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North Haven’s contentious Dem school board race heads to primary

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NORTH HAVEN — Democratic voters will have the chance to pick nominees for their Board of Education slate at the Sept. 12 primary. 

The vote will conclude a contentious primary in which two incumbents seeking reelection have accused the party of shutting them out, but party officials say the candidates aren’t cooperating with the Democrats’ broader campaign. 

At the primary, voters can pick their top two choices — from Heidi Avila, Lori Mansur and Amanda Gabriele — to run for full terms on the board in the November election. They’ll also choose between Thais Moore and Frederick Rodriguez to fill the remaining two-year term of another seat. 

Mansur, Gabriele and Moore have formed their own coalition, named Empowering North Haven, after disagreements with the Democratic party. 

“We’re all running together as a slate because we’re very aligned,” Gabriele, an incumbent, said. 

Gabriele protested the Democratic Town Committee’s decision not to add new voting members until after picking a slate. She also said committee leaders wanted more control over the slate, and she has an active complaint before the Connecticut Democratic Committee. 

“It seems a little bit like the real housewives of North Haven-type drama going on here. It’s not really my bag,” she said. 

Rodriguez, also vice chair of the town committee, said the Democrats did nothing wrong in the process and chose to nominate a slate of candidates that’s willing to work more cooperatively with the party. 

“She’s going to great lengths to stop us from doing regular business just because she wanted to be the endorsed candidate,” he said. 

Gabriele petitioned her way to the primary and has campaigned with Moore, currently filling a seat after the retirement of Jennifer Cecarelli, and Mansur, who was endorsed by the party. 

Gabriele is a data analyst for the Mayo Clinic, while Moore is a senior vice president and director of marketing and communications for Lockton Companies’ Northeast region. Mansur is a pediatric nurse. 

Gabriele said the Empower North Haven team wants to expand diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the school. 

“We want to make sure that everybody knows that they belong here,” she said. 

She also said the group wants to expand vocation training in school, pointing to more formal classes for students who want to be nurses, as an example. 

Avila said she should win one of the two nominations, though, because her experience as a lawyer shows her ability to think critically. 

“I’m a person of integrity, and I hope to bring integrity and transparency into the process,” she added. 

Avila said she decided to run after seeing North Haven High School fall to 126th place in the U.S. News & World Reports ranking of Connecticut high schools. 

“That really saddens me because one of the reasons I moved into this town almost 18 years ago was because of the high grades that the school system had,” she said. 

Avila commented that she’d examine the budget to make sure money is being spent effectively. When that’s not the case, she said she’d push to use those funds for programs that would improve the school system.

She also pledged to hold administrators accountable for how money is spent. 

Neither Rodriguez nor Moore is formally endorsed in their race. Rodriguez said the committee was initially told it could put up two candidates, but town officials later said Democrats would need to choose. 

Rodriguez feels his experience in higher education makes him the most qualified candidate. He works as a full-stack, or software, engineer for Yale University’s system of libraries, and he is an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven. 

He said his top priority is focusing on academic rigor, especially with the threat of students using ChatGPT or other artificial intelligence platforms to cheat on assignments. 

“I don’t think the board is ready to face those issues,” he said. 

Rodriguez said the school district needs to gather more data to determine when decisions are correct or when changes are needed. One example, he said, is the lack of data to determine whether school resource officers are effective. 

“We need to act a little bit quicker and have more data,” he said. 

Rodriguez said he also wants the board to engage the public earlier in the process when making big policy decisions and to share data as it comes in.


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