Supremes Rule Schools Takeover Illegal, Order Special Election — Justice Palmer: Decision A Bogey

Connecticut Supreme Court
Seated, L to R: Justice Flemming L. Norcott, Jr., Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, Justice Richard N. Palmer. Standing, L to R: Justice C. Ian McLachlan, Justice Dennis G. Eveleigh, Justice Peter T. Zarella, Justice Lubbie Harper, Jr., Senior Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille.

UPDATE, includes decision: Norm Pattis, the attorney representing two elected  Board of Education members opposed to the state takeover of city schools, first announced the news: “State Supremes just ruled. Takeover illegal. Special election ordered.” In a 6 to 1 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ordered a special election to be set at the direction of the trial court. Members of the reconstituted board will continue to serve until the results of the special election are certified by the Town Clerk’s Office, according to the Supremes.

Ruling from the Supremes:

“Because not all former local board members can be reinstated at this time, as some of their terms of office have expired, and because a local board must continue to function until a new local board can be elected, we stay the effect of our decision pending final certification of the special election results by the town clerk.

“Therefore, the trial court shall direct that the seven current members of the reconstituted board remain in office until the special election has been completed. At that time, the trial court shall reinstate the five members of the local board whose terms of office have not expired, to serve along with the four newly elected members.”

The entire decision: here.

Justice Palmer, in dissenting opinion, calls ruling a bogey: here.

A special election would be called presumably by the Registrar’s Office, at the direction of the trial court. Political parties would endorse candidates and then challenge candidates could petition their way on the ballot. The City Charter states that the City Council shall call a special election for mayor between 120-150 days when a vacancy occurs. A reading of the City Charter, however, regarding BOE members states only this:

Section 1.

(a) The board of education of the city of Bridgeport shall consist of nine members who shall be electors of the city of Bridgeport and who shall be elected to serve for a term of four years, from the first day of December next succeeding their election.

(b) At the election to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, 1993, and quadrennially thereafter there shall be elected five members of said board. Each political party entitled to nominate candidates for election to said board shall nominate three persons and the five persons receiving the highest number of votes at such election shall be elected. Each elector may vote for any three of the candidates nominated for such office.

(c) At the election to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, 1995, and quadrennially thereafter there shall be elected four members of aid board. Each political party entitled to nominate candidates for election to said board shall nominate three persons and the four persons receiving the highest number of votes at such election shall be elected. Each elector may vote for any three of the candidates nominated for such office.

(d) If a vacancy arises for any reason in the membership of the Board of Education, the remaining members shall elect a new member to serve for the balance of the term vacated. The person so elected shall be a resident and elector and a member of the same political party as the member vacating such office.

Section 2.

The board of education shall have all the powers vested in, and shall perform all the duties imposed, boards of education under the laws of this state and the United States.

The four school board members whose terms expired in November, Barbara Bellinger, Delores Fuller, Nereyda Robles and Thomas Cunningham, voted to ask the state Board of Education to dissolve the local elected board in favor of an appointed body.

Statement from Mayor Finch:

“As I said when I spoke to the state Board of Education last July in support of state intervention, ‘Our school system is at a critical crossroads. It is time that we remove the politics from our children’s education, address our schools’ challenges head-on and begin to pursue a long-term solution to improving our schools.’ It is clear that the status quo is unacceptable. I agree with Justice Palmer that today’s decision, a narrow and technical ruling, is a setback to the school children of Bridgeport. However, I remain committed to work with the Governor, the Legislature, our new Superintendent and the existing board to help give Bridgeport kids a better education.

“Every decision we make should be about our children’s future.”

Statement from Governor Malloy’s chief legal counsel Andrew McDonald:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is disappointing and has the potential to seriously disrupt the educational opportunities of Bridgeport’s schoolchildren this year. We are reviewing the implications of this decision and intend to discuss further legal and legislative options with state and local officials in the very near future. Our goal has always been to create a stable, productive and educationally sound environment for a chronically struggling school district. Our focus will not change.”

Statement from Bridgeport Republican Town Committee:

The Bridgeport Republican Town Committee would like to take this opportunity to applaud the State Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the unlawful disbanding of the Board of Education. We consider this a victory for democracy. The future of our children’s education will once again be in the hands of Bridgeport’s voters.

We are not suggesting that the previous board was an effective body, however, the process to reform the situation must be legally and ethically executed. There is currently a city charter revision committee in place which will give Bridgeport voters the ability to put a revised city charter to a vote . We must utilize this proper conduit to create a system that will benefit Bridgeport’s voters and more importantly its children.



    1. The Crystal Ball is working!

      It’s all about school contracts, that’s what the City of Bridgeport lives on, school contracts.
      $250 Million here $300 Million there, that’s the industry that pays the most in kickbacks to the DTC and Mario Testa/Bill Finch and the Machine.
      Fixing up schools, replacing schools; that’s the ticket!
      NBC moves to Stamford with 500 jobs, so who cares; right, Mario/Finch?
      NBC, GE, Modern Plastics, Derecktor jobs, who cares?
      And CT Post feeds off the Machine, and the FBI sits on their ass …
      Control the BOE and you control Millions.
      That’s been the industry of Bridgeport for the past 30 years.
      Keep the taxes high, you keep manufacturing out of Bridgeport, right Mario/Finch?
      See who’s writing checks to the Finch Camp & DTC, the same venders and contractors that work on the schools.
      If you have control of the BOE Members, you control the school bids, right Mario/Finch?
      DTC needs the State BOE to get out of the way before the next school projects.

      Question: How will a Charter change help the Bridgeport BOE?
      Answer: It can’t! Finch’s new appointed BOE members will control all school contracts and budgets.

      Removing elected BOE members over appointed puts the Bridgeport BOE back on the road to corruption.
      Will the Supreme Court allow this to happen?
      Will the Supreme Court question the Mayor’s motive for a charter change at this time? (Appointed Vs. Elected Board BOE)
      So if the Supreme Court overrules the taking of the BOE by the State BOE, Finch will have in place a New Charter.
      So if the Supreme Court orders a new election and to reinstate all past members for the BOE, the Charter change will null and void the Supreme Court’s order.

      Is that what Finch thinks? God help us!

  1. “What a revolting development this is!” will be heard from certain quarters in Bridgeport today.

    The Supreme Court decision (that I have not read) seems to defend the democratic election process, the right and will of the people to elect representatives to assume the authority and responsibility for the positions sought. (Of course, people who are registered but fail to vote regularly have been part of the lethargic body politic that has frustrated those who have sought responsible reforms.)

    This is an educational lesson for the whole community. Hopefully it is a teachable moment. Let’s see how much grace, or humility, or ultimate focus on the youth of Bridgeport can be maintained in the days to come as fingers may be pointed, as emotions are displayed, and as multiple parties wrestle with the decisions at hand. I personally hope the “new Sheriff” in town, Superintendent Paul Vallas, finds a way to continue the work his team has initiated. I also hope the vision of the Charter Review Commission may now regard the initial educational reform mission directed by Mayor Finch as only one responsibility on their table.

    Creating a structure of accountability across the board may be the biggest achievement or gift to the community rather than more power to those who have been unaccountable to the highest democratic principles of attention to the rule of law and patiently honoring the process of democratic elections. Time will tell.

  2. The three candidates who were on the Foster slate should be the endorsed Democratic candidates by default because Mario failed to endorse in July. Foster’s Bd. of Ed slate were a party to the court case! Any other Dem candidates would have to petition individually to be on the special ballot.

  3. A special election would be called presumably based on City Charter regulations. –Wait, the City Charter Regulations are in revision–so is it the City Charter Regulations in place last July–or the new revisions not yet approved?

    1. Jennifer Buchanan,
      The study that is ongoing on most Tuesday and Thursday evenings around 5:30 PM (see City Clerk linkage to Charter Revision Commission agendas and minutes) and more dates to come, must become complete, move to the City Council for review and approval, at least before coming to the people in November for a vote by the people of the City.

      Long way to go before there is any change in the provisions of the current City Charter. Conversation, suggestions, recommendations are just that. The Charter is the only language we have unless and until it is changed by a vote of the citizens in favor of changes.

  4. Thank god the Supremes ruled the way they did. They are telling Finch and Company this is a democracy and not a dictatorship. Someone now needs to talk to that idiot in Hartford and tell him to let democracy take its course.
    The four people whose terms have expired were in on this attempted coup and thank god they are gone. Education will move forward under Mr. Vallas and the new school board.
    Let’s be honest here, the board Finch appointed accomplished nothing until Vallas appeared on the scene so replacing them will do no harm.

  5. This is NOT a victory for Foster, that is the most stupid thing I’ve read here.
    This is a victory for democracy and Pereira and Simmons.
    As this city has learned, hell hath no fury as a Pereira scorned.

  6. Adam Wood stated the administration would comment on the Supreme Court decision at their convenience. Really?
    I guess the administration is getting together to get their stories straight. Sorry guys, a dictatorship does not work.
    Maybe they are waiting for City Attorney Mark Anastasi to come up with another of his off-the-cuff rulings on where the administration should now go.
    Contrary to what Finch states this was not about the kids, it was all about money for the schools and another slush fund for the administration to play with.

  7. It is worth noting none of this will mean anything unless qualified, independent-minded candidates are nominated for, and elected to, the four open seats on the Board of Education.

    1. Phil Smith,
      Excellent point. The Democratic Town Committee is responsible to nominate those who will run on the Democratic ticket for Board of Ed. The election is next Tuesday March 6th for the 131st and 137th district committee members. Get out and vote for the two challenge slates row C so we can get new people on the DTC who will nominate the best and brightest. Bridgeport has residents who equal the caliber of those the state appointed. We need new conflict-free energy to seek those people out and support them. Vote for the challenge slates.

  8. Jim Callahan, you make a good point but Mayor Finch has lost the pubic relations on this case and City Attorney Mark Anastasi cannot put a good spin on it for the mayor.

    Mayor Finch already had a veto-proof BOE with a 6 to 3 margin but that was not good enough. This mayor allowed three BOE members to intimidate him thereby causing the mayor to take the voting rights of Bridgeport voters and to takeover the BOE. Sad, sad, sad.

  9. *** Could this decision be another step forward and two steps back for the Bpt school system? Only time will tell if the newly elected BOE will again learn the city’s “Rubber Stamp Boogie,” no? *** HERE WE GO! ***

  10. I understand the anti-Finch, anti-Testo group takes this as a victory against those two, and that’s true. But does it really mean this is the best for the children? Will Vallas remain? And how will the re-instated board work with him? I did not miss the days where the big stories from BOA meetings was about who was fighting whom, who wanted to record what, phone bills, etc. The re-instated board should take a lesson from this board on how to conduct themselves and how to work together for the children, not their party and not their personal vendettas. Some citizens of Bpt are rejoicing in this, but these are some of the same citizens who put that old board in office. And some (if not all) of those choices were mistakes.

  11. Lifelong Bpt, I don’t understand your point. Mayor Finch had a 6 to 3 MAJORITY on every vote with the BOE. What was the problem, he didn’t like what the three BOE members did in voting against his position even though he won?

  12. This is a positive for democracy and what’s right. Given a fair and impartial board headed by Simmons and Pereira, the right things will be done for our children.

  13. This is not a Nah, Nah, Nah Boo Boo victory. This is a diamond ring recovered from the steaming pile of crap that is Bridgeport Politics. Yes, reform activists can rejoice for a minute over the success of the process in this circumstance, where incidentally the Supremes feel democracy will be given a chance to work. Instead of acquiescing to Bill Finch’s stance democracy does not always work. Again, I say rejoice for a minute. Okay, the minute is up. Be on the look-out for a blindside tackle, because that’s how they roll at 999 Broad.

    1. Zenu Lu, you’re not kidding! The men at 999 are burning the late-night oil trying to find a way around this. Let me also say Governor Malloy should stay out of this and not encourage any legislation that would overrule the Supremes’ decision.

  14. If the state legislative delegation goes along with this proposed retroactive fix, they must be held accountable for stripping the voting rights of Bridgeport’s residents. Every single one has to understand what they are really doing if they are receptive to this retroactive fix to eliminate the training requirement. Taking away my voting rights is a huge no-no.

  15. The Windham County BOE was taken over by the State last year. Nobody is critical. The state-imposed reforms are working and the metrics are improving. The school system is getting back on track as a direct result of state intervention.

    Why are we against having the state come in and take over a flawed program?

    1. You see, here’s the thing. yahooy, the appointed BOE could very well be the best thing that ever happened to the BPT school system. But if we let the current administration get away with doing it this way then they will deploy the use of these tactics every time they see a need to circumvent the law. It’s human nature not to change when you are getting what you want with bad behavior. If they want THIS BOE in place, they should be held to the standard of the law and try to get them elected, which they may very well try to do. This is not Chicago and neither Finch nor Wood nor Testa are Al Capone. You can’t trounce on voters’ rights, and we need election reform in this city just as bad as we need an effective educational system. In this case, one river feeds the other.

  16. Mayor Bill “ACCOUNTABILITY” Finch has hit a bump in his bulldozed road to educational control. We can see what is written by the Supreme Court decision, we can view the documents and arguments in the State legislature that may bear on Bridgeport educational governance, and we can follow the difficult path pursued by Paul Vallas and team to get the current year budget correct by closing the deficit allowed to occur and persist last year by inaction of the City OPM, Superintendent Ramos, former discredited BOE, etc.

    Education expenses and revenues are meant to show up in the monthly report from Finance to the City Council. So how do we get six months into the fiscal year and find one BOE department account that last year (2010-11) spent over $19 Million over 12 months, and that is not even listed in this year’s December, 2011 report? What is going on? It is the BOE fiscal books that have been a mystery to many. It is these expenses and revenues that have been without any viable City watchdogs for a long time. If Mayor ACCOUNTABILITY has been in charge for over four years with all of his experienced financial and legal team, why are we still in the dark? Where are all of the Capital and Operating expenditures recorded and reported so the watchdogs can see what is ongoing? So the public can know integrity is the order of the day? Who can tell me what the actual line item 12-month expenditures for Board of Education or any other City department was for July 1, 2010 to June 39, 2011? These numbers do not appear in a June 30, 2011 monthly financial report from Dawn Norton’s Finance Department, because there was no such report for June 30, 2011 supplied to City Council and therefore none available in the City Clerk office for any of us to view.
    And last year’s numbers do not appear as numbers in this year’s monthly reports showing last year expenditures in a given month or year-to-date to see about variances not only from this budget but also from last year.
    Doesn’t that bother you? You aren’t getting the most basic information, mandated for the City to make public every month. The City Council does not recognize their lack of info and the deficiency of the City to them as watchdogs, either. For instance, because of our unusual weather pattern this winter, expenditures for public facilities on sand, salt and overtime for plowing crews should be way down, understandably. But how would you confirm that by the numbers compared to a previous year? You can’t, but other towns and cities can.
    Why don’t we attempt to get to ‘better practices’ as ‘best practices’ of other communities may be too big a stretch for us at this time? ACCOUNTABILITY should come before more power, Mr. Mayor. Time will tell.

  17. The takeover statute was designed for a situation where the Board of Education repeatedly failed to take the necessary actions. It assumed an adversarial relationship between and state (which was advocating changes) and the local board of education. It also anticipated open, public process, not the collusive coup staged by Dan Malloy and Bill Finch.


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