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.”
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?