Maria Pereira was an elected member of the Board of Education four years ago when a majority of the body voted to throw in the towel and ask the state of Connecticut to run city schools. Pereira, once again seeking a seat on the school board, shares her thoughts on the four-year anniversary.
As Bridgeport families celebrate the Fourth of July this weekend, which commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, let us not forget this weekend also marks the four-year anniversary in which Mayor Finch, Governor Malloy, and a Greenwich billionaire set in motion their plan to wrestle away both local control of our elected school board and the governance of our Bridgeport public schools and its 21,000 students.
On Friday, July 1, 2011, a notice of a Special Meeting was published in which the nine-member elected school board would vote to relinquish control of our local schools to the state Board of Education on Tuesday, July 5, 2011. While Bridgeport voters and residents were celebrating the anniversary of our declaration of democracy and the rejection of tyranny, our highest levels of local and state government had orchestrated a coup for over six months in order to deny Bridgeport residents their democratic right to elect their school board.
The plan was so well orchestrated that coincidentally the SBOE had a regular scheduled meeting the very next morning, and although no discussion of consideration of the state takeover had been noticed, the SBOE added a discussion and vote of a resolution to take over the BBOE with little discussion. As I sat in the audience, I heard with my own ears when Mayor Finch testified he didn’t “mind” if Bridgeport voters would not be able to elect their school board members for a ‘few’ years. He went onto say “democracy doesn’t always work.” I remember thinking I was sure Hitler and Mussolini would have agreed with him. I guess Mayor Finch felt voters were smart enough to elect our president, U.S. senator, U.S. congressmen, state senators, state representatives, town clerk, city clerk, etc., but we were just too dumb to elect our nine-member school board. Needless to say, the SBOE went on to vote 5 to 4 in favor of the state takeover.
With retired Judge Lopez leading the effort in challenging the takeover, the CT Supreme Court battle ultimately resulted in a 6 to 1 decision in which the coup was ruled illegal and the ousted elected board was reinstated. In fact, had it not been for her efforts, we would not have an elected school board today.
The day after the CT Supreme Court ruled the takeover was illegal, Mayor Finch personally traveled to Hartford to lobby Malloy and legislators to pass a retroactive law that would have made the illegal takeover legal. Ultimately, that effort failed.
The Charter Commission had already been established prior to the CT Supreme Court ruling because Mayor Finch had already been informed it was likely our challenge would be successful, therefore his handpicked commission appointees had already been given their marching orders to change our City Charter to make our elected school board into a board appointed by the Mayor. Over 70 changes were created at record speed so that the Charter Referendum would be placed on the November 2012 ballot. The pro-charter school millionaires, billionaires, Wall Street executives, and local hospitals and companies donated generously to Mayor Finch’s effort to take Bridgeport residents’ right to vote away. Over $500,000 was amassed due to generous donations from those who did not reside in Bridgeport and/or CT. Those opposed to relinquishing our right to vote defeated Mayor Finch’s referendum with approximately $100,000.
And, to further show the complete lack of respect Mayor Finch has for his constituents, just this week, the very same Greenwich millionaires and billionaires involved in the illegal takeover and the charter referendum hosted a fundraiser for Mayor Finch’s re-election campaign. On June 30, 2015, Jonathon Sackler, the founder of Achievement First Charter School and ConnCAN, who also donated $50,000 to Mayor Finch’s effort to take our right to vote away, held a fundraiser at his Greenwich home. It was co-hosted by five additional wealthy down-county residents who are affiliated with ConnCAN and/or Achievement First Charter School. What is clear to me is Mayor Finch has placed a “For Sale” sign on our 22,000 BPS students and the Bridgeport Public Schools. However, only pro-charter school Greenwich millionaires, billionaires, and Wall Street executives are allowed to bid.
As we all enjoy our Fourth of July weekend in honor of democracy and the rejection of a tyrannical form of government, let us all remember Mayor Finch represents everything this great country stands against. We don’t believe in dictatorships, tyranny or denying citizens their right to vote, especially in a city where 78% of our residents are minority. In fact, we have always stood for the complete opposite.
Therefore, I am asking every Bridgeport Democrat to cast their vote in the Democratic Primary on Wednesday, September 16th so we may collectively show Mayor Finch Democracy ABSOLUTELY does work.