School board members Maria Pereira and Ben Walker charge that “These five school board members, with Superintendent Johnson’s support, didn’t cancel the Community Conversations because it was what was best for parents, staff and the community; they canceled them because they are good “soldiers” and did the bidding of Mayor Ganim and a large faction of the City Council.”
A reason cited for the cancellation of the forums was the bashing of some public officials rather than intended informational hearings regarding school board finances. Revealing in the Pereira/Walker commentary that follows is criticism of popular Superintendent of Schools Aresta Johnson that represents a break from their past praise for the school leader.
From Pereira and Walker:
As Bridgeport Board of Education (BOE) Members, we believe our role is to provide you with valuable information regarding the financial crisis facing our true public schools. We also believe it is your absolute right to advocate for your children, grandchildren, and students by meeting with those elected officials who make critical decisions that will impact your childrens’ and students’ lives today, tomorrow, and in the days to come.
As the longest serving school board member, Maria Pereira was sharing the following information at our Community Conversations:
In the last three years the Bridgeport Board of Education has requested $40 million dollars from both Mayor Ganim and the twenty City Council Members. We have only received $1.6 million, which equates to just 4%. The failure of Mayor Ganim to keep his campaign promise to fund our schools has caused us to make over $38 million in devastating staffing and program cuts in a school system which was already severely underfunded. In fact, out of 169 municipalities in CT, no municipality contributes LESS to its public schools than Bridgeport with only 26% of our funds coming from our city and 76% coming from the state.
We requested $16 million for 2016/2017 from Mayor Ganim. He proposed a budget with a zero increase and all 20 City Council members approved Ganim’s budget.
We requested $11.2 million for 2017/2018 from Mayor Ganim. He proposed a budget with a zero increase and the City Council members appropriated $387,000. That is less than $19 additional per student.
We requested $13 million for 2018/2019 from Mayor Ganim. He proposed a budget with a zero increase and the seventeen members of the City Council members appropriated $1.2 million. Only three City Council Members stood up for our over 20,000 students by voting no on the budget. Thank you, Pete Spain, Kyle Langan and Eneida Martinez.
We hope you agree that providing factual information about the voting record of Mayor Ganim and our twenty City Council members, as it relates to the funding of our Bridgeport Public Schools, is valuable information for parents, grandparents, and staff to have, especially when Mayor Ganim and our City Council Members are all up for re-election this year.
And here is where the problem began. Mayor Ganim and the majority of the City Council were angry that their factual record on funding our schools was being shared at our Community Conversations where hundreds were attending, listening, and learning. How dare we educate our community on their record, but especially in an election year!
On February 4, Chair John Weldon called a special meeting with only 26 hours’ notice to. His purpose was to take a vote to cancel the remaining Community Conversations that were drawing hundreds of attendees. The pretense for this decision to cancel our incredibly successful forums was that Mayor Ganim, the City Council and Superintendent Johnson were being “bashed” at these forums. If stating an elected officials voting record is considered “bashing,” then they probably shouldn’t be elected officials.
Board Member Pereira was the only person in the meeting who had attended all four community conversations, therefore she asked Superintendent Johnson to give an example of the “bashing” that had occurred. Superintendent Johnson was doing everything in her power to avoid answering the question when Chair Weldon, Vice-chair Jessica Martinez, Hernan Illingworth, Chris Taylor and Sybil Allen quickly moved to call the vote in which they all voted to cancel all further Community Conversations.
Please do not be fooled. These five school board members, with Superintendent Johnson’s support, didn’t cancel the Community Conversations because it was what was best for parents, staff and the community; they canceled them because they are good “soldiers” and did the bidding of Mayor Ganim and a large faction of the City Council.
You should know that after they were canceled; four of the five city council members who actually attended a Community Conversation wrote to the Board and Superintendent Johnson urging they be reinstated. They found them to be important, valuable, and enjoyed meeting with their constituents.
There was a grassroots movement of outrage on social media, Make the Road CT organized a rally denouncing the cancellation of the Community Conversations, Generation Now organized an email drive encouraging their members to email the five members who canceled the forums, Channel 12 News covered it, and more.
Although every public speaker at our February 11th regular meeting denounced the cancellation of the forums and urged the Board to reinstate them, Chair Weldon, Vice-chair Jessica Martinez, Senator Dennis Bradley and Chris Taylor voted no on so much as even discussing the matter.
Whether it be Mayor Ganim, City Council President Aidee Nieves, Bridgeport Board of Education Chair Weldon or any another elected official; when those you elect to represent you refuse to educate you, listen to you, meet with you, or communicate with you because it is solely in their best interest, not yours; hold them accountable at the polls on election day. You deserve elected representatives who will respect the notion of “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”