Sacred Heart University professor Jacqueline Kelleher was elected president of the Board of Education Monday night at an organizational meeting of the newly elected school board in which the opposition bloc didn’t waste any time continuing the controversy that marred the school board prior to state control of city schools that was overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court. The four minority coalition board members including three elected on the Working Families Party line questioned the legality of Leticia Colon serving on the board. Colon resigned from the City Council on Friday because the City Charter prohibits members of the legislative body from serving on another city board.
Riding the legal assertion of retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, a supporter of the school board’s minority coalition, WFP board members Maria Pereira, Sauda Baraka, John Bagley and Democrat Bobby Simmons suggested Colon had essentially resigned from the school board when she received the oath of office for the City Council last December following her election win in November. The elected school board at the time was in limbo as a result of the July 2011 school board decision to dissolve itself in favor of state control.
The organizational meeting was chaired by Mayor Bill Finch who opened by urging the school board to “move forward in a collegial and cooperative manner on behalf of the students.” Once Kelleher, nominated by Democrat Ken Moales, was elected board president she assumed the chair’s role in the organizational meeting and an olive branch was presented by the majority vote. Moales proposed Baraka for board vice chair, an offering that she rejected. It appears diplomacy is not a priority with this minority coalition, damn the consequences.
Moales was then elected vice chair and Democrat Hernan Illingworth secretary.
Former State Senator Ernie Newton who was among 75 people in attendance, criticized the action of the opposition bloc. “They’re playing right into the hands of Finch.”
The mayor has remarked on many occasions the cooperative arrangement that took place under the state-appointed school board, an argument he’ll continue to make as he urges voters to approve his proposal to appoint school board members in a charter revision question in November.
Picking up where they left off in July 0f 2011, it didn’t take long for the opposition bloc to weigh in Monday night. Shortly after Finch opened the organizational meeting urging cooperation Pereira, Simmons and Baraka questioned the legality of Colon’s service on the school board. They called for a postponement of the meeting until a legal decision was offered by City Attorney Mark Anastasi who happened to be in attendance.
Finch didn’t waste any time reminding the board members of the Connecticut Supreme Court decision that reseated the elected school board once the results of the special election were certified, a declaration echoed by Anastasi who declared that Colon has a rightful spot as a school board member. Anastasi cited decisions made by Superior Court Judge Salvatore Agati as well as the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Pior to Anastasi speaking, Pereira urged a postponement of the meeting saying ”there’s a question hanging over how (Colon) could serve on the school board.”
Finch responded, “I would urge you to try to move forward in a collegial and cooperative manner. Judge Agati has ruled.”
Moales also chimed in, directing remarks to Pereira and company: “Stop the game, let’s take care of business.”
In opening remarks Finch characterized the school system as ”a remarkable time in the history of the city … we’ve seen many changes take place in curriculum, staffing, school demeanor and student safety.” The mayor encouraged the new board to “Work together in the name of progress for the good of the city’s children. Nothing less than that should be expected for the city’s future.”
After the organizational meeting was completed a number of residents from the audience either in public remarks to the board or privately afterwards encouraged board members to improve the discourse on behalf of the students.
The minority voting bloc on the school board challenged the state takeover of city school’s that was reversed by the Connecticut Supreme Court. Judging by the first meeting of this elected body many issues will be decided by a 5-4 vote.
Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, the turnaround specialist, attended his first Bridgeport school board meeting with an elected body.
Leticia Colon issued a statement to OIB on Monday:
“I decided to resign my seat on the City Council, and will resume my term on the Broad of Education. While this has been a very difficult decision to make, I feel an obligation and responsibility to serve the children of our City. I have been heartened by the progress I have seen taking place during the past year under Superintendent Vallas and the appointed members of the Board of Education. I look forward to joining my previous colleagues, and the newly elected members of the broad, to continue working together to create a better education environment for our City’s children.”