Board of Education Chairman John Weldon writes in response to Ben Walker’s resignation that “he became upset by a change of the rules, threw a temper tantrum, picked up his marbles and went home.” Commentary from Weldon:
Ben Walker was elected to the Bridgeport Board of Education in 2015. Recently, he resigned his seat and has since cited his reason being that my Chairmanship of the Board, and a recent change to the Board’s bylaws, made it completely intolerable for him to finish out the remaining eight months of his term. He conveniently neglects to acknowledge that, from the City Attorney’s office, to outside District Counsel, attorney after attorney strongly expressed the need to not simply revise, but to REPLACE the bylaws of the Board that were in place until recently. Each law firm provided us with model bylaws to use and enact. Irrespectively, time and time again we were unable to move forward in that regard due to the resistance of a minority bloc of the Board (which included Mr. Walker) who feared changing them at all cost.
Throughout my own tenure on the Board, and others before me, much of the good that we’ve tried to do has been hampered by board policies that were far out of the norm–many put in place to give certain minority-bloc board members (including Mr. Walker) an ability to micro-manage the District. The status-quo of that continued to allow certain board members to manipulate and abuse District staff and Board processes. We were constantly burdened by those board members adding multiple items to meeting agendas, often with little to no background information provided and with no positive motive behind it, or to simply give those individuals a platform to use to grandstand on a particular topic of their choosing. This is what has caused us to notoriously endure meetings lasting to as late as midnight where, in the end, little (if anything) was accomplished. As Chairman, I was regularly blocked from assuring the Board was protected by having the benefit of legal counsel being available at meetings for critical issues with legal implications, which often meant that board members with certain personal agendas were able to pursue ulterior motives unabated by facts and legal reviews.
The “dysfunction” that is frequently assigned to the Bridgeport BOE has rested in large part with those bylaws which created a free-for-all environment where individual board members could hijack meetings with whatever topics they chose because the bylaws gave the Chairman no authority to decline them if they served no legitimate purpose to benefit the District. Here are just a few examples, taken from the 11/13/17 Agenda, which had 25 such agenda items under “New Business” (yes, 27):
— Where are we with teaching and learning and what are we asking our teachers to teach
— What do the reading, writing and math scores look like
— Why is Kennedy Stadium not supplied with a real scoring board for games
— How many students are being seen by guidance counselors on a daily basis
This is just a sample of what regularly plagued our agendas for years.
To be clear, the changes to these policies which were made in February were standard boilerplate ones which are considered normal by any other Board, whether it is in the public or private sector. Chairs are elected for the purpose of managing work of their Board by making sure they only address items which are impactful–not items that are an idle curiosity to one board member that could be answered with a phone call, and not items that are designed to push an individual board member’s personal agenda against other board members, staff or other officials. Democratic process doesn’t mean conducting ourselves spastically, which is how the BOE has operated for years. Rather, it means all have a voice but, in the end, the majority rules and business is conducted in an orderly, efficient and focused fashion.
The acts of dysfunctional board members, which Mr. Walker has consistently supported over the years, would have continued to wreak havoc unless our bylaws were replaced. None of these individuals’ antics have improved the educational opportunities for Bridgeport’s children. Our own attorneys have repeatedly scolded us for not addressing the inadequacies of our own bylaw policy series. Fixing that was not about politics, nor was it a power play. It was about the students who can now benefit from a more productive board being focused on the work it should really be doing, instead of spinning its wheels addressing matters of trivial importance.
For Mr. Walker to state that his reason for resigning (just eight months shy of the end of his four-year term) was because (in his own words) he “saw his rights to be a participant in the democratic process dwindle to the point where he felt ineffective in executing his duty as a board member” and to further assert that it was all a result of me leading a change in the bylaw policy series is simplistic and childish. Ben Walker resigned because the writing was on the wall that the lunacy that has plagued the BOE (and that he has been a part and parcel to by supporting those who have fought to perpetuate that lunacy) is coming to an end. In short, he became upset by a change of the rules, threw a temper tantrum, picked up his marbles and went home. If it were really “all about the children” for Mr. Walker (as he so often goes out of his way to tell us), he would have put his personal feelings aside and tried to find a way to work within newly established policy that was approved by a majority of his peers and designed to make the Board work better.
Make no mistake, as a retired teacher, Mr. Walker brought great insight to the Board and his loss will be felt in the Teaching & Learning Committee that he chaired for the past few years. It is unfortunate he chose to put his own ego ahead of the work he was doing for our children and that he further chooses to blame his decision to quit that work on myself and the actions of a Board majority that he wasn’t a part of, instead of acknowledging the role his own inability to cope with adversity and change played in his decision. I do not say that sarcastically. I appreciate the frustration of being in a minority and I know that change is hard. However, frustration and difficulty with change should not have meant walking out on the people who elected him in 2015 and the students and staff he took an oath to serve. Nonetheless, agree with it or not, it was his choice to make and I wish him well in his future pursuits.