Ben Walker: School Board Coup Worthy Of A Junta

Pereira Walker Soko
The school board’s minority bloc Joe Sokolovic, Ben Walker and Maria Pereira.

Board of Education member Ben Walker writes, in a commentary, “This Super Majority is so afraid of the words from one minority voice, Maria Pereira, that they cancelled the Community Conversations and then, in a coup worthy of a South American junta, replaced the Bridgeport Board of Education Bylaws with (John) Weldon’s Personal Bylaws.”

From Walker:

On Tuesday, February 13th, Bridgeport Board of Education Chairman John Weldon presented in a “Special Meeting” an all new, massively rewritten set of bylaws to govern the Board of Education. The previous set of bylaws had served the BOE well for more than a decade and through at least 6 previous chairs, however, like a petulant child who couldn’t get his way, he insisted these bylaws be immediately approved, without discussion! Mr. Weldon had done his cloakroom, back-alley dealing prior to the meeting. He had secretively consulted with the other five BOE members to elicit their support for his motion.

The Bridgeport Board of Education is a nine-member board with all members elected in a city-wide election. Each member is elected to represent, not just their district, but the entire city. Each member, therefore, has an equal voice in the governance of the city’s school. Currently Mr. Weldon and his cohort enjoy a 6 to 3 Super Majority! So, why the emergency Special Meeting? What is Mr. Weldon and his cohort afraid of?

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the Bridgeport Board of Education cancelling Community Conversations, of dysfunctional members making for long meetings, of the Super Majority who can’t seem to get their way because of a vocal minority voice, and dysfunctional this and dysfunctional that. In all of this name calling, finger pointing, and blaming, what have you not heard? You haven’t heard one word about what they are doing for the children.

That’s right. Children. The single reason that I ran for the Board of Education was to help the children in the public schools in Bridgeport. Yet, not one word from the Super Majority about children, only the wringing of hands, the gnashing of teeth, the beating of the gavel, all because 6 full grown adults can’t get their way within the Democratic process.

Children are the most important reason that the Bridgeport Board of Education exists.  Look closely at the production record of the 6 Super Majority members, the ones complaining that they can’t get anything done  Look at their attendance record. Of the 6 of them, none have produced one single policy, initiative, or program that would help children … ZERO.

On the other hand, the three minority members of the Board, working together on the Teaching & Learning Committee and the Students & Families Committee, have been busy securing bids to save costs to the district, producing bid specifications that will assure your children are protected from predators, working with the superintendent in collaboration with area Universities and volunteer groups to provide post-secondary education for our children, working to bring quality after-school programs for our children, and developing an Early Learning Center for our school-aged parents. We have coordinated with our Special Education Department to ensure that we are protecting your children’s rights while providing them with first rate services. We are monitoring and addressing issues of chronic absenteeism and bullying, and reviewing policies for discipline interventions. We are continually monitoring the district graduation rate, and reviewing and monitoring courses and curriculum for Next Generation Science programs. Through the T&L Committee we developed and implemented ground-breaking courses in African-American and Latin-American history as a graduation requirement for all children. We have overseen the development of a comprehensive parent’s guide for special education procedures and services. Our committees are ensuring that all students in the district have exposure to the arts and music classes. We have taken up exploring ways to educate our children on how to positively interact with law enforcement. We are assuring that the district maintains adequate staffing and support for library-media programs, and providing oversight into the district STEAM programs. It is the Teaching & Learning Committee that is assisting with the implementation of the New Bassick High School Pathways in Advanced Manufacturing curriculum, while reviewing and approving the District Profile and Performance Report, and assuring that the district is in compliance with language interpretation and translation services. It is through the T&L Committee that we are expediting the Sacred Heart University “Grow Your Own” program that recruits BPS graduates into the teaching field while funding their post-secondary education.

So, why have Joe Sokolovic and I been able to work with Maria Pereira to get so much done while the Super Majority does nothing but complain? We look at the message, not the messenger. Sure there are times when it’s difficult, but democracy must ensure all voices are heard. As a race of humans, we don’t agree all the time. But, to get the work done you put your petty little egos aside and get to work!

I was told by a very wise former Board chair that Democracy is often messy. Opinions are strong things. Coming to consensus can be very challenging. Well-functioning boards, commissions, and committees rely on strong, impartial leadership. You can change the bylaws, but without a corresponding change in leadership style, expect the same results. Is there anyone who really thinks this will change anything? Unfortunately for the children of Bridgeport, I don’t anticipate any change.

In my tenure on the Board I have seen some of the worst kind of leadership imaginable, from Dennis Bradley’s shameful boycott to John Weldon’s gavel-wielding, tirade-riddled coup. This Super Majority is so afraid of the words from one minority voice, Maria Pereira, that they cancelled the Community Conversations and then, in a coup worthy of a South American junta, replaced the Bridgeport Board of Education Bylaws with Weldon’s Personal Bylaws. The Super Majority is so afraid of Ms. Pereira’s words that they willingly gave up their personal right to vote in exchange for new bylaws that essentially declare Mr. Weldon “Emperor of the BOE”. I ask, how is this selfish behavior good for the children?

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12 comments

  1. What would signs of educational progress in the classrooms, from parental comments over extended periods where expectations can be measured, and from results of other accountability efforts presented to the BOE and by the BOE to justify their best efforts to provide responsible stewardship of the City’s public schools?? When will these signs be reported to the taxpayers rather than many of the frustrating and irritating distractions that seem to have commanded public notice too often? When does the City get a REPORT CARD on the operation of the system? Time will tell.

    1. Paging JML, The NAACP, and all who supported and pushed for an African American Bridgeport School Superintendent . Pay attention to the newly adopted by-laws of the BBOE, in particular the section requiring the Superintendent’s permission to meet with teachers and staff.

      “The new document gives the chair control over what is placed on the agenda, requires board members to get the superintendent’s permission to visit schools or talk to staff, and allows the board chair to consult with the board attorney without board approval. It now takes four board members to call a special meeting instead of three and allows the adoption of new bylaws by a simple majority rather than a two-thirds vote.”

      I’m sure the Superintendent didn’t ask for this change. This change allows a majority block on the BOE to hold the School Superintendats feet to the fire and throws her in the middle of future potential fights with BOE members. What happens if or when the Superintendent refuses to give permission to BOE members requesting permission to visit schools and talk to staff? If I was a member of the BOE who had opposed the appointment of the Superintendent and am later continuously turned down upon all requests to visit or speak with teachers and staff, what do I do? If the majority isn’t happy with the Superintendent approving all such request of members on the minority, could the majority get rid of the super? This is just one by-law, think of the many other ways it could be used to bring more drama to BOE. I’m trying to figure out what good this change could bring to the BOE–I’m still scratching my head.

      1. Mr. Gonzales,

        Yes, these bylaws create a tremendous imbalance, giving the Chair ultimate power in decisions that should be consensus. The super majority hold the votes, the chair holds ultimate authority as to what can be placed on the agenda, the superintendent has a lock on who can seek information, yet the minority of three do all of the work.

        I do my best because, as a 38-year veteran school teacher, I know that the product of a school district is an educated child. I stand for students. I stand for teachers. I stand for our school staff.

  2. FOLLOW THE MONEY, this has been a circus that PT Barnum would be proud of, John Weldon and Dennis Bradley are just two of the clowns in this circus.

    The Bridgeport school district has been designated as “in need of improvement” under Connecticut’s law for at least seven consecutive years and students in the district have consistently shown low test scores and high dropout rates. The school district also faces budgetary problems, with the board of education failing to pass a budget for the 2011-2012 school year.

    On July 5, 2011, the Bridgeport Board of Education passed a resolution (on a 6-3 vote) (1) stating that the board was unable to function and (2) asking the SBE to reconstitute it, terminating the sitting members and replacing them with candidates chosen by the education commissioner. The next day, the SBE voted to accept the board’s request and Bridgeport’s board members were later replaced.

    Shortly thereafter, the Bridgeport board members who had voted against the resolution filed lawsuits claiming that the state’s takeover of the board was illegal because the state had failed to require statutorily mandated training of the Bridgeport board members before taking action. Candidates who were planning to run for the board and Bridgeport parents filed similar suits. These lawsuits were consolidated into a single case that was referred directly to the state Supreme Court.

    On February 28, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the takeover was illegal and ordered the board members whose terms had not yet expired to be reinstated after a special election is held to fill the seats of those board members whose terms expired during the period between the takeover and the court’s decision. Parties on both sides have since filed motions asking the Supreme Court to clarify its decision and provide the specifics of the required special election.

    TIMELINE OF BRIDGEPORT BOARD OF EDUCATION TAKEOVER
    https://www.cga.ct.gov/2012/rpt/2012-R-0135.htm

  3. *** Once again the internal politic’s on the BOE is the subject of news with time for picture taking, while the Bpt. public school children & their education is left on the back burner as usual for more State & parents ridicule. When will it end people wonder, maybe when this board is eliminated & the state of Ct. takes over for a couple of years to keep tabs on what exactly the money is spent on & actual improvements are made, who knows? But what is known is that whenever we see or hear news about Bpt. public schools, its negative; when will it end? ***

  4. “On the other hand, the three minority members of the Board, working together on the Teaching & Learning Committee and the Students & Families Committee…”

    Ben Walker, how many members serve on each committee above? Sounds like none of the members of the majority block serve on these 2 committees. Did any of the great things accomplished by the minority require BOE approval of at least 5 members?

    1. Mr. Gonzales,

      The make up of the committees is in the preview of the Chair. Mr. Weldon took the three of us and put us on those two committees. He thought he could segregate us that way. Of the other four committees, most met less than 50% of the time. Even the Finance Commiittee only met two or three times, in a district that is in constant deficit prevention mode! For this fiscal year, the Chair changed the configuration because some of his cohort NEVER attend a committee meeting, even though it is their obligation to do so. It’s all about grabbing power.

  5. Ben is 100% on point.

    Chair John Weldon, Vice-chair Jessica Martinez, Hernan Illingworth, Chris Taylor, Dennis Bradley and Sybil Allen could not point to a single policy, program, or initiative they have spearheaded that helped a child, parent, staff member or taypayers. Not one.

    They have held a super majority for 15 months and have accomplished absolutely nothing. Please explain to me how three minority school board members can hinder six school board members.

    I do feel bad for Ben Walker and Joseph Sokolovic because they are just the collateral damage of this latest effort. This recent secretly orchestrated coup was about me. Little ole me. Don’t doubt for a single minute that Mayor Ganim and Mario Testa weren’t involved in this.

    Why are Mayor Ganim, Mario Testa, and these six “soldiers” so perturbed by me as a single elected school board member? That’s easy, too. I am incredibly effective.

    I do extensive research on every topic, I am well-prepared for every meeting, I can articulate my position based on facts, data, and my perspective. I will debate anyone of them on any education issue and none of them can do the same.

    I had been discussing a need for the Board to meet with our delegation for months. I urged we meet before the session begin because once our delegation is in session it is almost impossible to get all eight of them together. John Weldon repeatedly failed to get this done. Finally, after repeatedly badgering him at public meetings, it was held this Saturday.

    Only myself, Ben Walker, Jessica Martinez and John Weldon attended. Joseph Sokolovic had an emergency out-of-state. Chris Taylor, Sybil Allen and Hernan Illingworth did not attend.

    Senator Moore, Senator Bradley, State Rep. Hennesesey, and State Rep. Santiago attended. Ezequiel Santiago was quite professional and gracious. I asked him where the rest of the delegation was. Rep. Santiago stated Rep. Baker had three funerals in Norwalk, Rep. Stallworth has confirmed his attendance but was a no show., Rep. Rosario had confirmed his attendance, however he notified Ezequiel that morning he had to attend his daughter’s birthday party. Chris Rosario found out his daughter’s birthday party was that afternoon on that very morning??? I call bullsh_t. Steve Stafstrom had to watch his kids because his wife had another engagement.

    John Weldon came with packets of budget documents. graphs, etc. Everything should have been easily identified and tabbed in binders for them. John Weldon starts to try to lead the meeting on our behalf and is fumbling while he is staring down at the packets.

    Jessica spoke intelligently about Special Ed., but could not speak to specific dollar amounts and data. She repeatedly spoke up to defend charter $chool students and schools which I found appalling. Jessica is an elected Bridgeport Board of Education member whose statutory obligation is to serve the educational needs of Bridgeport Public School students, not Charter $chool students which are defined as “students of the state” per state law.

    I know our budgetary issues in dollars, percentages, positions, special ed. reimbursements rates, transportation costs, and more, therefore I was able to share a lot of valuable information quickly. I shared that Hartford spends a little over $19,000 per student, New Haven spends a little over $18,000 per student, and Bridgeport spends a little over $14,000 per student. If Bridgeport just received what Hartford receives per student; we would receive an additional $100,000,000 per year. Some looked taken-a-back.

    Ben has a really fabulous and knowledgeable perspective as a 32 year educator. He truly understands instruction and curriculum.

    The delegation committed to fight for our over 20,000 students in this session. They said we could no longer wait.

    I hope they can deliver for our true public school children.

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