Partisan Props Or Smart Politics? School Board Members Debate Lamont’s Visit To Bassick In Need Of Care

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.

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13 comments

  1. I support Dr. Johnson on this decision 100%.

    Steve Stafstrom has repeatedly behaved inappropriately and unethically.

    We have NEVER had a ribbon cutting ceremony for a school renovation, however Ganim needed a photo-op before the August primary, therefore a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony was quickly convened for Central High School.

    Steve Stafstrom repeatedly contacted the CHS Principal demanding to be placed on the program and expressing frustration that the delegation wasn’t notified earlier because the city did nothing to move the project forward it was the delegation. He wanted to invite several guests from the state. He also repeatedly contacted the Superintendent’s office about the same issues. They acquiesced and placed him on the program. I would have told him “go kick rocks”.

    Marilyn Moore is a State Senator who attended and graduated from CHS and made no such demands, yet Steve Stafstrom had to be part of the show. John Weldon is also a CHS graduate. Both Marilyn and John made great speeches that focused on students and staff. Meanwhile, Steve Stafstrom made a lengthy political speech that in no way focused on students, parents or staff.

    By the way, Ned Lamont briefly attended the event with Marilyn Moore which was not an issue because it was a public event scheduled after school hours on school grounds.

    Apparently on Wednesday, Steve Stafstrom started calling the Bassick HS Principal, completely bypassing the Superintendent, asking him to hold an event for Ned Lamont, Susan Byzeweicz and their entourage at 2:00 PM on the next school day.

    The principal followed protocol and contacted Dr. Johnson regarding this clear attempt to orchestrate a political photo-op for candidates on the ballot just five (5) days before the election. Ned Lamont and Susan Byzeweicz were NOT elected official anywhere in CT and had no power to approve/deny a request for Bassick School funding. This was CLEARLY a political photo-op where Bassick students and staff would serve as props.

    Please note we just had a Community Forum at Bassick High School on the evening of Thursday, October 18, 2018 where the architects for Bassick made a presentation and held a Q & A. Steve Stafstrom was in attendance. If Bassick was sooooo important to any candidate why didn’t they attend this public forum???

    Steve Stafstrom and Dr. Johnson did not speak until she was in her car heading home at 6:30 PM. on Wednesday night. His expectation was that she and the Bassick Principal should drop everything on their calendar to host a political event the very next day at 2:00 PM when close to 1,000 students are dismissed at 2:30 PM. Dr. Johnson acquiesced and said she would coordinate it.

    We received an email at 6:44 PM regarding this highly political event and I immediately challenged it and referenced a board policy that prohibited it. By 8:30 AM Thursday morning, Dr. Johnson contacted Steve Stafstrom to inform him that the event would have to be scheduled AFTER the election. He became belligerent, demanded she contact Lamont’s campaign herself, ( I would have told him to kick rocks) and then proceeded to hang-up the phone on her without providing her with the contact information for the Lamont Campaign.

    Dr. Johnson does NOT report to Steve Stafstrom or any individual board member, therefore Steve Stafstrom and Dennis Bradley are COMPLETELY out-of-line.

    You should also know Chris Murphy’s campaign also contacted Dr. Johnson about touring Cesar Batalla School on Thursday to glad hand staff. parents and students while learning was supposed to be going on. Dr. Johnson denied the request.

    That evening the “Get out the VOTE” rally was held at Testo’s. Several people told me that Steve Stafstrom was running around whining and telling attendees that “She (Dr. Johnson) has to go.” No, Mr. Stafstrom. It is you who needs to go you pontificating carpetbagger.

    While the vast majority of democratic operatives were out working to get Ganim elected in the Primary, I was busting my butt for Ned Lamont. I got him over 100 AB votes in the 138th District and delivered Thomas Hooker School to Lamont. Thomas Hooker School was Ganim’s third best school in 2015, but Lamont won Hooker by 47 votes. That is 197 vote swing away from Ganim to Lamont. I supported Ned Lamont and voted for him in the Primary and the General.

    I don’t care if the candidate is someone I support or oppose, our students, parents, staff and schools are NOT to be used as political props for ANY candidate, elected or un-elected, on school grounds during school hours. And, we have a policy that strictly prohibits any employee from engaging in such activity.

    We have made $36,000,000 in cuts in the last three years. We are severely understaffed and under-resourced, therefore the focus during school hours has to be educating our students. PERIOD.

  2. As far as Dennis Bradley, we already know he is morally and ethically bankrupt.

    Dennis Bradley did not attend the Community Forum at Bassick High School and has an ABYSMAL attendance record.

    We had a Finance Committee Meeting on Wednesday, November 7, 2018. The committee members are Jessica Martinez, Chris Taylor and Dennis Bradley. Neither Dennis Bradley nor Chris Taylor attended, without notifying Jessica, which means there was no quorum and no action could be taken. This has occurred regularly.

    He can’t make it to committee or special meetings, however attempting to admonish Dr. Johnson for adhering to board policy and doing what is right is of high priority to him.

    Dr. Johnson has repeatedly made it clear she is not a “politician” nor does she want to be. She simply wants to focus on educating our students. Nothing more nothing less.

    In other words, she is the COMPLETE opposite of Dr. Ramos, Paul Vallas & Fran Rabinowitz.

  3. Maria you know I don’t particularly like you, but you are right on point with both posts. Especially when you say that Dennis Bradley is morally and ethically bankrupt.

  4. This was just a last minute stop to get the ‘urban’ vote. The Superintendent and Maria Pereira are correct. Bradley thinks he is the smartest person in the room.

  5. If I could talk to my State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, I would advise to just drop the whole thing and hopefully the Bridgeport Board of Education will drop this also. It’s just squabbling. Most importantly,Lamont won along with Democratic majorities in both chambers of the State Legislature. Please drop this squabble and focus on the big picture.

    1. Frank, once it was canceled Ben, Joseph and I felt it was resolved. It was Stafstrom who ran around Testo’s
      that night whining about Dr. Johnson’s decision to postpone the visit until after the election. Then Dennis sent an email at 10:44 PM that night demanding the item be placed on our next Regular Meeting agenda.

      Ben, Joe and I then drafted the letter Lennie posted in response to Dennis’ attempt to harass Dr. Johnson by trying to address her about it at a public meeting. Why doesn’t he just pick up the phone or email her about the cancellation to get her perspective?

  6. Honestly I see nothing wrong of somebody is an already elected person from the district than again I dont have a problem with johnson not allowing it. On another note lamont numbers went from 22,293 to 23,383 and his margin is now over 18,000 in the city. Lennie how many outstanding votes are left?

    1. Hi donj, I’m waiting on the official moderator’s report, but looking at the unofficial results from secretary of the state website looks like roughly 29,000 or so Bridgeport electors cast a vote which blows away four years ago midterm. Some of those would be same-day registration voters which I assume were calculated later.

  7. What is “unfortunate” is that Steve Stafstrom and Dennis Bradley thinks they can order BOE staff and Dr. Johnson around to help fulfill their political ambitions and provide them with political photo opportunities just five (5) days before they were all on the ballot on the same line as Ned Lamont.

    Nobody is fooled, Steve. This was NEVER about doing what was best for students, parents, staff or the BPS. It was all about doing what was best for YOU and your fellow running mates just FIVE (5) days before YOUR election.

    By the way Steve, we contacted the Superintendent immediately and started drafting our letter immediately upon receiving the Superintendent’s email.

  8. What will be truly telling and relevant is if Governor-elect Lamont makes it a post-election/transition-period priority to spend some serious time in Bridgeport — at Bassick, and elsewhere (such as touring the city to scout sites for major business-development/corporate relocations, as well as getting useful transition-period info from random chats/encounters with Bridgeporters on the street…).

    Given the way that Bridgeport is typically used in a slash-and-burn fashion by the usual Gold-Coast suspects needing urban votes at election time — they come to make promises before the election and then direct all significant, tax-positive economic development to Stamford and Hartford and send the
    S%@# , tax-negative development to Bridgeport — it is better, one-way or the other, that Lamont didn’t get his pre-election photo-op at Bassick… Let’s see what he does for Bridgeport now that he is in a position to do something and isn’t in immediate need of our votes…

    And, if Bridgeport isn’t at the top of Lamont’s agenda, our delegation should take issue with that situation and exact a political price from him for having been disingenuous (…”I’ll think of Bridgeport every day…”).

    But; it is the obvious responsibility of our GA delegation/Mayor to design, demand, and engineer legislative delivery of an indicated GA agenda-package for Bridgeport… They have (all concerned parties) been doing a piss-poor job of this for the past couple of decades (irrespective of a Bridgeport-disdaining, suburb-dominated GA and useless, double-dealing chief executives in office — such as Dan Malloy …).

    So; irrespective of all of the political bs presently being flung around by various clashing elected officials in Bridgeport’s dysfunctional political atmosphere (yes, some are right and some are wrong, according to the rule book — but all are creating material for, or playing into an increasingly absurd, never-ending Bridgeport, progress-inhibiting, political opera), Bridgeport is still being deftly maintained as the bastard-child-that has-to-live-in-the-barn in Connecticut. All the while — as the city flows farther down the tubes — as a matter of historical course of the Bridgeport, political modus-operandi, the vast majority of our appointed and elected officials seem to be content to plan their own re-elections and/or nurture and pursue political rivalries, even as we get a “golden shower”, but no “gold” from officials in Hartford and Washington elected with Bridgeport votes — by way of their saying “thanks” to all of us “suckers” in Bridgeport that keep putting them back in office…

    Let’s see what Ned Lamont has to say about all of this now — with the election over. We know that his aides peruse OIB, et al., for him, so he’ll hear about this Bassick-appearance issue. Will he offer diplomatic advice to the calm the political conflict caused by the aborted photo-op that was to be done on his (et al.) behalf? Will he use this situation as an opportunity to come to Bridgeport/Bassick and start putting together a serious Bridgeport-initiative for implementation, post-transition?

  9. Should have added that Bob Trumpanowski couldn’t even be bothered to make a token diner stop or other visit affording candidate-access to “the people” in Bridgeport… The fact that he received as many votes as he did from Bridgeport is a strong reflection of the level of disgust for the gubernatorial-candidate offerings this election season… Trumpanowski’s votes were surely mostly protest votes against the double-dealing inflicted on Bridgeport by the D-regime of Double-Dealing Dan and his Gold Coast Gang…

  10. I am hoping that all parties involved in this dispute will withdraw the November 13th discussion. We have a new Governor,a new state legislature which may be more helpful to Bridgeport Education which is key in the long term. I hope all parties touch base and withdraw the November 13th discussion and let’s wait until January to start again

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