Outgoing West Hartford Board of Education members Bruce Putterman and Terry Schmitt are joining forces to create a fund to facilitate community dialogue on critical issues.
By Ronni Newton
When Bruce Putterman and Terry Schmitt officially retire from the West Hartford Board of Education on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, they will leave more than just the legacy of the work they have done in the past 12 years that both have served the town.
The two have pooled their funds and joined their names for the creation of the “PutterSchmitt Community Dialogue Fund” in order to support a high level of dialogue about key issues facing West Hartford’s schools.
The focus of the fund, to which each has contributed $5,000, will be on “quality of life” issues.
“We don’t have an agenda or cause we’re planning to advance in the community,” Putterman said. They plan to be perceptive about what arises organically, he said, and make funds available to support any discussion that may become necessary. The funds will be available for honoraria and travel for guest speakers as well as marketing, venue rental, and refreshments.
“We’re trying to be responsive, not intrusive, and provide opportunity for enhanced community dialogue,” Schmitt said.
Both agree that the town already does a good job, but in some cases it’s helpful to bring in outside resources. The recent debate on Native American mascots is one area where, if the fund had existed, it may have been used, Putterman said. Holding school on Veterans Day, which was a major political issue several years ago, also might have been a topic about which fund-supported discussion would have been helpful. Racial sensitivity might be an example of a possible topic for the future, Putterman and Schmitt said.
“One of the things I love about West Hartford as a resident is that high-level conversation is not shied away from,” said Superintendent Tom Moore. He looks forward to the role of PutterSchmitt in enhancing debate and bringing a variety of opinion into important issues.
“This is really a celebration of and support of democracy,” said Moore. He sees the support that the fund will be able to provide as helping contribute to the tradition of how West Hartford Public Schools likes to operate.
PutterSchmitt will not be its own separate non-profit; rather the funds will be administered by the existing West Hartford organization Growing Great Great Schools.
“They have proposed town hall style meetings using these funds on topics that are cutting-edge and important to the community,” said Growing Great Schools Executive Director Susan Kamin. Although the topics will not necessarily be health-related, Kamin said, “We feel they will further our mission as well.”
Putterman and Schmitt will select the topics to be supported by the fund, and will also welcome suggestions from others in the community. Growing Great Schools will retain veto power of use of funds in support of any topic, Putterman said. Additional funds will not be solicited, but are welcome.
Putterman and Schmitt first ran together as a team 12 years ago, and both served three terms on the Board of Education and served as chair. Both feel that great strides have been made by the Board during their tenure and look forward to staying involved in the community in several ways, including through PutterSchmitt.
Why did Putterman and Schmitt decided to merge their names and call the fund “PutterSchmitt”? Putterman said that former West Hartford Mayor and State Senator and now Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris coined the term because people would always confuse the two of them.
Putterman said that when he was chair of the Board of Education, a senior person in the town would always call him “Terry.” So did one of the school principals.
“Former Superintendent of Schools David Sklarz always called me Bruce,” Schmitt said. “We ran together as a team, and we did a lot of things together,” Schmitt said.
Both Putterman and Schmitt look forward to continued public service in some capacity even as they retire from the Board of Education.
As for listing accomplishments, Schmitt said, “The Board only has power as a group. Individuals shouldn’t think they need to leave a mark.”
“The schools were in great shape when we started, and they are better today,” Putterman said.
Both agreed that there have been several major positive changes that they have supported and championed during their tenure, including pushing the full responsibility for principal hirings and curriculum development back to the administration. Student participation has become an important part of Board of Education meetings, and the working relationship between the board and the mayor and Town Council has also been enhanced during the past decade, both said.
Both are also proud of the emphasis on diversity in West Hartford Public Schools and of the new Charter Oak International Academy building that will open next fall.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!