After 28 years on the Board of Education, Tuesday’s election gave Robert Kosienski Jr. the opening to step into the board’s top leadership role.
The affable and recognizable Kosienski — known to students as “Mr. K” — helped solidify a win for Republican Board of Education candidates, giving control of the school board to the GOP for the first time since 1991. A special election is under recount, but a reversal will not impact the 6 to 3 GOP majority.
GOP winners Tuesday included incumbent Kosienski along with Rebecca Wronski and Ray Ouellet.
Democrat Michael Reynolds also secured a spot on the board, and Republican Joshua Broekstra won a two-year term in a special election.
Republicans Kosienski, Oullette, Wronski and Broekstra will serve alongside Republicans Kim Carbone-Pandiani and Allen Pronovost. The Democratic minority consists of Reynolds, Steven O'Donnell and Marisol Estrada.
The retirement of two Democratic board members, including board President Mark Hughes, the death of a third Democratic member and a special election to fill a seat held by Democrats meant the election would bring significant change. But winning the majority opened up a new opportunity for Kosienski.
“Given the election results, I’m very interested in being board president and will work with Republicans and Democrats,” Kosienski said. “I intend to gauge support and build a consensus with the team and members of both parties.”
Kosienski has long been a solid vote-getter and has received the endorsement of the Republican and Democratic parties, first in 2003 and again in 2007, 2011, 2015 and this year. Kosienski has also been crossed endorsed by the We The People party.
The school board has rarely been a forum to play out ideological distinctions and has remained so with School Superintendent Mark Benigni leading the district’s schools. While serving as mayor prior to becoming superintendent, Benigni also received cross endorsements from Republicans and Democrats.
“I have known Rob and his terrific family for many years, and we have worked closely together over the last ten years that I have had the pleasure of serving as superintendent of schools,” Benigni said in an e-mail. “If chosen as president, I am confident that Rob will be a collaborative leader who listens to all key stakeholders, especially the students.”
Kosienski has served as board vice president and treasurer under a Democratic majority.
”I offer myself as a person who will continue to work in cooperation with the superintendent,” he said. “It’s all about collaboration and it’s all about kids.”
Kosienski said he has a good friendship and working relationship with board Vice President Steve O’Donnell.
“It's an entirely new board,” O’Donnell said. “There will be changes in makeup of the leadership. Who they put in as president and vice president. The committee make up will be different with GOP chairing.
“It’s never been a partisan board,” he added. “We’ve had some preliminary discussions on things because I’m the senior Democrat. Things won’t be decided on until the first meeting.”
The new candidates will be sworn in Dec. 3 and elect leadership.
Kosienski and the Republican candidates crafted a unified platform that emphasized school safety, student accountability, parental involvement and a school climate that provides opportunities in a wide range of extra-curricular activities.
“As a political newcomer, I welcomed Rob's advice on how to run a campaign,” Wronski said. “We would meet regularly with him as a team to discuss ideas. His experience was a definite strength and helped me tremendously.”
As the city’s largest expenditure, the school budget received no increase in funding from the city for several years until this year when it got $500,000. Kosienski is mindful of the taxpayer burden, but supports the district’s budgeting. He praised Benigni and administrators for finding alternative funding sources.
“Our district has been very fortunate to partner with some amazing foundations and groups that believe in our direction,” he said in an e-mail.“ We are always looking to save money and cut costs where we can without cutting programs and opportunities for kids. We will always work to find efficiencies and look to be creative where we can.”
By Mary Ellen Godin, Record-Journal staff