And while I don’t like to listen to gossip or scuttlebutt, I believe everyone on this board should be in a position that they are not seeking to be superintendents, supporting other people to be superintendent, trying to get our superintendent out,” Downey said. “If they are… they have a conflict and they should recuse themselves.”
Downey said Jones has a proven track record of implementing improved programs, curriculum and personnel, and pointed to the “overwhelmingly positive” review and two percent salary increase the board awarded the superintendent earlier this month.
“If we tell her we want her to have a vision for and lead the Greenwich Public Schools going forward, we need to give her the time and the opportunity to achieve those,” Downey said. “A one-year extension does not do so.”
Downey said that other districts offer their superintendents three-year contracts when they’d like to retain them. She asked her colleagues to explain why they opposed a two-year extension, especially given previous turnover.
One reason for a one-year extension, Republican member Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony explained, was the 2022-2027 Strategic Plan that the board adopted in February 2023.
The plan laid out district goals – including meeting academic targets, increasing the graduation rate and fostering a positive working environment for staff – that the board would measure each year. Next year, he explained, the board will receive a data report on the plan’s established metrics.
“For the first time in four years, we’ll have data around those metrics, which is an appropriate opportunity for the board then to have a similar conversation about contract extension,” Mercanti-Anthony said.
He said a vote for a one-year extension is a vote in favor of Jones for the “excellent work” she’s done, but also an endorsement of the board’s push for increased accountability.
But member Kathleen Stowe, a Democrat, argued that a two-year renewal is customary as earlier public comments in support of Jones proved her commitment to the students.
Stowe pointed to a speech at the Wednesday meeting by a fourth grader in which she called Jones her “hero” for helping to transfer her to another school to escape bullying from a fellow classmate, as well as comments from Old Greenwich School Principal Jennifer Bencivengo thanking Jones for making the students and needs of the schools her priority.
“I heard it tonight [when] the fourth grader came up, then when the principal came up, and then when people talked about just her increase in communication,” Stowe said. “Anything less than two years is a vote of no confidence for her and her team.”
The board took three separate votes on the contract extension – one for a one-year extension, another for a two-year extension, and yet another for a one-year extension – but all failed in a four-to-four split along party lines.
As they moved on to the next matter – adding items to upcoming meeting agendas – Republican member Cody Kittle suggested adding a superintendent search to a future meeting if the board could not agree on a contract extension.
“We just had the opportunity to extend the contract,” Kittle said. “We got a clear indication from the board of where certain people stand, so I think it would be irresponsible [not] to put something on the agenda to start planning around that.”
Democratic member Laura Kostin responded, saying instead that the board wants to keep Jones on as superintendent and that they have until June 30 to determine the extension length.
“I think half of the board is in favor of keeping her longer. So, I don’t think we’re at the superintendent search stage,” Kostin said. “I think we have another meeting coming up, and we have till June 30.”
Jones declined a Thursday request for comment on the matter as she said it is a board decision.