From former Board of Education member Ben Walker:
I recently resigned from the Bridgeport Board of Education. My resignation was the result of the leadership of the board’s move away from concerns over the welfare of children, staff, and parents, and towards protecting his own position of power.
I have always been and will continue to be an advocate for public schools. I enjoyed a long career in public education and I have seen how an education can transform a child’s life. In running for the board my goal was to bring an insider’s perspective to the board. My understanding was that, with ideas being shared from many different perspectives, a collaborative resolution could always be achieved. I was prepared to be the voice for the children, the staff, and the parents. I was totally unprepared for the nastiness and back-stabbing of ego-driven politics.
I was initiated to ego-driven politics early on with the ugliness of the Bradley-era boycott. It was devastating to the district and destroyed my naive illusions of public service. In spite of this, I was resolved to be the voice for those in the classroom.
With the BOE election of 2017, the departure of Ms. Baraka and Mr. Gardner, and the subsequent appointment of John Weldon as chair, it became immediately apparent that personal power was more important than getting business done for the betterment of the district. The first action of Chairman Weldon was to stack Mr. Sokolovic, Ms. Pereira, and myself onto the same two committees. Attendance in the other four committees was so poor that often business wasn’t getting done if they even met at all. The disintegration of parliamentary process and decorum was embarrassing. In some committees, executive staff were being threatened. Suddenly, staff and administrators were publicly excoriated and berated. During public meetings, members of the staff had their competency questioned, there were innuendos concerning certain administrators, and some even suffered threats of summary firing. Parliamentary procedure meant nothing as mechanisms like calling the question when debate became oppositional and calls to adjourn meetings before business was discussed became the norm. Aside from two committees, no work was getting done. Worse, not once did I hear debate about what was best for children.
It became clear to me that working for the betterment of the children, staff, and parents was not the motivating factor for the majority of the members of the board. Then came Chairman Weldon’s new bylaws. It hasn’t taken two months for anyone paying attention that these bylaws were written with one mission and that was to consolidate decision making into one person, the Chair. No longer does the Board operate as a democracy. The Chair has the power to deny agenda items submitted by other members, cancel any meeting including a committee meeting, serve as chair at all meetings including committee meetings, consult with legal counsel at board expense without board approval, authorize legal counsel to serve as parliamentarian, and serve as ex-officio member of all committees, just to mention some of the most egregious power grabs.
At a recent Personnel Committee meeting, Mr. Weldon refused to allow Ms. Pereira to ask a question of a candidate being interviewed. He only acquiesced after I urged him to. A few days before that Mr. Weldon refused to include 6 items to the agenda presented by Ms. Pereira. Then came the secretiveness of the Quarterly Recognition Ceremony. Mr. Weldon, who wrote his own personal bylaws, conveniently ignored said bylaws in planning this meeting. He swore central administrators to secrecy, all the while conferring with other Board members. He purposefully left some of us out of the process.
I am a believer in the democratic process. As such, I would never willingly give up my right to vote. When I was elected to the Board, it was emphasized time and again that we were nine equal members. In reading Robert’s Rules of Order, I discovered that the parliamentary rules governing the Board were designed to give all opinions an equal voice. Under Mr. Weldon, I saw my rights to be a participant in the democratic process dwindle to the point where I felt ineffective in executing my duty as a Board member. His ego-driven policies have absolutely nothing to do with helping children. They only have to do with helping John Weldon secure his little fiefdom in Black Rock. Under Mr. Weldon’s regime, it became apparent that the business of the Board of Education had nothing to do with children. Worse, his ego-driven leadership and the division he causes could very well lead to further cuts in the school district’s budget, the loss of our superintendent, and another devastating state takeover. Once his fiefdom falls, who will remain to help the children?
— Percy Bysshe Shelly
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert … Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Former member, Bridgeport Board of Education