Sununu’s education nominee rejected in tense Executive Council debate

Monitor Staff
Published: 6/10/2020 4:05:11 PM
Modified: 6/10/2020 4:05:00 PM

The governor and Democratic members of the Executive Council clashed Wednesday over a nominee to the State Board of Education who was eventually rejected 3-2 along party lines.

In an Executive Council meeting that was held remotely, Councilor Andru Volinsky called Gov. Chris Sununu’s nomination of Ryan Terrell to the Board of Education, “inappropriate” and “demeaning” due to Terrell’s lack of prior experience in education governance.

“The State Board of Education is, to my mind, one of the most important confirmations we can do as executive counselors, and I found that Mr. Terrell, as willing as he is to contribute his time, has absolutely no qualifications for the job,” Volinsky said.

Terrell, a Republican nominee from Nashua, has a background in business. He is currently a project manager at Evolve Salon Systems in Derry, and worked for Verizon for a number of years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In 2013, while an undergraduate student at Southern New Hampshire University, Terrell worked on a re-election campaign for Executive Council member Ted Gatsas, according to his alumni profile. Gatsas was running for mayor of Manchester at the time.

“The position does not require an expert in education,” Sununu said. “Even better that we have someone with an outside perspective about how to make systems more efficient, who can understand funding, to understand different ways of doing things.”

In his interest letter to the governor, Terrell wrote about his experience growing up and attending school and summer camp in New Orleans and having his eighth-grade year upended by Hurricane Katrina.

“I’m interested in serving on the State Board of Education because I’m passionate about aiding the next generation of lifelong learners,” he wrote. “My mother literally read to me in the womb, and my life was profoundly shaped by the education I received, from kindergarten through SNHU.”

Volinsky argued during the meeting that Terrell is not qualified because he did not show interest in education or serve on any governing boards until the governor said he was going to nominate him.

“When I asked him about his understanding of important education issues like special education funding or homeschooling, he said he was completely without any understanding of those topics,” Volinsky said. “When I asked him about how much energy and time he has spent learning about the operations of the State Board of Education, he told me that he has been listening to their recordings for about a month. He does not have the qualifications for this position.”

The Executive Council voted against appointing Terrell in a 3-2 vote. Councilors Michael Cryans, Andru Volinsky and Debora Pignatelli all voted against the appointment, while Russell Prescott and Ted Gatsas supported it.

Terrell is the first black nominee to the State Board of Education in about 10 years, which led to a discussion about the need for more diversity on the board.

“A person of color that brings diversity to the board, that is exactly what we talked about,” Sununu said during the meeting. “To eventually reject a candidate like this, I am shocked. I thought it would be a 5-0 vote.”

In a statement released after the meeting, Benjamin Vihstadt, spokesperson for Gov. Sununu, wrote, “Now, more than ever, we must celebrate and empower individuals from different backgrounds with different perspectives to serve in state government.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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