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Will Legislators Rally To Finch’s Request?

March 1st, 2012 · 14 Comments · Education, News and Events

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.”

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • Chosen 1

    The lengths some people will go to get a hold of the BOE bucks and the Admin jobs; my, my, my.

  • Jim Callahan

    Bridgeport-style politics is not viewed positively through the rest of Connecticut.

    How much the Legislature is willing to go along with this will depend on the governor’s persuasion, now that the cat is out of the bag.

    I have some sympathy with the mayor’s position to try–anything–to reform the schools. No matter how “incredibly exciting” he finds this time, the facts are he ran pell-mell, with aforethought, over the way the political game is set up. He cheated.

    We’re getting an area of a possible greater good versus the rules here. The rules involve things like laws, elections, how we govern ourselves–and throwing those rules overboard.

    Most communities find themselves neck-deep in trouble when they do not follow the rules–especially when they willfully do not follow the rules. Bridgeport has some experience in this area, some of you may recollect.

    Sure there are always wiggles in life and government. This is not a little wiggle.

  • Ron Mackey

    This is from our enlightened mayor, “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.” This is from the mayor who wants the residents of Bridgeport to let him run the Board of Education and the education of our children.

  • town committee

    The mayor is lying through his teeth. How many times was Ramos’ contract extended under his watch and with the Party loyalists in charge of the BOE? It was the people the DTC put up and elected who screwed up.
    It’s the Mayor and his administration that has withheld $2.5 million in ECS funds this year, BTW where is that $2.5 Million?
    It kills me to hear politicians talk about education and the kids when anyone with a brain knows when it comes down to it they don’t give a shit. Maybe the Post and other papers in the state should see how many politicians’ kids actually attend public schools. Now I know Finch’s kids go to public school in Bridgeport, how long will they be there after he leaves office?
    Instead of removing duly elected BOE members the mayor should be lobbying the DTC to select qualified people to run for the BOE office. I must be out of my mind. He put the board that’s now in place with no public input. He did the same with charter revision where he bypassed many qualified people to put this rubber stamp in place.

  • town committee

    Well Lennie, I have the answer to your topics question. The entire pack of political whores AKA Bridgeport delegation is meeting with King Malloy Friday morning. They will be expressing their combined desire to pass emergency legislation trying to circumvent the Supreme Court decision.
    Can anyone imagine these whores want to take away our right to vote for people to represent us on the BOE?
    What’s next, will King Malloy declare there will be no elections for the state reps and senators who all serving now will serve forever?
    I for one am used to not having any representation up here in the 138th but now the rest of the city is going to experience the same thing.

  • town committee

    Hey King Malloy, run the state and leave us alone.

  • Chosen 1

    The one person smart enough to put together the whole BOE sell-off is named Stafstrom; Malloy must owe him big.

  • Grin Ripper

    Buy (sic) how many votes did Malloy win his election?
    These guys with their “It’s about the kids” argument are starting to sound like a Jerry Lewis Telethon! It’s ALL about the MONEY!!!

    Vallas seems like good man but he is crying like Maria Callas. Finch’s Snooty Six including Grogins pined over Ramos and gave him everything he wanted.

    We are supposed to be the Constitution State and these guys (Finch and Malloy) are drunk with power and blind with ambition. They want to make us the Magna Charter State.

    BTW–Bill’s kids are at the New Discovery School. Where are yours?

  • johnb

    I can’t believe Gomes or Hennessy would go for this, there must be some heavy threatening going on. Why would Malloy stick his neck out for Finch who supported Lamont? I don’t get it. Finch and his arrogant a**holes think due process is a technicality. Finch says the Supreme Court doesn’t get it, where did Finch and Wood get their law degrees? Oh right … they don’t have one. How the hell does any elected board in any municipality feel safe when the state starts handing out permission to agencies to substitute their judgment in place of the electorate’s will? And to do it without any process whatsoever says to hell with the minority point of view. Do they think Democrats will be in charge forever? I forgot, Finch doesn’t believe in the Constitution, he doesn’t believe in democracy and he believes the ends justify any means; even if it is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. If this so-called “fix” goes through the legislature, Pattis will go right back to Court and then the CT Supreme Court or the Federal Court and they will hand Bpt and the legislature their collective rear ends–again. How corrupt and foolish will they look then? The General Assembly, the education Committee, the judicial committee all need to seriously think about their actions and reputations. The people of Bridgeport need to flood their representatives with calls and emails and tell them they will vote them out if they support any attempted fix to Finch’s stupidity. Teflon eventually flakes off, slick Billy can’t avoid the law forever.

  • harley76

    Help, I’m stuck in a time machine and it’s 1965.

  • Mojo

    *** If the city and state followed the rules to the letter concerning the school system’s takeover, would there be this kind of outcry from the general public? Is it really about local power and politics, benjamins or the kids that’s at stake here; or will this change simply be for naught? Does it really matter whom the Bpt state legislators back on this issue since most will be endorsed by the DTC regardless? *** MACHINE ***

  • countdown

    Voting rights are at stake here. If Bridgeport’s delegation supports this retroactive legislative fix they are telling us our vote is meaningless and the Supreme Court’s ruling is not substantive. Shame on them if they support this manipulation.

  • Phil Smith

    Governor Malloy and Mayor Finch are basing their call for legislation to set aside the Supreme Court decision on a claim the decision rests on legal “technicalities.” That claim is without basis in fact or law.
    Connecticut has a long tradition of placing the responsibility for elementary and secondary education in the hands of local selected Boards of Education, which act as agents of the state in carrying out its responsibility to provide free public schools. In recent years the legislature has provided a procedure under which the state could, in extreme cases, assume control of local schools. As the Supreme Court correctly noted, this represented a significant departure from prior law.
    The procedures to be followed in such cases are clear and specific. Taken as a whole their purpose can be none other than to insure the extreme step of a state takeover is reserved for the most serious cases, those where all other alternatives have been tried and failed. As the Supreme Court pointed out:
    “First, remarks of various representatives coupled with the testimony of (Education Commissioner Mark) McQuillan make clear that reconstitution is an extreme remedy, to be used only sparingly after it becomes apparent that other remedial measures have failed to produce results. Second, the testimony and remarks track the plain language of the statute, which mandates that the state board require a local board of education to undergo and complete training before the state board authorizes reconstitution of the local board. It also appears that certain legislators anticipated that the state board would reassess its initial decision to pursue reconstitution after the local board successfully completes training. In other words, the legislators and McQuillan both appeared to view the proposed statute as a new grant of authority to the state board, but one that was predicated on the state board first requiring the local board to undergo and complete training, as contemplated by (the statute). Third, any time that a legislator expressed concern over the ramifications of allowing the state board to authorize reconstitution of a local board of education, that concern was grounded specifically in the usurpation of local democratic will. In other words, there was a concern that reconstitution, especially one without any procedural check in place, would trample on the rights of the people who had duly and democratically elected their representatives to the local board.”
    The Supreme Court went on to note that:
    “First, requiring training prior to authorizing reconstitution provides notice to a local board of education—and, theoretically, to the electors of that local board—that the state board is considering authorizing reconstitution. Second, and related to the first, the training itself serves a substantive and remedial purpose, by providing the local board of education with an opportunity to prevent its reconstitution by successfully completing training and thereby demonstrating to the state board that it can operate effectively and that the extreme measure of reconstitution is unnecessary. Viewed this way, the training provision is premised on the importance of maintaining the continued local operations of a democratically elected board of education, as well as on providing certain due process protections. Third, and most importantly, the state board does not have the authority to authorize reconstitution until it first requires the local board to undergo and complete training in accordance with (the statute) When viewed together, these principles share a common thread, namely, that the legislature intended that the state board would follow a clear, transparent and deliberate process if it decides to authorize reconstitution of an underperforming local board of education.”
    The court also noted that “such a process would put members of a local board, the local electors of that board and the citizens of this state on notice that the state board is considering reconstitution. Thus, all of these parties would be aware of both the process and time frame in which reconstitution potentially could occur.”
    That is a far cry from what happened in Bridgeport. City and state officials met in secret for months concocting their plan to oust the elected Board of Education. But, they allowed little more than a July 4th weekend between the time the meeting was announced and the vote to ask for state action. That is hardly adequate notice to Board members, voters and parents.

  • Zena Lu

    I don’t proclaim to be a Political Scientist and I am not the most “in the know” as far as governmental issues go, but I am not a total ignoramus when it comes to knowing what a “Supreme Court” decision is supposed to do. Mr. Malloy should stay out of it. But hey what’s a little Fascism among friends if it benefits the children? BUTT OUT, DANNEL. Let the election happen. This is the way of DEMOCRACY, remember?

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