Pelto: ‘Elected BOE Faces Almost Certain Death’

Jonathan Pelto, Connecticut political analyst, weighs in with his take on the state of city schools courtesy of his site

Returning from the “dead” – Bridgeport’s elected Board of Education faces almost certain death.

The Mayor of Bridgeport wants the city’s Board of Education out. One option would be to follow the lead of Hartford and change the city charter so that the mayor controls the school system. The other option would be for the state to take over control of the school system.

Following months of behind the scenes maneuvering (including the bizarre participation of a Fairfield County billionaire’s representative), the Connecticut State Board of Education voted 5-4 to take over the Bridgeport school system. Their action removed the elected school board members and replaced them with appointees. The next step would have been to appoint a “Special Master” to run the schools on the state’s behalf.

The only problem …

The state failed to follow its own laws and last week the State Supreme Court struck down the state’s action and reinstated the members of the Bridgeport School Board.

Within hours, the Malloy Administration and Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams were moving forward with a plan to introduce emergency legislation to circumvent the Supreme Court’s action.

The bill would have stated that any action taken by the State Board of Education about the Bridgeport schools that had been illegal would now be deemed legal.

True it might sound a bit “un-American” but hey “democracy” can be a bit messy at times.

The emergency legislation would have passed and been signed into law except that the state legislators from Bridgeport couldn’t reach an agreement about how to proceed so that the concept of emergency legislation has been dropped.

But for all the Bridgeport take-over fans out there, have no fear, another bill (SB 302) is moving quickly through the legislative process and will likely come up for a vote within the next 45 days. This bill, proposed by the Malloy Administration, would give the Commissioner of Education even stronger powers to take over what they deem to be “failing” school systems. When the bill passes–the Bridgeport Board of Education’s days are numbered.

While policy issues play a role in some of these decisions it is really an extraordinary case study on the way politics and relationships impact the legislative process.

The Bridgeport School Takeover is such a great case study that over the coming weeks we’ll explore some of the relationships and intricacies that are driving this issue.

Today we’ll start with a few of the members of Team Bridgeport;

Team Captain Bill Finch: Finch is the Mayor of Bridgeport and a former State Senator (tradition warrants that the remaining members of the Senate (the “upper chamber”) should do what they can to help out their former colleagues.

Attorney Ed Maley: Ed Maley is the former Chief of Staff and Senior Counsel for the Senate Democrats. Maley serves as one of the City of Bridgeport’s retained attorneys. He also serves as the General Assembly’s Legislative Commissioner (The Democrats and Republicans each appoint one Legislative Commissioner who job is to “oversee” the non-partisan legislative lawyers who write all the bills and amendments for the General Assembly. Maley was appointed to that coveted position Senate President Pro Tempore).

Since Mayor Finch was elected in November 2007, Attorney Maley has been paid about $360,000 by the City of Bridgeport. As the Legislative Commissioner he has also earned about $50,000 a year and continues to receive his $111,000 state pension, having retired after 28 years of state service.

Attorney Bill Beccaro: Bill Beccaro is a close friend and associate of Mayor Finch and has played a leadership role in raising funds for Finch’s campaigns. Beccaro serves as Legal Counsel to the Connecticut Senate Democrats and Senate President Pro Tempore Don Williams. From 2007 until 2011 Beccaro also served as one of the City of Bridgeport’s other retained counsel. In that capacity he earned over $300,000. As of 2012 he is no longer working for the City of Bridgeport.

Most recently, Beccaro and a political action committee he controlled called People for Excellence in Government were fined by the State Elections Enforcement Commission for improper use of funds. Following Finch’s successful 2007 campaign for mayor, the Finch campaign donated its leftover funds to this PAC. According to the investigation, “the PAC paid Finch, his chief of staff, Adam Wood and their wives thousands of dollars in reimbursements for a wide range of political expenditures, including restaurant meals, transportation, hotel rooms and purchases at business-supply retailers and bookstores.”

Bridgeport’s Lobby Firm: The City of Bridgeport has been represented in Hartford by the prominent government relations firm Gaffney, Bennett and Associates. Between 2009-2011 the firm was paid $137,000 by the City of Bridgeport. Neither the City of Bridgeport nor the firm has filed the necessary paperwork if the firm is still working for Bridgeport.

Interestingly, Gaffney Bennett and Associates has also been paid nearly half a million dollars by the ConnCAN, the charter advocacy group and its sister organization. Of course ConnCAN was created by people who also set up Achievement First, the charter school management company. Achievement First runs two charter schools in Bridgeport with plans to expand.

And remember the bit about the bizarre involvement of the Greenwich billionaire?

It was the head of ConnCAN who put the billionaire’s representative in touch with top state officials at the Connecticut Department of Education. The very people who would now be running the Bridgeport Schools if they hadn’t screwed up the takeover effort.

Next time we’ll meet some of the players on Team Malloy.



  1. My sense is two things are true. First, the Bridgeport experience is starting to give some legislators concern about the Governor’s request for expanded takeover powers, which the unions oppose. Second, there are limits to the state administration’s willingness to get beaten up politically over the Bridgeport schools, especially if it starts to impact the Governor’s legislative priorities.


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