It was noisy. It was acrimonious. It was inflammatory. On some nights a plain old food fight. While sometimes entertaining, it was often exhausting for the Board of Education during Maria Pereira’s tenure on the nine-member elected body.
It’s been just over a year since Pereira’s conversion to the City Council where she is now coalition-challenged among 19 peers most of whom don’t like her fiery brand of engagement. It led to City Council President Aidee Nieves stripping Pereira of all committee assignments.
So what’s life on the school board post Pereira? Two members respond, the Chair John Weldon, who was often on the receiving end of Pereira’s stinging glossary, and Joe Sokolovic who embraced some common voting issues with her as a minority bloc.
The Bridgeport Board of Education that took shape as a result of the 2019 election has shaped up quite well and has become focused and productive.
Gone are meetings lasting until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. Gone are meetings that degenerated into shouting matches over differing political ideologies.
Instead, meetings are focused on the real business of the District and the membership of the Board has become a diverse makeup of people with various backgrounds, ethnicities, professional experiences and generational insights.
For the first time in a very long time, the Board is functioning as it should. Over the coming weeks we will be setting our agenda for the coming year, prioritizing our work and deciding what things are really important to us. We’re being proactive instead of reactive–again–something that hasn’t happened in a very long time. All of this is because the Board is united in a way it hasn’t been for many years. I’m glad we’re finally able to work together as a team and I’m extremely proud to chair this board as we move into 2021.
I can only speak as an individual board member and my observations. Some things have changed while others remain the same. We are still making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
I still comport myself in the same manner as when she was present. What has changed, however, is people’s responses to my differing opinions. When Ms. Pereira was on the board she and I often voted in lockstep as we have the same stances and issues. Often times my voice was not heard, as some would block out the issue simply because Pereira raised it. I believe this was in response to the abrasive nature of Ms. Pereira’s strong personality and sometimes personal attacks. One person should not be allowed to rent space in people’s head so much so that the business we were elected to do goes undone.
I believe board meetings are more streamlined now that disruptions are kept to a minimum this is due in part to Chairmen Weldon growing into his role and board members for the most giving deference to one another’s opinions.
I see the city council making the same error the board has made. They are putting a lot of energy into Ms. Pereira to no avail. Pereira will not be silenced, and often times is right on point. Instead of complaining about being embarrassed about being called out for poor attendance, try showing up. Instead of whining about being called out for poor parliamentary procedure, learn it and use it. Upset about being called out for something you said in an e-mail? Try not saying it. Etc. Just focus on the people’s work and listen to the message regardless of the messenger. You just might learn something.
While I find Ms. Pereira’s behavior distasteful on a personal level, I would never let it get in the way of doing the people’s business, neither should anybody else. While we still have a ways to go as a board we have grown and would have, or should have grown, with or without her presence.
I wish her and the city council well.