Bridgeport Public Schools is facing a $15.1 million deficit that may result in hundreds of paraprofessionals, home school coordinators and school guidance counselors losing their jobs. There’s talk of massive cuts to transportation and other vital services.
Put simply, the district is in crisis.
And, yet, instead of focusing on finding resources or parent concerns, the Bridgeport Board of Education has been embroiled in controversy over whose eligible to replace David Hennessey.
On Monday night, the BOE was supposed to interview prospective replacements for the open seat left when Hennessey resigned late last month. That didn’t happen. Mere minutes after the meeting was called, it was adjourned, with little discussion.
The reason for the adjournment? Maria Pereira, Ben Walker, Sauda Baraka and Howard Gardner believe BOE Chair Dennis Bradley overstepped his authority by expediting the process — a process the city charter dictates they only have 30 days to complete or else the appointment is in the mayor’s hands.
At the center of the controversy is Hennessey’s recent political affiliation change. Hennessey originally won his seat as a Democrat, but according to the Connecticut Post, earlier this year he switched his affiliation to Republican. The reason this is an issue is because the city charter and the board bylaws both state that a new appointee must be a member of the same party as the person they replace.
Two weeks ago, City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer, who advised the board on the matter, told the Post that “the plain language of the Bridgeport City Charter is legally controlling.”
Ever the contrarians, Pereira and her buddies disagree.
Instead, Pereira insists that a Democrat must be appointed to replace Hennessey. Her opinion is based on the BOE’s last controversial resignation, where it was ruled by BOE Attorney Thomas Mooney that the vacant seat left by Democrat John Bagley must be filled by a member of the Working Families Party.
Of course, there’s a big difference between the two instances. Unlike Bagley, Hennessey was elected on a majority party slate, so the state’s minority representation statute, probably doesn’t apply. Not that any of this would stop Pereira from making a ruckus.
She’s already publicly threatened to file an injunction if she doesn’t get her way.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only controversy delaying the process. There’s also questions of the validity of Hennessey’s resignation letter. On Monday, at a later meeting, Pereira argued that since the bylaws require that the BOE secretary receive written notification of resignations, the clock hasn’t started. If Pereira is right, this could mean the BOE might be left even longer without a ninth member.
In other words: Be prepared for more deadlocked 4-4 decisions, with nothing getting done. Not great timing when the BOE has to make decisions on what programs to cut.
The board is set to meet at 5 P.M. on June 20th to hammer down the process. Let’s hope it doesn’t end in more time wasting and unnecessary bickering.
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