All five Democrats on the Board of Education are opposing the candidacy of fellow Democrat Lydia Benedict, who is running for a seat on the board in November.
A letter last month to Democratic Town Committee Chairman Dave Jacobs, signed by the board members, reads, "Please know that the Democratic members of the East Lyme Board of Education are unanimously opposed to the Democratic endorsement of Lydia Benedict as a candidate for the Board of Education."
Last week, Benedict, who angered some board members last month over what some felt were last-minute objections to a plan for a longer school day, said, "It's no surprise to me that they feel that way. But it was a surprise to me that they put it in writing."
The letter to Jacobs was signed by Susan Lyons, Mary Broderick, Judith Engel, Steve McCue and Kathryn Young-Murphy.
Last month, the Democratic Town Committee voted to endorse four candidates for the school board: Broderick, Benedict, Liz Farley and Matthew McLaughlin. Broderick is the only incumbent Democrat who is up for re-election.
Jacobs downplayed the letter.
"It's not a major issue, not a big deal," he said. "I think The Times might be making more out of it than it is."
In addition to those four endorsed by the committee, Jacobs said, "I expect one more to be nominated at the DTC caucus next week," referring to Andy Dousis.
Jacobs said Dousis, if elected, would be prohibited, per school board policy and state statutes, from serving on the board, since he's employed by the board as a high school football and wrestling coach. But Jacobs said Dousis would resign his employment in order to serve on the board, were he to be elected in November.
Per the minority representation rule, the Democrats can only win two seats in November, including Broderick's, which will be up for grabs. The committee has decided to run the maximum number of candidates, five, for the 10-person board.
Talking about the letter from the board's Democratic membership, Jacobs said, "I think it was a group of people who had a personal problem with one other outside individual."
Jacobs said that the "unanimous consent of the DTC was that (Benedict's) a very well-meaning, very well-qualified candidate."
Andy Pappas, who served as the committee's selection committee chairman, said the Democratic board members, in signing the letter to Jacobs, "don't see the big picture of the whole community." He said, "If people aren't happy with the way things are going, that's what elections are about."
Current Democratic board members spoke up last week about the letter they sent to Jacobs.
"The Board of Education had no credibility problem until a few people in town decided to make one," Broderick said, referring implicitly to the extended elementary school day debate that resulted in the initiative's implementation being delayed, in large part, due to opposition organized by Benedict.
Broderick said, "I think it will be very difficult for the Board of Education if Lydia's elected." She also questioned the wisdom of the party running five candidates for the board, saying that approach will dilute the slate.
Lyons said she's perceived a "very, very negative message, to date," from Benedict, and hasn't heard "what's she's for, and how she'd work with the Board of Education, and the administration."
Board member Steve McCue said that at a recent DTC meeting, he asked Benedict what would be the next issue of priority (following the extended school day debate) for her, were she elected in November. He said she talked about getting "back to basics," and wondered what that meant.
Benedict confirmed they had that exchange, and described what "back to basics" meant: "Let's first make sure our schools and our children in the schools have what they need," she said.
Benedict said the district doesn't have enough teachers, for example.
Talking about her candidacy, Benedict said, "I feel like I can work with anybody," even during disagreements.
School board Chairman Kevin Seery, who is one of five Republicans on the board, said, "It's anybody's right to try and seek public office," and up to each party to endorse its slate of candidates. Seery will seek re-election, he said, along with fellow Republican school board members James Harris and Al Littlefield. The Republican Party also plans to run five for the school board Seery said, identifying Wendy Elia and Marlene Nickerson as the other two.