College Chiefs Assert City School Board Is Dysfunctional

When a majority on the Bridgeport Board of Education threw in the towel in the summer of 2011 and asked the Connecticut Board of Education to step in to take control of city schools, dysfunction on the local board was one reason cited. The Connecticut Supreme Court eventually reversed the decision for the state to take over. “Dysfunction” has again been raised, this time, however, by four area university presidents in a letter to the state commissioner of education.

CT Post reporter Linda Conner Lambeck has more:

In their letter, Fairfield University  President Jeffrey von Arx, Housatonic Community College President Paul Broadie II, University of Bridgeport President Neil Salonen and Sacred Heart University President John Petillo tell Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell that the recent “rancor and public displays at board meetings by some members have called into serious question the board’s ability to carry out its charge.”

The letter goes on to suggest that other board members on the nine-member panel have grown silent as a result, and the situation is detrimental to the city’s morale and an embarrassment.

The presidents, who together form the Bridgeport Higher Education Association, also expressed support for Interim Schools Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz in their letter, and said they are concerned the search for a new superintendent won’t go well, based on “unprofessional and erratic behaviors” of some board members.

“We ask for your assistance in resolving these Board issues,” states the letter.

Full story here.



    1. Maria Pereira
      May 7 at 10:05pm
      CT Post

      These four university presidents do not live in Bridgeport, have no children in our Bridgeport Public Schools, and have NEVER attended a single BOE regular or committee meeting but think they have the right to speak on behalf of “Bridgeport residents” and “our children.”

      This is sooo typical of suburban elitists who want to tell us what we need to do in Bridgeport but have NEVER spent 48 consecutive hours in our city.

      University presidents say city school board is dysfunctional
      In their letter, Fairfield University President Jeffrey von Arx, Housatonic Community College President Paul Broadie II, University of Bridgeport President Neil …

  1. WTF!!!
    Is it groundhog day all over again? This makes no sense. Who is pulling their strings?
    For such an enlightened group of respected professional educators to jump in and call on the state to intervene is absurd.
    They are either totally unaware of the more salient points or are simply repeating what others have asked them to say.
    Let’s think about this for a minute. The presidents are saying the board is dysfunctional because of “rancor and public displays at board meetings by some members.”
    They go on to add “other board members on the nine-member panel have grown silent as a result.”
    So instead of calling on the current Board President to step aside because he is not competent to lead or woefully inexperienced, they are calling on the state to intercede.
    If this is all they can come up with maybe they are the ones who should step aside and ask the state Board of Regents take over their private institutions.

    1. Good question regarding who is pulling their strings.

      Last week, Interim Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz had a meeting with school principals where several reported she stated she was sure they were aware of the situation with the Board but she was “working behind the scenes” to address it.

      Let’s see. I am confident Marge Hiller from the BPEF, Mary Pat Healy from BCAC, and Robert Francis, etc. were involved.

  2. And I will repeat my call.
    1) Dennis Bradley should step down as the President of the Bridgeport BOE.
    2) Any members who feel they are intimidated and cannot speak their minds should follow suit.
    End of argument.

    1. Bob, you’ve got this dead on, the BOE President cannot run and control the meetings plus he wants to be a state senator, please give me a break. Mario Testa, your hand-picked puppet and he can’t even run a meeting.

  3. Thank you, JML. Education will now become an increasingly important issue. For today’s young people, a good education opens up the entire world. The world has become an increasingly small place. The thought we would remain in a small geographical place has been smashed. The world has expanded. We can be anywhere we want to be. We are facing a question. Send our kids wherever they want to be, or keep them “on the block” under the vigilance of the omnipresent legal system.

  4. Unfortunately, some of the statements made by these higher education spokesman are, indeed, true. The BOE has become a mirror of the Balkanization of Bridgeport.

  5. And where were these learned leaders when the Bridgeport school budget was being debated?
    I don’t recall hearing anything from the group calling on the city and state to significantly increase funding.
    Nope. Nothing. Nada.
    But have the state come in because some school board meeting got out of hand, whoa that’s what’s wrong with the Bridgeport schools system.
    Give it a break!

  6. As for these educators asking for state takeover, to some degree it mirrors my opinion the City of Bridgeport is BROKE and it can no longer function under the home rule statutes of the State of Connecticut.

  7. It’s about time. This is an unfortunate, long-standing situation (at least since I began following in 2013) the university and college presidents are addressing.

    I hope they’ll remain highly engaged in what goes on in our city’s public schools and life, and challenge not only the BOE to conduct itself productively and professionally, but also city and state elected officials regarding providing adequate educational resources (including meeting the MBR) for our public school children.

    At Habitat for Humanity, they provide participating families training and support in conflict resolution. They believe this has been a key contributor to the high success rate for Habitat families keeping their homes in Bridgeport, with fewer than 3% having a foreclosure. That’s for the 200 residences HFH has created and sold in our city to qualifying families.

    As for someone’s comment in the CT Post article regarding non-residents: Critical thinking and breakthrough ideas are welcome, and not just from residents of our city. Besides, the last I knew, the University of Bridgeport President Neil Salonen and his bright and gracious wife are long-time Bridgeport residents and tirelessly dedicated to this city. Come to think of it, some of Bridgeport’s most historically significant figures moved here from other places; that didn’t lessen their contributions.

    1. Pete–that comment was from Maria. She likes to play the “they are not from Bridgeport” card when she feels it’s necessary. She likely objects since she is one of those who causes the rancor at the meetings.

    2. Pete, I have nothing but respect for you, however I really surprised by your comment.

      Where were these four university presidents when Kenneth Moales threatened Ms. Baraka in front of a CT Post reporter? Where were they when he was repeatedly calling John Bagley and Mr. Simmons “clowns?” Where were they when he called Ms. Baraka “Tonto” and “baby?” Where were they when he asked if I was “special ed” or on “Ritalin?” Where were they when he asked a member of the public if she was on “crack?” Where were they when he unleashed constant attacks on Ms. Rabinowitz?

      Where have they been in at least the seven years as our school funding was decimated by Mayor Finch, the state of CT and now Joe Ganim?

      I know where they haven’t been, and that is fighting for our over 21,000 students.

      If you honestly believe these four university presidents just picked up the phone and called each other out of nowhere about penning this letter, you are fooling yourself.

      Less than 20% of Housatonic students actually receive a two-year degree, yet this new president wants to look in our backyard?

      How many BPS students actually go on to Sacred Heart or Fairfield University? Unless our students are offered scholarships the vast majority cannot afford the colleges.

      I don’t know enough about UB, but my understanding is it is pretty expensive, too.

      This was coordinated by Rabinowitz and the usual Gold Coast suspects. And quite frankly, I could care less what these four individuals who have never attended a single BOE meeting or stood up for BPS students have to say. Period.

      We are going to be laying off 171 employees due to this $15 million dollar deficit with most of the positions directly impacting student achievement.

    3. Pete, they cannot remain “engaged” because for at least the seven years I have been involved they have never been engaged. They can “become” engaged, but that’s about it.

      As you already know Pete, that person who made that comment in the CT Post was me. Can you point me to the “critical thinking and breakthrough ideas” these four puppets identified in their letter or the CT Post because I have scoured both and was unable to find them?

      The CT White Pages identifies Neal Salonen living at 409 Waldemere Ave, which apparently is directly on the UB campus.

      I was unable to locate this address in CT Vision, therefore I could not locate the assessed value, or taxes (if any) that are being paid on this property. I feel pretty confident their permanent address is nowhere in Bridgeport.

      1. Regarding the Salonens’ residency:
        I volunteered at the polls outside Cesar Batalla school on an single-digit-cold morning in February 2015 when none other than Mr. Salonen and his wife walked in to vote. They seemed supportive of the candidate I was there to support: Senator Ed Gomes. Same candidate you did a lot of volunteer work for too. In fact, we canvassed in your neighborhood for Senator Gomes. I’m glad we did. He represents our city well in Hartford–although I don’t live in Senator Gomes’ district.

        And yes–regarding the ongoing, internecine battles on the BOE; the disrespect shown to others by at-the-time chairman, then BOE member Moales and his conflict of interest (e.g., serving on the BOE while serving on the board of a charter school in our city); the perennial underfunding of the BOE budget in light of the MBR during the Finch administration, while rolling out the red carpet for charter schools; the ultimately failed attempt by Finch to takeover the school board–yes, I remember. All that informed what I wrote above.

  8. *** Great assessment by the CT local college presidents on a subject that was brought up in 2011 but dismissed by the CT Supreme Court because they could not come to agreement as to what exactly the word “dysfunctional” actually means. It means the present members of the Bpt BOE are not doing the job they were elected to and also took an oath for. The BOE president is incapable of leading the board and maintaining order before, during and after BOE meetings. It affects all the board members, guest visitors, parents, children present, etc. And nothing gets done in a reasonable amount of time as well as the BOE rules are not being followed nor upheld when broken. In layman’s terms, the BOE meetings are like a “MAD HOUSE, A MAD HOUSE!” Time for the State to step in and not give in to the local political B/S like last time! *** MORE MONEY TO RUN A FAILING MADHOUSE BOE AND SCHOOLS; YEAR AFTER BUDGET YEAR ONLY TO CONTINUE TO FAIL! ***

  9. The Bridgeport Library Board meetings have become examples of mayhem as well. No wonder other commissions or boards don’t meet. Scares the shit out of them.

  10. Pete,
    I am not going to try to put words in other people’s mouths, but as far as a comment about out-of-town involvement, please remember in order to serve on any city board or commission, the individual must be an elector in the city of Bridgeport and the first thing the state did in their aborted takeover was to immediately start naming members who were not city residents.
    Out of a population of 140,000 residents, the state was not able to find qualified members who lived in the city.
    That was the greatest insult of all.

  11. And if any board members feel uncomfortable speaking up at meetings then my advice to them would be to resign effective immediately. You are simply not cut out to serve.

  12. And why hasn’t Dennis Bradley issued any type of response, either positive or negative? Is he waiting for someone to tell him what to say? Does he think this is a good idea because it will take him off the hook?
    Is it now that he is running for State Senate he could care less about the BRIDGEPORT School system?

  13. Dennis Bradley, Joe Larcheveque, Andre Baker, and Dave Hennessey can’t speak because they are completely clueless about the FOIA, Robert’s Rules of Order, CT General Statutes that govern school boards and public schools, and our very own BOE policies.

    Kevin McSpirit is intelligent and nice enough, but he is a complete novice and doesn’t have a solid grasp regarding all the items referenced above.

    There has been a Longfellow Committee for four years made up of P.T. parents, teachers, community members, etc. who have been involved with every aspect of the new school.

    Ms. Baraka made a motion to suspend the rules to allow one member of the committee to be appointed to the committee that makes hiring decisions on the teachers for the school.

    Fran Rabinowitz allowed Rob Traitor to pick the two teachers who sit on the committee when our BOE policy does not allow him or the BEA to do so. The Longfellow Committee that was working on every aspect of this school for four years was not so much as consulted. They wanted just one of the committee members appointed and Dave Hennessey, Joe Larcheveque, and Kevin McSpirit who all live in Black Rock in the same district voted no. Three white men voted no to what black parents, at this new school, whose children will attend this school, wanted. Andre Baker and Dennis Bradley also voted no.

    Would they have EVER voted this way if Black Rock parents wanted a representative on a teacher hiring committee for Black Rock School?

    We ALL know the answer to that question.

    Next BOE meeting and public comment should be quite interesting.

  14. As a BPS parent I am shocked these people who are not Bridgeport residents and who have never attended a BOE meeting nor a committee meeting are giving their opinion of our school board.

    How do they know what is happening in our meetings? They’ve never attended. How do they know who is a “problem” or not?

    How can they tell me what the board should be doing with MY children? When they have a child in this district, then I care about their opinion. Until then, stay out of it and worry about your own schools.

    1. CynthInfante,
      Good questions! Why not contact them and have a conversation?

      The truth should eventually be blurted out by someone.

      I’m pretty sure I have seen Mr. and Mrs. Salonen at a BOE meeting before. And, as I’ve tried to convey herein, they reside in Bridgeport.

      1. Pete, there aren’t many who can say they have a better attendance record than me when it comes to attending BOE or committee meetings over the last seven years.

        I don’t know what Mrs. Salonen looks like, but I can assure you Mr. Salonen has not attended a single BBOE meeting since September 2012. I am 100% positive he has not attended a single BOE meeting since the new board took its seats on December 7th, therefore he could not possibly speak directly to what is or is not occurring at BOE meetings.

        He and the other three were clearly put up to this.

      2. Pete,
        I agree.

        However, I am the Bridgeport resident and taxpayer. I am the BPS parent. If they were going to speak on behalf of my children and I, I would expect (and hope) they would find the time to sit down with some parents and get an idea of how we feel.

        Unfortunately, I have never been contacted by anyone asking me how I feel about BOE meetings and their progress. (Or lack thereof due to a few select few.)

  15. Paging Dennis Bradley …
    Paging Dennis Bradley …
    Do you get this?
    The local college and university presidents have publicly stated you are incapable of managing the Bridgeport BOE.
    They have said your lack of skills have led to some board members refusing to participate at meetings.
    This is extremely harsh criticism being leveled at you by a group of professionals.
    Do you not care to respond?
    This cannot be good public relations for you at a time you are running for State Senator.
    Someone could use this and your lack of a meaningful response as a campaign issue against you. (Hee hee hee.)
    Time will tell.

  16. SHU built a President’s residence on Park Ave and it was clearly stated to surrounding residents that he would be living there, two houses away from Roncali Dorm. Salonen also lives in Bridgeport.

    But when did residency qualify or disqualify someone from having an opinion? You may not agree with what they say but they are working in the Community.

  17. “The value of money is its availability in a time of need.” I have appreciated the truth in that statement for over 50 years. The school system requires more funds than it is getting from all sources and there are many ways to measure this deficit.
    The Board of Education has a Finance Committee that regularly gathers to review the fiscal situation of the BOE. Tomorrow evening, Wednesday May 11 at 5:30-7:00 PM in Room 305 at City Hall, 45 Lyons Terrace. Stop. Look at material that may be distributed. Listen to the discussions. There are no easy answers at this point, but you do get to see serious representatives attempting to come to grips with the decisions that must be made even when you are stuck with inadequate resources. Who will shine some encouragement and hope with the members who are serving? As the young students from Hall School sharing their “sunshine” with attendees at the BOE meeting last night when they sang “Tomorrow” from Annie, can we get on the “sunshine” page for their benefit when we interact with each other? How do you “teach” young folks to respect others when we do not act that way ourselves? Time will tell.



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