The Politics Of School Board Forums In An Election Year

Can anything become too political in Bridgeport, the city that rarely disappoints in its charges and counter charges? As noted here, the Board of Education yanked a series of neighborhood forums devoted to its fiscal challenges because they became too “political” in an election year.

The mayor, City Council and four school board seats are up this year. A majority of board members agreed that the forums placed a heavy emphasis on personalities over pennies.

Some community groups such as Bridgeport Generation Now are weighing in.

Board members John Weldon, Jessica Martinez, Sybil Allen, Hernan Illingworth and Chris Taylor voted to quell the forums. Maria Pereira and Ben Walker who often join in a minority bloc voted to maintain the forums. They are among the four up for reelection. Dennis Bradley and Sybil Allen round out the others.

The board decision came Tuesday night cancelling a forum scheduled for Wednesday at Marin School on the East Side.

The cash-strapped school system is gearing up for another budget process to woo full funding on behalf of its approximately 20,000 students. While the school board approves a spending plan the money it receives is ultimately decided by the mayor and City Council based largely on the dollars received from the state.

Mayor Joe Ganim will submit his proposed budget to the council the first week of April. From there it is referred to the Budget and Appropriations Committee where most of the budget alterations are fashioned. Public hearings will be scheduled along the way to hear from various constituencies about spending priorities prior to a budget vote in May.

Ganim and the City Council will not raise taxes in an election year. So the larger question from pro-education funders becomes how much were schools shortchanged in the cause of flatlining taxes?

On the campaign trail last year Governor Ned Lamont pledged to beef up state education support to city schools. He will submit his first budget proposal to the state legislature by February 20. Then the legislative swirl begins to parcel out municipal and education funding. What happens in the State Capitol dramatically impacts Bridgeport’s budget.

Meanwhile, this is an election year so welcome to the political party, pal.

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10 comments

  1. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome.

    For years we have packed the City Council Chambers during the City Council B & A public hearings and Mayor after Mayor and City Council after City Council have failed to fund our schools.

    During Dr. Johnson’s evaluation we discussed successfully advocating for additional resources.

    I proposed going out to the community and holding forums in each of the 10 City Council Districts and inviting the respective City Council members to the forums along with students, parents and staff.

    The principals would discuss all the cuts that their school has experienced and how that impacted their students, parents and staff.

    The Board voted unanimously to include this as one of Dr. Johnson’s three goals for this school year and this upcoming evaluation.

    I am the only school board member that attended all four forums that were held.

    The first one was sparsely attended so we regrouped and strategized on how to fix it.

    The next three were held in the 138th, 136th and the 130th District. Hundreds of students, parents and staff attended each one.

    These weren’t canceled because they weren’t effective. John Weldon, Jessica Martinez, Hernan Illingworth, Christopher Taylor and Sybll Allen voted to cancel them because they were absolutely effective.

    Principals, staff and students made presentations on how the budget cuts impacted their school and students.

    Each school got to put on a skit or song to showcase their talents or what they were learning.

    I got up at two of the forums and explained on a platform in 2015 that if he was elected he would fully fund our schools. I explained that in 2016/2017 we requested $16,000,000, in 2017/2018 we requested $11,000,000, and in 2018/2019 we requested $13,000,000 and Mayor Ganim proposed a ZERO increase all three years.

    At the 138th District forum I announced that Nessah Smith and Karen Jackson had both confirmed their attendance, and after checking with the Principal first, I announced that Nessah Smith was a “no show” and Karen Jackson arrived as I was speaking, therefore I announced she was late, but she is here.

    These forums were canceled to protect Mayor Ganim and City Council members upset that they were being exposed for their very own voting record on funding our schools. Period.

    Why was a Special Meeting called on a Tuesday night to cancel the forums? Because the very next night was the Luis Marin forum in the 137th Distriict where City Council President and Achievement Fitst Charter School employee, Aidee Nieves and city employee, Maria Valle serve as their representatives on the City Council.

    This was purely political.

    I have already mobilized volunteers and we will start visiting school in the six City Council Districts remaining with fliers featuring Mayor Ganim, both City Council members and these six BOE members voting record on funding our schools.

    My position is making your public record on how you voted on funding our schools makes you nervous or worried, start voting the right way.

    No one will get in my way.

      1. Thank you, Peter.

        I honestly appreciate that. My offer to meet for coffee still stands. My treat!

        I do want to note that I am thrilled that the community is so upset that these “Community Conversations” were canceled.

        I have seen posts all over Facebook denouncing the move to cancel them.

        I was so pleased to see Make the Road held a rally in front of Luis Marin School denouncing the discontinuation of these forums which was broadcast on Channel 12 News. I was informed they are also mobilizing their parents to take action.

        Someone sent me a link to a post by Generation Now with a link to John Weldon’s, Jessica Martinez’, Hernan Illingworth’s, Christopher Taylor’s and Sybll Allen’s email addresses encouraging their members to email them to demand the forums be reinstated.

        This is truly a grassroots and authentic effort led by parents and members in our community which is so inspiring.

        We have our Regular Meeting this Monday, February 11, 2019 at Aquaculture School at 6:30 PM. I hope parents, teachers, students, community members and VOTERS will attend and sign-up to speak for two-minutes.

    1. I would like to thank Maria Valle for calling me regarding the Community Conversation that was cancelled at Luis Marin School in the 137th District.

      As one of the two City Council representatives for this district, she assured me she had absolutely nothing to do with the cancellation, was looking forward to attending and had invited parents and community members to attend. She did not know it was canceled until she read about it the very morning the Community Conversation was to be held in her district although she had confirmed her attendance. She assured me she was not even consulted on the cancellation.

      I felt she was authentic and sincere and I honestly believe her. I would also like to thank Pete Spain for posting his views about the cancellation of the Community Conversations scheduled for the rest of the City. Pete Spain, Christina Smith, Maria Zambrano and Kyle Langan attended their forums and I would be surprised if any of them would say they felt “bashed” I think they would honestly say they were treated respectively and found the forums informative and helpful.

  2. IMHO, an elected BOE has advantages as it reflects the priorities of the “community.” Let’s admit it. there is dysfunction in the BOE. There may be various reasons and I don’t want to get into this and that and this person and that person. How can the BOE be “fixed?” IMHO, the ONLY way is to break the TestaGanim dominance of Bridgeport Governance.

  3. Frank,

    It’s funny. Someone was speaking with me about the Board’s dysfunction. This person said there are some members who you can clearly see care about the work and really care about the students, and then there are those that are just “ghetto” and “absurd.” I explained that when Chris Taylor is absent from meetings they usually go smoothly.

    I said, ” who do you think are the members that are in it for the right reason?” He immediately stated Ben and myself. He then moved onto Joseph and Hernan, but mentioned some issues relevant to him.

    I then asked “who do you think is in it for the wrong reasons?” Without any hesitation he said “Chris Talor is a thug.” He referenced Dennis Bradley briefly but said he is non-existent and will be out the door soon. He said “Sybll Allen is nice but appears so disengaged and disinterested.” Then he moved to Jessica and stated she was “ghetto.” He said John Weldon was amiable but lacked any ability to lead.

    This individual wasn’t angry or hostile, they were as even and calm as could be. They just spoke from their personal perspective from attending our meetings.

    I do think Jessica cares about our children, but I couldn’t argue with much else he/she said.

  4. Whenever a political decision is made to reduce opportunities for citizen dialogue on issues directly affecting them, e.g. on issues affecting any area of public administration (schools) and possible effects on rates of taxation, citizens must perceive that as political effrontery — really, political assault — and react accordingly…

    All Bridgeport citizens should really be pissed off at the decision of BOE members John Weldon, Jessica Martinez, Sybil Allen, Hernan Illingworth and Chris Taylor and should look for reconsideration from them in this regard and vote against them when they are up for re-election in any event… Bad actors — all of them — to seek to stifle citizen input in a democracy… And the City Council should be making noise on behalf of their constituents in this regard, AS SHOULD THE MAYOR, or else be considered complicit in this disrespectful, anti-democratic assault on the voters/residents of Bridgeport…

    SHAME!!! — on City Hall/City Council/BOE ( John Weldon, Jessica Martinez, Sybil Allen, Hernan Illingworth and Chris Taylor)…

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