Mayor Bill Finch is seeking legislative support to retroactively blunt the Connecticut Supreme Court reversal of the state takeover of city schools. Can the clock be turned back? A report from the Hartford Courant:
General Assembly leaders met Thursday afternoon to discuss the Supreme Court’s rejection of the state takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education but declined to comment in detail afterward.
Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the group evaluated a variety of options on how to deal with the situation in Bridgeport but did not reach any conclusions.
Others in the meeting included Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian; Malloy’s top legal counsel, Andrew MacDonald; and House Speaker Chris Donovan.
Donovan said the meeting had been called by the governor’s office as an informational session, and that the governor had not made any recommendation.
On Wednesday Williams said that Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s request for help to undo the impact of a ruling that the mayor feels would disrupt education in the city is a “reasonable request.”
But at least one lawmaker, Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the Education Committee, has said he opposes the effort.
“I think it would be best if we accept the ruling of the Supreme Court and figure out how to respect that ruling while keeping school reform moving ahead in Bridgeport,” Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said Wednesday. In this situation, he said, “I’d be uncomfortable with legislation that sought to invalidate a Supreme Court ruling.”
Other legislative leaders stopped short of saying they would support the specific proposed legislative remedy that is tucked into Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education bill but said they would consider it and possibly other options.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the takeover was illegal because the state failed to require the board members to undergo training before it moved in to replace the board.
The court rejected the state’s arguments that the takeover complied with the law because a majority of Bridgeport’s elected board waived the training requirement when it voted 6-3 in July to dissolve itself and request the takeover.
“I think there is a big difference between a school system that wants to pursue a plan of its own to help turn around low-performing schools,” Williams said, “and a school district that, on the other hand, has tried a number of alternatives and is now asking the state to come in and help.”
In that situation, Williams said, the state shouldn’t have to face “unreasonable technical barriers to getting that help to a city that’s requesting it.”
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said, “We have to look at it from the perspective of what’s best for the children of Bridgeport.”
He said legislators will consider Malloy’s remedy but also could explore other steps.
That training requirement was in place for a good reason, Fleischmann said. “I don’t believe that individuals who are elected to public office should be easily removed,” he continued. “I think it’s a serious step that should be always be taken seriously.”
If Malloy’s proposed legislative fix is passed — a measure that would retroactively undo the training requirement before a takeover — it would probably just prolong the uncertainty in Bridgeport because the plaintiffs likely would return to court, Fleischmann said.
The state has 10 days from the date of Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling to request a reconsideration of any aspect of the ruling, according to Steven Ecker, the attorney for the new school board. The ruling also becomes effective after 10 days. Ecker said that if the legislature is going to act, he thinks they would do so within that period.
The Supreme Court decision compels Bridgeport to reinstate the previous elected board and schedule a special election to replace those members whose terms have expired.
After the state Board of Education’s 5-4 takeover vote in July, the state replaced the the nine elected members of the Bridgeport school board with seven appointed members.
Finch said Wednesday that the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education provided training to Bridgeport’s board. “The Supreme Court ruled on a very technical aspect of the law — whose stationery the training was requested on — and unfortunately our children are going to suffer.”
Finch said the state statute addresses situations where local school boards do not want to be taken over.
“But in this case, our local board embraced it,” Finch said. “We basically raised the white flag and said, ‘We can’t do justice for our kids.'”
Finch said he fears that unless the Supreme Court’s ruling is bypassed in some way, the progress made by the new board and superintendent could be undone.
In recent years, Finch said, Bridgeport’s school have “not been in the doldrums — we’ve been sinking. … Now the sails are full of air and everybody is looking for the horizon. It’s an incredibly exciting time. I don’t think the Supreme Court probably understood that.”