NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education last week appointed Democrat James Jordan, a former member of the borough Planning Commission, to fill the seat vacated June 30 by Thomas McKirryher.
According to charter rules and state statute, the board needed to replace McKirryher, a Democrat, with another Democrat. The board will, with Jordan’s appointment, maintain its 6-3 Democratic majority.
Board Chairwoman Kathleen Donovan said she received letters from five interested candidates; two were ineligible because they weren’t registered Democrats and one letter was withdrawn, leaving two candidates: Jordan and Debra Brackett.
Both spoke before the board at a special meeting Friday evening. While board members recognized both candidates for their qualifications, they especially lauded the community’s enthusiastic response to the board vacancy, noting that party leaders sometimes struggle to find candidates even interested in joining the school board.
“It seems like when election time comes around, the town committees are going around asking people to run on the board,” Donovan said. “No one seems to want to run for the Board of Education. We’ve had a very, very media-filled year. That’s an aberration from the usual. This is not a board people run to be on.”
The Naugatuck Democratic Town Committee endorsed neither Jordan nor Brackett for the mid-term vacancy.
Jordan has served two four-year terms on the Planning Commission; he spent six of those eight years as its chairman. He is also the treasurer of the Democratic Town Committee.
It was Jordan’s experience as a corporate accounting manager, however, that ultimately swayed the board in his favor.
“At this point, based on the problems that the Board of Ed. has from a financial standpoint, and that we’re finally starting to see the light and get to the end of the problem, I’m just a little more inclined to go with the financial end of it,” board member Rocky Vitale said. “Jim [Jordan], with the accounting background and being an accounting manager, might be someone that could help at this point—especially next year when budgets are going to be extremely difficult.”
Jordan has worked as an accountant for about 20 years and holds a degree from the University of Connecticut in the field.
“One board member left me with an interesting comment that kind of resonated with me, that it’s ‘not about the numbers,’” he said. “And to a certain extent I agree with that. It isn’t. There’s a higher purpose for education, there’s a higher reason, and if you think about it just from the dollars and the numbers, you don’t fulfill your obligations as board members. But as we all know, the reality is money, budgets, how you appropriate it and use it is essential to acquiring your goals.”
Brackett, by contrast, said she has little experience in the way of local public service—though she is familiar with budget administration and grant writing through her work with the state Departments of Public Health and Social Services.
The board voted to confirm Jordan to the board after brief comments from each candidate and several minutes of discussion. Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lewis cast the sole vote opposed to Vitale’s motion to appoint Jordan, and James Scully abstained from the vote.
Donovan, like Vitale, said Jordan’s experience was slightly more desirable for a prospective board member, noting that his time serving on the planning commission familiarized him with the process of public administration.
Jordan said that experience taught him to take his civic duties seriously, but said he understood than the school board, with all its “complexities,” would be a different ballgame than the Planning Commission.
“It’s funny, somebody once said to me, ‘Sitting on planning, or zoning for that matter, has got to be difficult; you’re dealing with people’s homes,’” he said. “Very emotional, very difficult, but you know what? Now you’re dealing with people’s kids, and it’s something altogether different. I do have a respect for that and an appreciation for it.”
Jordan’s mid-term appointment will be good until March, when Naugatuck will conduct its next municipal election—at which point he could run for election by borough voters.