Ben Walker: Why I Resigned From The School Board

Walker, Pereira, Bradley
Ben Walker

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?

Ozymandias
— 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.”

Ben Walker
Former member, Bridgeport Board of Education

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9 comments

  1. Well there it is, in a nutshell. Will the naysayers paint this gentleman like they paint Maria for speaking out against what she believes to be wrongdoing by those in charge?
    Consolidation of power.
    Exactly what happened in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and also in Germany when the Nazis took power. For the betterment of the masses right?!!!!
    In this case it’s the children who will suffer the consequences and of course, again, the city and its taxpayers. That’s why I have said that most existing politicians in Bridgeport need to be voted out.

    1. Rich Augustynowicz, you got it right especially with Germany because the BBOE with Barbara Bellinger as President of the BBOE voted their power away so that State could take over the running of the school system and the BBOE always had a 6 to 3 voting margin on any vote, they were in charge. Fortunately the court stopped this overthrow to give power back to the people.

  2. Very well said Ben Walker and even though I have never met you I am sure that what you said is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The only reason Maria is considered a pain in the ass to some of the BBOE board members is because she comes to these meetings well prepared. They don’t so they lack the capacity to bullshit her because unlike her they don’t want to spend the time and energy to attain the knowledge or to know Robert’s Rules of Order well enough to legally shut her down.

    Why do they have to like Maria to work with her for the betterment of the children of Bridgeport? The BBOE isn’t a personality contest, instead it’s supposed to be a group of people that will work together for a better education for the children of Bridgeport. Ernie, while Maria may be part of the problem a bigger part of the problem is ya boy Mayor Ganim who constantly politicized the BBOE by putting his lackeys on it so that he can maintain control over everything Bridgeport. Until you acknowledge that fact you too are hurting the education of the children of Bridgeport.

      1. The CT Post ran Ben’s Op-ed online immediately

        They even placed his Op-ed on the home page under the story on Aresta Johnson.

        That is highly unusual. Decision makers with the CT Post get it.

  3. I just want to say that my experience with Ben Walker in regard to the railroading of the Bassick proposed demolition was a good one as we did a walk through of the building

    Sticking in my mind is the wisdom of his comment to me: that in Bridgeport politics, it is not the smartest people who are listened to, but the loudest.

    A true gentleman, and it is Bridgeport’s loss that he resigned. I appreciate his service.

  4. Ben Walker, thank you for your dutiful service to the youth of the City and their parents (especially the non-voting adults, even though registered). Your willingness to provide a model of informed, professional level commentary and work effort through Committee assignments is noted. And even in war, people on the front lines, must ask for relief at times to gather themselves together. When a war is being fought in a sandbox or a high school pep rally as we are offered examples today by other adults in positions of authority and responsibility and their call is for more power to control, we are seeing the sickness of “democratic practice” in our time. Call it creeping corruption or anything else but it will not go away until the power of the ballot box is exercised by enough of the registered. Time will tell.

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