An aborted Bassick High School tour by State Rep. Steve Stafstrom and Governor-elect Ned Lamont prior to Tuesday’s election has caused a brouhaha among Board of Education members. Superintendent of Schools Aresta Johnson had initially approved the tour then one day later “opted to reschedule the visit until after the election.”
It’s caused a stir over the appropriateness of electioneering while state officials flex immense influence over the flow of state dollars to city schools.
School officials are seeking more than $100 million for a major Bassick facelift, the majority of it financed by the state’s school construction program. Lamont was in Bridgeport Nov. 1 for a series of events including a Democratic rally at Testo’s Restaurant. Stafstrom has been a driving force for a new Bassick.
Johnson’s reversal drew a rebuke from board member Dennis Bradley who also was elected to the State Senate on Tuesday.
At Bradley’s request school board chair John Weldon placed the following item on the agenda for the Nov. 13th board meeting: “Discussion and possible action on why Superintendent Johnson canceled/denied State Representative Stafstrom a tour of Bassick High School last minute when the democratic nominee for Governor, LT. Governor, Mayor and others were scheduled for a tour.”
“That better be on the agenda. As per our bylaws,” Bradley emailed Weldon. “I don’t care what Mr. Walker has to say.”
That agenda item prompted a rejoinder from board members Maria Pereira, Ben Walker and Joe Sokolovic: “Discussion and possible action admonishing and reprimanding Dennis Bradley and Rep. Stafstrom for colluding to use our public schools and students as props to further their political agenda.”
The three board members are no fans of the city’s political establishment.
Bradley maintains the tour had one purpose, winning money for a new school. Bradley told the Connecticut Post, referencing Johnson, “In short it’s not politics it’s doing the right thing. That’s her job. Now … we made enemies.”
The intersection of politics and government is a juggling match for Johnson who sometimes is dragged into the crossfire of school board egos and disagreements. It requires a deft touch to navigate the charges and counter charges.
Stafstrom, in a statement to OIB, declares:
“It is unfortunate that three members of the Board of Education have, after the fact, decided to express their reservations about this proposed visit via the media rather than to me directly. It’s now a moot issue. I was under the impression that we were all working toward a common goal of securing funding for the long overdue investment in Bassick High School and the economic opportunity that could come to the City by focusing on filling the critical need of more students interested in careers in advanced manufacturing. We should be inviting anyone who is interested in making this project a reality–be they Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated or other, to the table.”
Pereira, Walker and Sokolovic fired off this email to Weldon explaining their position:
Dear Chairman Weldon,
We are writing to express our outrage regarding the email sent by BOE member Dennis Bradley on Thursday, November 1 at 10:38 PM, to all members of the Board of Education and to Superintendent of Schools Aresta Johnson.
We are forwarding the referenced email to you along with this statement.
In his email, Board member Bradley requests that an item be added to the agenda of the next BOE meeting. He requests that the Board discuss, and take possible action, on the decision of the Superintendent to cancel/deny “State Representative Stafstrom a tour of Bassick High School last minute when the democratic nominee for Governor, Lt. Governor, Mayor and others were scheduled for a tour.”(Sic)
We support, without reservation, the refusal of our Superintendent of Schools to countenance what can only be described as a political side show to occur on school property during school hours. It is inappropriate for anyone, including a sitting member of the General Assembly, to commandeer the use of school property in search of partisan political advantage.
On October 31 at 6:44 PM, the members of the Board of Education received an email from Dr. Johnson informing the Board that Rep. Stafstrom had just called her to ask her to convene a photo op for the next day, November 1 at 2:00PM for Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee for Governor, and himself at Bassick High School. The photo-op with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee was described by Rep. Stafstrom as “an effort to commit support for the new Bassick.”
On November 1, at 9:08AM, the Superintendent sent an email to all the members of the BOE, informing each of us that she advised Rep. Stafstrom that “we will need to reschedule the event at Bassick until after the elections.”
Mr. Bradley has every right to run for higher office, even while serving as a member of the Board of Education. However, he has no right to abuse his position as a member of the Board of Education to pressure the Superintendent of Schools into permitting a political photo-op on school property. This Board must not become an arm of the Ganim/Testa political machine. The fact that Rep. Stafstrom would request the use of public school property for a political sideshow, and that Dennis Bradley would endorse those efforts raises serious questions about their judgment.
It appears to us, that the Superintendent is being faithful to her position, and to the proposition that political posturing and electioneering has no place in a public school. We would hope that any Superintendent of Schools would resist political pressures to use school faculty and the captive audience of public school students as props for a political campaign.
Public officials should be encouraged at the appropriate time, and given appropriate notice, to tour our schools. We should welcome those efforts. However, the Democratic Party candidate for governor is not an elected official and his presence on the eve of an election can only be described as political posturing of the worst kind.
If members of Bridgeport’s General Assembly delegation wish information about our schools they have ample opportunity to obtain that information in order to better represent their constituents. We must never, however, permit them to cross the line which separates legitimate public service from political posturing and self-serving preening for the cameras.
No superintendent should be subjected to political pressure of this sort
If it were not against our Board Policy, we would urge you not to honor Mr. Bradley’s inappropriate request for an agenda item regarding the Superintendent’s correct and completely defensible action. However, since you are deprived of discretion in this matter by our rules, in the alternative, we request that you add an agenda item admonishing and reprimanding Dennis Bradley and Rep. Stafstrom for colluding to use our public schools and students as props to further their political agenda.