For Ganim, Education Means Appointing School Board Members

Wlaker, Pereira, Bradley
Maria Pereira, center, with Dennis Bradley, right, during happier times 2015 campaigning. At left is school board member Ben Walker. All three ran on Ganim’s line.

Education: Ganim’s first year back. On the 2015 campaign trail Joe Ganim uttered the usual stuff about education: fully fund schools, create a 21st century climate, modernize the infrastructure, yadda, yadda, yadda. What he did not expect, however, was appointing one-third of the nine-member Board of Education the second half of his first year back in office.

It started with Annette Segarra-Negron, replacing Dave Hennessey; Rafael Fonseca in place of Andre Baker; then John Weldon to fill the vacancy of Kevin McSpirit. And that has largely been Ganim’s influence on education policy. Along the way the acting school chief Fran Rabinowitz, against Ganim’s wishes, announced her departure for the end of December because she could not deal with what she described as the dysfunction of the school board leading Connecticut’s most populous city.

The fly in the Democratic Party punch bowl for Ganim and others is board member Maria Pereira, who ran on Ganim’s 2015 slate then quickly had a falling out with him, who’s been accorded way too much power by opponents incapable of parsing her passion.

Get a load of this:

— Ganim, Rabinowitz and others reached out to Governor Dan Malloy and the state Board of Education to seize control of city schools. It was rejected.

— When that did not happen, Rabinowitz announced her resignation asserting it was all because of Pereira’s demagoguery.

— Board of Education Chair Dennis Bradley who ran with and had a short campaign alliance with Pereira announced he’d boycott regular school board meetings because she thwarted school progress. He demanded her resignation. She refused.

One person, one vote assigned all this attention?

The way education is structured in Bridgeport, the mayor has no day-to-day authority over the system. Yes, the mayor submits a budget approved by the City Council that is meaningful for financial support, but once that’s done a mayor relies on force of will and school board relationships to influence decisions.

Mayors tend to broad stroke school progress focused on construction projects approved by the school board heavily financed by the state. It’s been this way for a very long time.

Negron, Ganim
Annette Segarra-Negron receives oath from Ganim.

Ganim’s predecessor Bill Finch did weigh in more than others. For the first three years of his mayoralty Finch projected the typical voice of an incumbent, we’re doing just great educationally, but underneath the political sheets Finch conspired with the local school board for a clandestine state intervention. And then it happened on the weekend of July 4th, 2011, the school board threw in the towel, disbanded itself for a presumptive state takeover. The state education system appointed a new board and education reformer Paul Vallas to lead local schools. Finch turned the move into a cause asserting the school system was broken and required state control.

Local control advocates such as Pereira and retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez screamed cabal. (Isn’t that a Bridgeport rite of political passage?) A lawsuit was filed. Eventually the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the action was illegal. Local control was restored. Finch was elected to another four-year term in 2011, but the failed state takeover started a series of education gaffes for Finch that led to growing organized opposition.

The next year in 2012 Finch placed a city charter reform question on the ballot to grant him the authority to replace an elected body with a mayoral-appointed Board of Education. It was rejected by voters.

When Ganim and Rabinowitz reached out to the state for control support it was rejected. There’s no appetite at this time in light of the botched 2011 takeover.

In lieu of a state takeover Ganim has pretty much limited his education influence to filling vacancies if the board does not act within 30 days, something that was challenged in court by Pereira.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled in favor of the mayor. Pereira has appealed the decision. So while Ganim has not exerted day-to-day school board control he has influenced the makeup in his first year.

The larger question is what happens in 2017? Will a school board bloc emerge to move past the Pereira distraction on behalf of school progress? Also, it is an election year that could once again alter the board’s makeup. Ganim and Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa will have a say about endorsed Democratic candidates.

Will Pereira, who is not up for reelection, put up her own citywide challenge slate?



  1. LENNIE.
    “In lieu of a state takeover Ganim has pretty much limited his education influence to filling vacancies if the board does not act within 30 days, something that was challenged in court by Pereira.”

  2. That is quite a mouthful you said there, Lennie.
    Judge Bellis said the mayor could appoint replacements, not that he must. Joe lined up the City Attorney’s Office to fight to give him that power and brought his brother in to represent some members as extra insurance.
    Joe has decided he will appoint a majority of the board along with his handpicked board Chair.
    He cannot now say he has no influence in how the board is run. He has total control. Whether he chooses to use it or not is another matter.
    So if you don’t like the way the schools are run there is no one to blame but Joe Ganim.

      1. I’ll bet dollars to donuts, when it comes to the $chool building committee Mario and Joe will have a lot to say!
        I would like to know when the BBoE lost control of the $chool Building committee to O&G.
        Why is it a City employee sits as co-chair on the same School building committee as well the city council? It’s time to put Ganim’s feet to the fire on his no city employees on the C C, or was that just for McCarthy?

        Harding High School $78 Million $chool project has a completion date for January 2018. Ganim and Testa could care less about our kids! Wake the Fluck Up, BBoE!

  3. Please note I have already filed the required notice to appeal Bellis’ decision. It will move to a three-judge panel or possibly even the CT Supreme Court.

  4. I looked on the BOE website and there is no contact info (phone number, email address, etc.) for the three newest members. Maybe they should just list the mayor’s email address and phone number. He can pass along any messages when he is delivering his and Mario’s.

  5. The real reason Dennis Bradley, under the direction of Testa, Ganim and Rabinowitz, will not hold regular meetings is because our bylaws allow any BOE member to add items onto the agenda.

    I can honestly say neither Joe Larcheveque nor Dennis Bradley have ever introduced a relevant subject matter, policy, or initiative that benefits our students or staff. Not one.

    We consistently pressed the issue of Rabinowitz’ evaluation in which her signed contact with the board required her to be evaluated every six months. We had until a set deadline to write them and submit them, and Bradley did not even submit one.

    On the agenda of September 12, 2016; when Bradley, Larcheveque, McSpirit and Negron issued their absurd press release calling for my resignation; two of the agenda items were about discussing and taking possible action to formally discipline Rabinowitz for failing to eliminate the SRO positions as per a BOE vote of 6 to 2, and for outrageous actions she had taken against me that involved administrative staff at CHS and access to email.

    I just spoke with an administrator and principal within the last few days who shared they were counting down the days until she was gone and there were other high-level staff who pretend to be sad that Fran is leaving when they are with her, but privately they are pleased and relieved.

  6. If the bylaws allow any BOE member to add items onto the agenda, that should not be a problem for the chair of the meeting if he or she knows Robert’s rules and has one or two board members willing to make motions to table, postpone indefinitely, etc.

    Sounds like the chair needs to know how to control the meeting in a hostile environment. It will not be pleasant but it can be done and done quickly.

    If there are 20 items on the agenda the chair does not want to deal with at that meeting, quick motions made and passed will address them.

    1. Wes Murphy, the issue with running a BOE meeting is a very old problem. During Bill Finch’s time as mayor he had a 6 to 3 advantage in every vote that came up but the BOE Presidents during his term didn’t know how to use Robert’s Rules of Order in conducting a meeting, which has lead to all this fighting. Of course always follow the money, this fight is not about education and students it’s about who gets those contracts from the BOE who in turn will help finance the mayor’s next election and the Democrats.

    2. A motion to table or postpone an item simply to not address it is out of order. In addition, a motion to table or postpone is debatable which means it can be debated limitlessly and it will require a two-thirds vote to close questions, which will not be obtained.

      There are nine EQUAL members on the BOE, which means EVERY member has a right to have their agenda item(s) heard, debated and voted on.


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