In all honesty, the title of this piece should be “The Top Four Ways the Bridgeport Board of Education is Failing Our Kids,” because to limit the list to four seems … disingenuous.
Not included on this list are some more pernicious and, dare I say, undemocratic ways the Board of Education has been manipulating the system, like attempting to turn the ostensibly parent-led Parent Advisory Council into a political tool.
Not included on this list is the Methuselean-length of the regular board meetings (they routinely last until 2 a.m.), which is both an example of terrible management on the part of the board chair and a deliberate attempt to marginalize parents and teachers.
Not included on this list is the combative and argumentative nature of the board, which only serves to stagnate real change, and offer terrible role models for any children who might be (God forbid) watching.
There’s a lot more not included on this list, but I don’t want to digress any further. So, without further ado, here is my list of “Four Ways the Bridgeport BOE is Failing our Kids,” in no particular order.
1. Lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits: When Paul Vallas was superintendent of schools, lawsuits filed by folks aligned with the current board (activist former judge Carmen Lopez) cost the city millions of dollars, only to get thrown out of court. Not content with spending millions of taxpayer dollars on only a single spurious lawsuit, the Board of Education has retained the services of one of Connecticut’s top (and we assume most expensive) education lawyers, to examine the possibility of filing at least one, and theoretically two (and possibly more) suits against the city. Meanwhile, they complain that the schools aren’t fully funded. By my read, $1 million buys an awful lot of school books.
2. The Pereira problem: If this were “The Wizard of Oz,” Maria Pereira would be the Wizard. She’s pulling the strings behind it all, despite the fact that she left the board to become the local leader of a political opposition party, a post she has also now vacated. Pereira yells at the mayor from the audience at public board meetings, accuses everyone of misdeeds and trolls the internet writing snarky and vaguely libelous comments on websites and news stories. Board Chairwoman Sauda Baraka allows this to happen and appears to be following Pereira’s instructions on how to run the board. Not a healthy situation.
3. Failing to see the forest for the trees: Public charter schools offer a chance for Bridgeport’s kids to get a good education and cost the city absolutely nothing, but the folks in charge of the board insist on attempting to block the growth of public charter schools. It’s not as if they have any other solution for the thousands of kids who are falling through the cracks in Bridgeport schools. For example, Great Oaks Charter, which was approved this year and is scheduled to open in the fall, is designed to support kids who speak English as a second language. According to the State Department of Education, only two out of every 10 Bridgeport 3rd graders who speak English as a second language are reading at grade level. Two out of 10. But the Bridgeport BOE is against charter schools. Go figure.
4. Politics über alles: Perhaps the underlying issue, the Board of Education has routinely — almost systematically — made decisions out of what they perceive to be political necessity, even if that conflicts with what’s best for kids. One case in point is that of Harding High School, a decrepit 90-year-old structure that could be replaced with a gleaming new building. Though they ultimately caved, the board did everything it could to delay and even halt that process. Why? Because they don’t like the mayor. They also play their hands into state politics, passing a moratorium on public charter schools knowing that moratorium is unenforceable, just so they can sue the state. The board even goes so far as to hold agenda items they don’t support until the end of a long meeting, just so they can kill them. And though I said I wouldn’t mention it, the use of the Parent Advisory Council as a political tool (trying to manipulate the results of elections, for example) is simply heinous and despicable.
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