As of October 1st, the Bridgeport Board of Education has gone an entire month without holding a single regular school board meeting. That means for the month of September all decisions were halted, including the rehiring of kindergarten paraprofessionals and the search for a new superintendent.
“The truth is this would never fly in Greenwich. These antics wouldn’t be acceptable in predominantly white and wealthy neighboring towns such as Fairfield and Trumbull,” said Jamilah Prince-Stewart, the Executive Director of FaithActs For Education, an advocacy group started by local clergy last year.
Stewart is referring to the chronic dysfunction that’s plagued Bridgeport’s school board for months, if not years. It reached a boiling point last month when four board members announced they were going to boycott meetings until Maria Pereira resigned.
Things have been deteriorating in Bridgeport for awhile. Even before the boycott, not much was getting done. Meetings often turned into shouting matches or would go on for hours. The final straw was the mayor’s appointment of Annette Segara-Negron to the school board.
Negron’s first meeting was ended early, after an intense exchange between school board Chair Dennis Bradley and Pereira. Subsequently, on the same day the boycott was announced, Pereira filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the Mayor Joseph Ganim did not have the right to appoint new members.
Parents Have Had Enough
With support from FaithActs, last Monday, parents organized their own school board meeting in front of Geraldine Johnson School — proof that adults are, in fact, capable of sitting at the table without it turning into a shouting match:
“There are so many issues plaguing our city as it relates to education,” said parent Ondrea Moore, a FaithActs member. “We’ve laid off paraprofessional and are considering having kindergarteners walk one and a half miles to school when we know violence plagues our streets and chronic absenteeism is at an all-time high.”
In fact, the school board already voted to increase the walking distance for elementary and middle school students — a measure steamrolled through by Pereira, after a series of forums where the majority of parents in attendance were against the change.
The busing cuts were supposed to save kindergarten paraprofessional, whose positions were cut to make up for the $15 million deficit the district faced last year. This didn’t happen, or at least not yet. Without a functioning school board, the rehiring of paraprofessionals was left to the wayside.
Stewart says the demonstration last Monday wasn’t about taking the sides. They just want to see an end to the fighting.
Not everyone in Bridgeport is as pragmatic. Two weeks ago parents organized by Jessica Martinez, former Excel Bridgeport employee and the lead plaintiff in the Martinez v. Malloy case, held a rally demanding Pereira’s resignation:
“Her history of voting to endanger the welfare of Bridgeport students and community makes her unfit to be a BOE member any longer,” wrote Wanda Simmons, a Bridgeport Public School parent, who started the petition two weeks ago. She’s referring to Pereira’s support for firing School Resource Officers.
On the other side of the coin, there has been counter demonstrations, with a handful of parents and community members demanding the resignation, of Pereira’s rival, boycott ringleader school board Chair Dennis Bradley.
Last week, six parents wrote an op-ed featured on the Only in Bridgeport blog, in support of Pereira. They blame the boycotting members for abdicating their duties. It is noteworthy, that of the six parents, who signed the op-ed, three worked on Pereira’s failed bid for a state house seat.
The Plot Thickens In Bridgeport
In spite of the impending lawsuit challenging his authority to appoint new members to Bridgeport’s school board, last week, Mayor Joseph Ganim made another appointment to the panel.
Rafael Fonseca, Jr., a former Norwalk police officer, was appointed to replace Andre Baker, possibility shifting the balance of power on the board. The boycott could be ended, merely if Fonseca decides to show up to meetings and the rest of the members recognize his appointment.
The boycott is crippling one of the state’s most troubled districts, but so was the stalling tactics and rancor. Getting back to business will only be impactful if members focus on the 21,000 children in Bridgeport schools, not more of the same political rivalries that has marked the last few years.
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