John Marshall Lee, resilient community watchdog, has spent oodles of time attending City Council, Board of Education, Planning & Zoning Commission hearings and more to fill up OIB readers about the city’s decision-making process. He shares in a commentary below observations about Acting Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas’ presentation to close a budget deficit and reposition a challenging school system.
Trying to keep an eye on multiple City issues across a range of areas like educational change, City finances, City Council representation, NRZ activity and currently important Charter Review Commission is a stretch, for certain. So, one by one, I’d like to share some impressions, and get feedback from OIB readership. Lennie, perhaps if you post, someone will comment?
Let’s start with education where six members of the BOE slew the elected Board and delivered its near future into the hands of the State. Legal actions working their way to a decision by the Supreme Court are patiently awaited by the various parties including Bob Walsh, Maria Pereira et al. of the Board who did not vote for termination, and the voting public at large who take exception to the frustration of voter results.
In the meantime, former Superintendent Ramos rode off into the sunset and the new sheriff, Paul Vallas entered the scene with an experienced, energetic, and empowered team of educational management professionals. They have been talking with local, State and Federal ‘players’ as well as private foundation funders. At the same time they have been determinedly drilling down into the foundation and subsoil of our educational establishment processes and practices to understand the conditions that have failed to produce success for thousands of Bridgeport youth, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars expended in the past decade with mostly State money.
OIB has posted info on State education plans with very little comment. What’s up? Last night Paul Vallas addressed the Education and Social Service Committee City Council persons, with more than 50% of the entire Council present, listening, asking questions and getting enthused by what they heard. Vallas pointed to the release of their plan to close the current year budget gap on Monday, February 13. This will be followed closely by a five-year financial plan and a matching educational plan that will count on minimum guaranteed funds from both State and City to create stability for the entire system. He then rolled out a dazzling menu of common sense ‘reforms’ for Bridgeport (that are actually currently practiced in more than one surrounding community though that was not said) and plans for rapidly staging multiple capital plans for schools where money has been made available already rather than waiting for whatever. Partnerships with local universities granting degrees in education for their students to get time in the classroom providing better and continuing instruction time. Partnerships with foundations for special programs that deal with inner city, poor and disadvantaged youth populations are being lined up bringing new non-taxpayer funds to the process. Accountability for results provided by data at all levels with a Vallas guarantee that scores will rise, and educational choices will excite, was shared. Finally students currently leaving the system may stay or return because of other initiatives. Wow!!!
Good questions from many Council members with specific unsatisfactory experiences with our system flowed. They received good answers that further enlightened them. Many were happy to hear the Superintendent highlighting the important role for City Council to play as a CHECK AND BALANCE in the governance process.
It made me wonder what the concept of “checks and balance” means in Bridgeport. What do checks and balance relevant to oversight, reporting, watchdogging, etc. mean to you? Where is it working? Where not? What might you recommend, within or without the education system? The Charter Review committee may be interested to read the gathered wisdom from your readers. Time will tell.
John Marshall Lee