The Bridgeport Board of Education was full of surprises last night — after months of division, during their yearly organizational meeting, members unanimously voted in favor of electing Republican Joe Larcheveque as their chair.
The nomination came as a shock even to Larcheveque, who appeared startled when Howard Gardner announced he was nominating him for the position.
Support for Larcheveque came from unlikely sources.
Larcheveque was among members backing a boycott of board meetings led by former chair Dennis Bradley. Since September, Larcheveque, Bradley, and others have refused to hold regular meetings, demanding that fellow board member Maria Pereira resign from her post.
For more on the boycott here’s a link to past coverage
Gardner, who nominated Larcheveque, was against the boycott. He wasn’t alone. Other backers of Pereira gave their support to the new chair.
“He is the person who can bridge us together,” said Ben Walker, who was also an outspoken critic of the boycott. “We are putting everything behind you.” Even Pereira, whose hostile behavior towards outgoing interim superintendent Fran Rabinowitz spurred the boycott, announced her support of Larcheveque.
In addition to electing Larcheveque as chair, the nine-member panel also elected Sauda Baraka unanimously as vice chair, and new member John Weldon, 5-4, over Walker as board secretary.
This means despite being the minority party on the board, the majority of board officers are republicans, not democrats (though, technically, Baraka won her seat on the Working Families Party ballot line).
Board Meetings Are Expected To Resume
The surprise nomination wasn’t the only unexpected turn of events. Larcheveque first act as chair was to announce that regular board meetings would resume.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Larcheveque, with a conciliatory tone, “There are many sides to the issues, but the goal has to be the same, and that goal is to move this forward for our children.”
During the nomination process, Walker nearly begged Larcheveque to vote for himself.
According to the blog Only in Bridgeport, going into the meeting, former chair Dennis Bradley was confident he had the required five votes to win a second-term. It appears, the opposing coalition, in a last bid effort to block Bradley (and the boycott) gave their support to Larcheveque.
Rafael Fonseca, the most recent mayoral appointee to the board, nominated Bradley for a second-term, but Bradley withdrew his name when no one seconded the nomination.
The first meeting back is scheduled for Tuesday, December 20th, at 6 :00 P.M at Geraldine Johnson School.
Will BOE Uphold Their Promise To Appoint Parliamentarian?
The new consensus was already put to the test last night. Immediately following the organizational meeting, the board met for a special meeting where the issue of appointing an independent parliamentarian came up.
To say it was contentious would be an understatement.
In an act that seemed to confirm exactly why an independent third-party helping keep meetings in check would be a good idea, Pereira, who did not support the measure, repeatedly threatened to filibuster until 2 A.M..
The idea of appointing an independent parliamentarian came out of a community forum hosted by Faith Acts for Education, a local parents-centered education advocacy group.
All members in attendance at the forum, except for Gardner, promised to appoint a parliamentarian by January 2017. This was one of four promises board members made to parents.
“It’s just another third-party to argue with,” argued Gardner, who said he believed it would cause more problems.
“The benefit of having our council,” said Weldon, who supported the appointment. “Is that he has a legal obligation to cite what is correct and ethically sound… There’s a degree of trust.”
The big sticking point was the issue of cost. Though Dennis Bradley offered to pay for the service, the details were not ironed out.
Ultimately, the motion was tabled and passed on to committee.