With Deborah Herbst’s recent election as chairwoman of the Trumbull Board of Education, some democrats fear government may become a family affair.
“The Herbsts now have extraordinary control of the whole town budget, and have affected the school system’s ability to serve as an independent advocate for education,” according a letter from the Democratic Town Committee released Monday.
Deborah Herbst, who declined to comment Monday, was serving on the board before her son, Tim Herbst, was elected first selectman in 2009. She’s been on the board for 10 years, the last six of them as vice chair.
The first selectman said the issue came up in his last two elections but voters re-elected both mother and son. He added that on Dec. 3, Board of Education democrats Rosemary Seaman and Mike Ward nominated and seconded Herbst for chairwoman.
In a separate statement, the RTC called the DTC's letter "abhorrent and desperate."
The democratic committee contended that despite the unanimous board support of Deborah Herbst, there is too much control by one family, according to Trumbull DTC.
“Trumbull now has a first selectman responsible for an overall municipal budget of roughly $155 million and a school board led by the first selectman’s mother that controls how $95 million of that overall budget is spent. This arrangement places too much policy-making power in the hands of a single family. It creates a conflict between the policy responsibilities and the personal ties of family members. And it places other town officials in awkward situations.”
“Deborah Herbst should not be the school board chairwoman, and the whole Board of Education, including the Democrats who supported this decision, should reconsider their votes,” said Tony Silber, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee’s Communications Subcommittee. “The town’s most important institutions should not be controlled by a single family."
He added that Trumbull High School $1 million budget of its own and is led by her husband, Athletic Director Michael Herbst. But the athletic director is retiring Jan. 31, 2014, according to the most recent Board of Education agenda.
While the Board of Education is funded with tax money, it is independent by state statute. It cannot be told how to spend its money. But Tim Herbst has asked the board to submit to the town's Code of Ethics, which it has not done yet. The organizational meeting was Dec. 3.
“The question can be raised whether the hand of the first selectman is behind the actions of the school board,” Silber said. “The school system should be more independent. State statute specifically separates school budgets from town budgets. There’s a good reason for that.”
“I hope that the school board will reconsider its decision, because it creates a clear conflict in terms of policy, and it puts others in awkward situations,” Silber said. “This is not good for Trumbull."