Resignation on the Guildhall School Board: A New Chapter

School Board Director Helen Martin has resigned, with more than a year to go in her term. At last night’s meeting, the School Superintendent delivered her letter of resignation to the other board members. Mrs. Martin did not come personally to inform her fellow Board members of this.

In my view, this resignation was long overdue, and I would have preferred that Mrs. Martin  come and face us directly.

Nevertheless, I applaud her for taking this step. I think it was the honorable thing to do.

Since her election in March 2011, I  and many others believe that Mrs. Martin has made a series of choices which sadly, squandered any potential she might once have had to be an effective board member. In August 2011, she used her majority with Board member Matt Smith in voting to tuition out Smith’s own child, despite a statute which forbid such conflict of interest votes, and despite the fact that voters had only months before said no to the tuitioning out of 5th graders.

Worse, Mrs. Martin did not appear to recognize she’d made any mistake, even after numerous citizens expressed their disappointment and outrage, by attending and speaking up at meetings, by rescinding the controversial gifted and talented article, by writing letters and petitions, and even after some citizens finally took the serious step of filing a lawsuit.

Indeed, in early 2012, in an angry outburst, she voted with Matt Smith to freeze the checkbook of the Guildhall School District, an action which arguably jeopardized the continued operation of an entire school, simply because she supported Matt Smith in his attempt to get his own child’s tuition paid.  Through those choices, for many of us, she lost  credibility, and instead became a largely polarizing figure in our community.

Many of us wondered why she did not do what clearly seemed best for the Town and School and step down, allowing the School Board to move forward with a clean slate. Again, to the very end, Mrs. Martin did not seem willing to consider that she might have made a mistake. She seemed to persist in her belief that citizen activism, including  the filing of a lawsuit was some kind of personal attack, anti-democratic maneuver or was based on some mysterious political agenda. What she failed to understand–or so it seems– was that citizens, when they believe their elected officials have acted wrongfully, use the democratic process, including the courts of law, to take action and seek redress.

So her decision, although it comes late, is the right one, and I appreciate it.

With this development, I believe we can open a new chapter in our School. When Mrs. Martin and Matt Smith used their majority on our School Board to act as they did, that was a radical change in how the Town operates. We can now reverse course. Mrs. Martin’s resignation is an important step toward rejecting the politics of special treatment and favoritism and making our government accountable  for the good of everyone, not just those who have power, a good name, or friends in high places.

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