Pereira Places Charter School Proponent On Video Hot Seat, Education Debate Follows


Former school board member Maria Pereira, an opponent of charter schools, turned street reporter in front of Dunbar School on Tuesday confronting a paid canvasser for a pro-charter school organization who described Bridgeport as the worst performing school district in the country. The exchange between Pereira and the canvasser illustrates the gulf between pro-charter interests and opponents sweeping neighborhoods. The advancement of charter schools–-publicly funded but operating independently of the traditional school district–-is a controversial topic in Bridgeport with members of the Board of Education split on effectiveness.

The video, filmed by Pereira’s friend Tammy Boyle, a public school parent, opens with Pereira asking the canvasser (Carissa) questions about city education near the East End school. Canvassers were in the neighborhood circulating a petition on behalf of Families for Excellent Schools although the petition does not specify a pro-charter message. Pereira did not initially make known her opposition to charter schools. During the interview the canvasser, who has children in city magnet schools, makes the case for charter schools to improve education standards.

About five minutes into the discussion, Pereira begins to school the canvasser working for Families for Excellent Schools about her perspective on the city school system including the funding differences between magnet and charter schools. Pereira admonishes the canvasser’s claim that Bridgeport is the worst performing district in the country and decries the millionaires backing FES asserting the organization just wants to make wealthy Wall Street executives wealthier. The canvasser politely holds her ground responding that her experience with the organization is to help improve public schools. “This is my position. This is my job,” she says.

charter school petition
Petition circulated by canvassers for Families for Excellent Schools.

Two other paid canvassers off film can be heard in the background and the exchanges get testy near the end in a back-and-forth about the others’ veracity. Pereira emphasizes canvassers are spreading lies in support of FES.

Charter school advocacy organization Families for Excellent Schools, a growing presence in city education, has commenced a citywide grassroots “Unite Bridgeport” campaign to circulate a petition, register new voters, receive input about the direction of city schools and share the gospel about the role of charter schools in the city.

FES organizers say they believe residents are tired of the political infighting over public schools. The goal over the next few months is to conduct 30,000 door-to-door conversations with residents. Canvassers hired by the organization are city residents trained at the B:Hive collaborative workspace Downtown.

Twelve canvassers hit the streets two weeks ago, says Kara Neidhardt, Connecticut state director for FES.

FES expects to complete the work by the end of September, and to present a petition to the Bridgeport Board of Education that calls on the board to advance policies that work for kids, say organizers.

The charter group FUSE was recently ousted from its management of Dunbar school.

In June, following disclosure he had a criminal past and falsely claimed he had a doctorate, Michael Sharpe resigned as the chief executive of the company that manages the low-performing Dunbar School. A few weeks later a community outreach coordinator working at Dunbar School resigned upon disclosure he had a criminal history that includes multiple drug offenses and is also listed as a low-risk level on a sex offender registry in Texas.

The state and city terminated its relationship with FUSE.

In addition, there’s the debate about student performance standards under charter schools. Bridgeport has four charter schools. Former Bridgeport school chief Paul Vallas and outgoing Connecticut Commission of Education Stefan Pryor are proponents of charter schools.

FES is a growing presence at school board meetings. Formed in 2011 with a focus on the charter school movement in New York and Connecticut, FES is based in political advocacy financed by Wall Street backers.

The FES mantra: “Through organizing and political work, we work to amplify the voices of families over the din of electioneering and special interest campaigning. Rather than speak on behalf of public school parents, Families for Excellent Schools empowers parents to speak for themselves.”

Opponents to charter schools argue they don’t outperform magnet schools both of which require a lottery to gain entry, as well as underserve students qualifying for free/reduced price lunch, special needs and English-language learners.

From FES:

Our staff of sixteen comes from leadership positions at charter management organizations, labor unions, and political campaigns. Based in the best practices of these fields, we’ve developed a hybrid organizing/mobilizing model that is unique in the sector: we develop neighborhood chapters that support parent-to-parent organizing, training, and campaign work, and we work directly with schools to mobilize families for legislative and issue advocacy.



  1. “Holding parents accountable” for feeding, clothing, sheltering and providing health care and adequate rest; for keeping them safe from physical and emotional harm, etc., etc. Can it be done with the law? With strong family structure? With religious support? And if the family speaks a language foreign to that of Bridgeport schools and governance, it gets to be overwhelming.

    Charter Schools do hold parents accountable for being there with the child, supporting the child and supporting the school with some form of sweat equity. They build relationships such that the student and community know more clearly the expectations and consequences.

    I do not know any more about FES than has been posted in the past week or so. Someone is using funds to communicate face to face, just as if there were a referendum, a primary or an election. With news coverage at a minimum locally and media bites, one-on-one can be an effective way (though expensive) of getting a message across to folks with children in school. (And it also provides work to some folks who otherwise might not be working.)
    Maria is a good grassroots campaigner. She does her homework. And she states her factual info in its most favorable storyline. For instance, we do not have to be the absolute worst school or system to have parents seek an alternative that looks more promising. That is human nature.
    Maria might better direct her energy at laying out just what might be accomplished in terms of literacy development for the youngest, assistance for ELL students, and substantial upgrade of “special education” or whatever the Board sees as highest priority. Then the community can get behind the drumbeat for ECS funding the gaps that exist between the largest urban districts. Isn’t that where the most attention can be profitably spent? Time will tell.

    1. Please do share with all of us how Charter Schools require parents to be there for their children, supporting their child and school. I am not looking for general statements, I am looking for specifics for Achievement First, New Beginnings, Park City Prep, Great Oaks, etc., As far as I know, the only school located in Bridgeport that requires a specific parental commitment where parents are held accountable is Classical Studies. This BPS requires 40 hours per year of parental involvement.

      The “someone” using funds to communicate “face to face” is out-of-towners and out-of-state Wall Street executives, millionaires and billionaires. I know, all these millionaires and billionaires care so much about the poor children of Bridgeport and it has absolutely nothing to do with lining their pockets.

      Who do you think you are to tell me and others how I “might better direct my energy?” Why don’t you concern yourself with what you are doing with your time, you pontificating jerk? The facts are the facts. I think what troubles you, besides the “fact” you continue to cinch your bow tie too tightly, is I can run circles around you when it comes to education issues. We have a paid canvasser blatantly misrepresenting the facts and fear-mongering by telling Dunbar School parents the BPS is the worst school system in the country and you don’t see a problem with it. We don’t even have the worst school system in CT.

        1. The Governor, our Senators, our State Representatives, the SBOE, etc. These elected officials have lacked the political will to address the inequity in funding of public school systems in impoverished urban cities. That is why the CJEFF lawsuit is taking place in January. The goal is to force the state of CT to adequately fund the education of ALL students, not just those students in the suburbs. The other major factor is poverty. Are there bad parents? Yes, there are. Do the vast majority of parents want the very best for their child and are invested in their education? Yes, they do.

      1. Maria, I am not bothered interacting with intelligent, experienced and caring fellow citizens, who may know more than I do about a certain subject. I am troubled when someone like you, who knows about a subject, is disparaging of others rather than promoting a corrective solution … a much harder task. If you continue to run circles as you are doing, trying to correct whether Bridgeport is the absolute worst, among the worst, or some variant, your energy is wasted, and you just may drill a hole in the floor you were standing on.

        Paid canvassers in this City whether regarding Charter Schools or on election day have their message and they do their best to deliver their message. Maria, since it is one of your points of correction in messages above, who has the worst school system in CT? And how is Bridgeport better? And how much better? Please instruct all of us. Time will tell.

        1. I don’t care how “troubled” you are when someone like me does whatever it is I am doing. You sir, are out of line for telling me how I should spend MY time. Stating the facts is not disparaging. I didn’t state someone was a drug addict, an alcoholic, cheating on their spouse, etc., I stated the “facts.”

          One again, do not worry about how I am wasting my energy. Windham and New Britain have worse public school systems than Bridgeport. Any “message” should be accurate and fact-based, not a bunch of lies. You might not care, after all you are not a BPS graduate, but there are those of us who do care about the portrayal of our public school system. I am sure the administrators, teachers, support staff, BPS parents and students CARE about how their school system is portrayed. This woman is telling BPS parents BPS is the worst in the country, which is an absolute and complete lie, and you think it is a “waste” of my time to correct her. The great thing is your opinion is irrelevant.

          I am still awaiting the SPECIFIC information that supports your claim Charter Schools in Bridgeport hold their parents “accountable.” Specifics Mr. Lee, not generalized statements.

      2. I guess I get under your skin. Why is that, when we both are searching for truth through facts? Of course facts do change, so current research is required.
        But I am a Bridgeport taxpayer, and active in many areas for community advancement. So I am definitely not a “pontiff,” one of the few elected officials in a world religion. Since you left the BOE, in a sense you have become “pontifical” in the sense on the subject of Bridgeport education you are the greatest source of facts and the best connector of facts and assumptions. Kind of makes you someone without compare when you make a statement.

        I know you have anger, “class” anger it seems to be, against people who have funds, live down county and want to spend dollars in Bridgeport on education. They hope to see better results than “one of the worst” systems in CT is producing.

        So I am in the process of “researching” a long-held personal assumption, as you have suggested. Then I will report back to OIB. Then I will be better informed, perhaps, but will you continue to be “my way or highway” dismissive and “class angry?” Do you see your opinion (including the connection of facts) like an “acid test” for truth in Bridgeport? Time will tell.

        1. Let me get this straight, you posted “Charter Schools REQUIRE that parents be there for their children.” and now that you have posted this comment you would like to begin “researching” your assertions and “report back to OIB.” Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to begin “researching” the issue PRIOR to posting your comments? Thank goodness you are not the lead researcher for the cure for cancer. Imagine, you could publicly announce you discovered the cure for cancer before actually “researching” the cure.

          I have a good friend who lives in Bridgeport who is a self-made millionaire. I don’t have any resentment for my friend. They have resided in Bridgeport for over 20 years and volunteered countless hours in our community. Anyone can write a check. It takes a truly committed individual to get off their sofa and volunteer in their community.

          I think it is fair to say you are unable to substantiate your claims, at least until your “research is complete.” However you just keep working on diverting OIB readers’ attention by writing about my “anger,” specifically “class anger.”

          1. “Charter Schools do hold parents accountable for being there with the child, supporting the child and supporting the school with some form of sweat equity. They build relationships such that the student and community know more clearly the expectations and consequences.”

            This is the statement I posted initially you take exception with I believe. I have called several Charter Schools to find their philosophy and methodology around parent involvement. My comment about “sweat equity” may be outdated. But the remainder of my statement seems on target.

            Talking about your “class anger” is not a diversion if children today are being helped by some of the folks you regularly disparage. Will you show me the facts of how any charitable funds provided by CT neighbors in Fairfield County communities are making them wealthier today? If this statement is factual you should have no problem providing a statement to this effect. Can you substantiate your claim? Or do you require deeper research? Time will tell.

          2. Still awaiting SPECIFIC statements to support your claims. I gave you a SPECIFIC example of a BPS that REQUIRES parents to “be there for their children.” Please list a SPECIFIC Charter School policy that REQUIRES parents “for being there with the child, supporting the child and supporting the school.”

            That’s right Mr. Lee, keeping trying to divert the attention of OIB readers.

          3. Please read this very credible article by Forbes regarding the investment opportunities the wealthy see with charter schools. It also highlights the federal tax credit I have referred to previously. There is only one reason a “business” is on the NY Stock Exchange. That is because investors want to make money and the “business” itself wants to make money. It certainly isn’t because wealthy investors care about improving the education of minority students in poor urban districts.

  2. The larger point here is once again we have people from out of town canvassing our neighborhoods and schools to tell us what’s good for us. These people are relentless. Enough. What day are you extra-special people going to learn shoving your high-minded theories down our throats doesn’t work? Hiring and paying a bunch of Bridgeport residents to spread your word does not make it organic. You are not us.

    1. Where does Mayor Finch stand on the latest FES misinformation/deception campaign in Bridgeport?

      Earlier this year, Finch spoke to the media to refute a report asserting Bridgeport CT residents have the highest tax burden in the U.S., calling the report misleading and inaccurate. See

      How about now, in the face of false claims his city’s public schools are the worst in the nation? After all, as he’ll tell you, his own children attend the Bridgeport Public Schools.

  3. I don’t have a child in the BPS. But I keep hearing about the Magnet schools and how they outperform Charters.
    But in my limited research, the Magnets can send you back if you do not perform well. So if you send back the low performers and keep the best, then you should outperform all others.
    And if a child leaves the district, then the money should not be paid for that student. If a child moves out of state and is not replaced, does BPS still get the funding for him/her? I agree the state should cover the transportation, and was under the impressio they did give some back. If the state wants charters, fully fund them. But fully funding BPS schools is not going to solve all the problems either. I’ve seen other comments about the poverty level being an issue. I agree (to a certain extent), and again, giving more money to the school system is not going to solve problems with a student’s home. I wish there were more people involved in providing solutions.

    1. A scholar must maintain at least a C average to stay in a magnet school. Once the average drops below a C the student has two marking periods to bring up the grade. I replaced my neighbor at High Horizons way back when because of the C average minimum. I went to HH and he replaced me at Blackham.

      BPS is underfunded by an astronomical amount of money. Of course, money will not fix all the ills, but it can certainly get the ball rolling.

        1. JMart, you’re right, however the challenge is how do you hold an irresponsible parent’s feet to the fire? I think it starts with city leaders challenging these types of parents, and then following through with it. The system, both educational and social, are abused/gamed by too many people. We have to change the way we do business around here.

    2. Lifelong Bpt, a child in a Magnet school must underperform (below a C average) in two core subjects before academic support is put in place. Only after substantial efforts on the school’s part will an administrator meet with a parent and suggest transitioning the child to their neighborhood school. The child can only be transferred to another BPS with the parents’ consent and the parent must fill out the forms to withdraw the student. If the parent says no, I want my child to stay, the child stays.

      The district should not lose $1. We are the most underfunded district in CT. We are nowhere fully funded. How can you take money away from a school system that is not adequately funded in the first place?

      In the last six years bus transportation costs have risen by 28%. This increase has been fueled in part by increased gas, maintenance, etc. However the vast majority has been fueled by transportation costs to charter schools. Although we have applied for charter school transportation reimbursement from the state every single year, we have received $0. As far as BPS transportation costs, in 2009 the state reimbursed us $2,465,763 or 19%, however in 2014, we were reimbursed $1,059,189 or 6%.

  4. Last note–listen to the parent and she is probably representative of many parents. They do not know about those organizations, but what they know is they want more for their children. They don’t see the non-charter, non-magnet schools as a place they want their children. I actually think this group of BOE members are coming around. But the BPS is a huge ship–those don’t turn quick. It’s going to take a lot of positive, constructive thinkers and doers to get this moving in the right direction.

    1. That’s right, listen to the parent. She admits both her school-age children attend Central Magnet School and High Horizons Magnet School. She admits they are having a good experience in those schools and they are being “academically challenged.” She also admits she has no intention of withdrawing them and placing them in the charter schools she is promoting to other parents, but wait a minute, I am getting paid to tell BPS parents the BPS are the worst in the country, I am doing what my “boss” told me to do, so it doesn’t matter that I am telling blatant lies to parents to get them to sign my petition. Her children attend BPS that are competitive with affluent suburban schools, however I am going to promote charter schools because I need my paycheck on Friday.

  5. From what I hear, FES was lurking down at Seaside Park this weekend. Really? How about letting folks have a holiday from the stalking? Can we please choke down a chicken wing without a side of soapbox?

  6. Thank you Maria Pereira for taking the time to educate the public. If charter schools are funded by the City as public schools and Public Schools are cutting programs, then please tell me where is the money coming from to build the school? Hire the staff? Will they not be part of the Bridgeport school system? Maybe the goal should be to turn all of the public schools into Magnet schools. Where did the concept of charter schools come from? It seems to me they are private school wannabes sucking money out of the City to fund their desires without answering to the City or the board. Unbelievable! But unless you are a magnet school, our schools are unbelievable!

    1. Steven, the state funds the Charters, but the city is on the hook for the transportation and I think special ed, too. Not quite sure on the second one.
      So far, they have taken over pre-existing buildings (Barnum School is now Achievement First).
      The fight over the two new ones was partially (if not fully) related to the funds going to charters and not public schools.
      I have asked about why not expand the Magnet program and not really gotten a good answer. Only drawback to Magnets seems to be if you are not doing well and do not improve, they can put you back in “regular’ school. That puts the strain back on the regular district schools to educate ALL students. I guess no real issue is made on that since they are all part of BPS so the funding stays in the city.

      1. Another part of the fight is Great Oaks is for-profit outside of Conn. The next fight will be to change the law to allow for-profit entities to run schools in Conn. If this happens, well let’s hope this does not happen.

        1. The charter school advocacy organizations in CT absolutely want to see CT charter schools changed to for-profit status. There are charter school chains that are traded on the NY Stock Exchange. It’s all about the $$$$$$$$$!

      2. Lifelong Bpt, your comments about our elementary magnet schools pushing out students is incorrect. Only Central Magnet School reassigns students based on academic performance. They still attend Central High School, but not the magnet program.

        When a child withdraws from a BPS to enroll in a state charter school located in Bridgeport, we must fund 100% of their transportation and special education costs. Special Ed. and transportation costs are the second and third largest expense items in the BPS budget. Then the following year, approximately $600 of federal Title I money and the ECS allocation follows the child as well.

  7. Please read the petition above. Their t-shirts do not make any mention of “charter schools.” Their petition does not make mention of “charter schools.” Their English and Spanish fliers do not make mention of “charter schools.” Why isn’t Families for Excellent Schools being transparent and honest with those they are asking to sign their petition? If charter schools are so awesome, why doesn’t all their propaganda SCREAM “charter schools?” That’s simple, they are fully aware there is a negative connotation with charter schools in Bridgeport and they made an informed decision to keep any mention of charter schools from their literature and petition. It was an unethical, dishonest and calculated decision.

  8. 1) I am not for privatizing public schools in any way, period. It would make it too easy to freeze out unwanted students.
    2) my comment about losing funding if a child moves–is the funding now decided per student? If so, then it would make sense if a student moves out of a district/state, that money no longer goes to original district. However, I would concede the city should fully fund those we have right now.
    3) Magnet school/below C grades–I read the policy on the Park City Magnet page. Nowhere does it state there is a consultation with the parents before sending a student back. Obviously they were not clear. Here is the link:

  9. Here is the excerpt from the relevant policy. The key word here is “may.”

    Requirements for Continuing Enrollment in Elementary Magnet Programs

    To maintain enrollment, all students are expected to maintain a C average in core academic courses (Reading, Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies). When students are not meeting our minimum academic standards during the academic year, all reasonable efforts are made to support student’s efforts to succeed.
    Students who fail two or more core academic courses for the year may be reassigned to their district school.
    Students who habitually break school rules and/or exhibit antisocial behavior may be reassigned to their district school.

    1. I posted the link to show the posted policy. Not to argue. At this point I call a truce (LOL) 🙂

      I will concede it says “may,” which does not mean definite. You concede it does not mention the parental signoff.

      Let there be peace.

  10. Bridgeport school district is ranked last in Connecticut for the 2012-2013 school year, going by CMT and CAPT scores.
    Who is responsible for this”
    Who will be held accountable for this?
    Why is it the districts with the most ECS money are the worse performing districts?

    1. According to the CMT and CAPT scores for 2012/2013, Bridgeport is NOT ranked “last in Connecticut.” Are you a paid canvasser for Families for Excellent Schools?

      It doesn’t matter how much ECS money a district receives. What matters is how much is being spent per pupil and is the district fully funded. Westport, Trumbull and Fairfield are fully funded, Bridgeport is not.

  11. Pete Spain, thanks for reminding us about that story from CH 12. I have two points about the story, first how weak Mayor Finch’s reply was and the fact the story was NOT followed up by the Connecticut Post and the other print media. Investigative reporting is NEVER done by the Post because they want to have the ability to have access to the Mayor and his staff so they won’t offend him, sad but true. Whoever is going to oppose the mayor in the next election must be on top of issues and stories like the one you post, Pete.

  12. If you read the story above, you will see the Families for Excellent Schools canvassers are being trained at the B-Hive located in downtown Bridgeport. Now read this story that was published in the CT Post. This new group was founded in NY by former Teach for America recruits. They are heavily funded by millionaires and billionaires. Their new director is a former TFA recruit, worked in Louisiana (Vallas) and also worked for outgoing Commissioner Pryor.
    Be wary of all the organizations with the word “excellent.” Families for Urban Schools of Excellence, Families for Excellent Schools, Educators 4 Excellence, etc., they are all deeply intertwined in the education “deform” movement.

  13. JMart, I guess you haven’t heard about the scandal at Bassick this June. Over 40 students were scheduled to graduate per Principal Wayne Alexander who was hired by Paul Vallas. These children had not earned the required credits, however their grades were doctored to show them as receiving the required credits. Ms. Rabinowitz had to step in and investigate the allegations and notify both the students and their parents their children could not graduate just two days before the graduation ceremony. No wonder the 2012 Bridgeport graduation rates increased. We owe that to Poisonous Paul Vallas and his merry men/women.

  14. What a shit situation when so many people at all levels don’t care. Just throwing money at the problem year after year will not make it go away. Someone or some people have to be held accountable for the 50-70% High School dropout rates, 3-5 grades behind by the time they reach 8th grade. Bridgeport will always have outside Charters trying to come in if this problem isn’t fixed.

  15. JMart, can I please ask where you are getting the figure of “70%” for BPS drop ut rate? Charters aren’t trying to come to Bridgeport to fix any problems. They come to Bridgeport because they see a lot of opportunity to make $$$$$$$$$.


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