Battle Lines Over The Board Of Education: Elected Or Appointed?

City electors will be loaded with voting opportunities in the coming months: primaries for several state and federal legislative seats on Aug. 14, a special election for four open Board of Education seats September 4,  followed by the general election in a presidential cycle Nov. 6. Several charter revision questions are expected to be presented to voters that day for a thumbs up or down, including a question centering on an appointed or elected Board of Education. The City Council’s Ordinance Committee conducted a public hearing on the subject Wednesday evening.

Several community interests spoke against a mayoral-appointed board arguing it would strip accountability for their actions. Among the speakers in opposition were Mary Pat Healy, executive director of the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition and retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez who has taken the city to task on several issues the past few years including state control of the Board of Education that the Connecticut Supreme Court invalidated for a special election. Healy’s father Hugh Curran served as mayor of Bridgeport from 1965 to 1971.

Maria Zambrano
Maria Zambrano, Excel Bridgeport.

One voice in support of an appointed board is Maria Zambrano, executive director of Excel Bridgeport, the education advocacy organization working to “Ensure all children in Bridgeport have an opportunity to attain a world-class education that prepares them for college, career, and life.” Zambrano, a product of city schools, has a master’s degree in education policy and management from Harvard University.

Mayor Bill Finch argues if you’re going to hold me accountable for city schools give me the power to improve them through appointment of school board members.

Zambrano is no stranger to advocacy issues. She was a key activist a few years ago in city voters approving a referendum supporting one extra mil to fund library services.

Charter questions are not easy to pass. It’s much easier for the opposition to urge voters to just vote no. A major education process must take place to persuade voters to give the mayor more power. Part of that persuasion may be highlighting successes that have taken place in the year since the elected Board of Education, by a 6-3 vote, asked the state to take control. In fact a lot of maneuvering took place in and around the Fourth of July weekend last year.

Excel Bridgeport recently celebrated its first anniversary as an organization with Zambrano issuing a message in an eblast to supporters:

Excel Bridgeport recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. It’s been our honor to work with all of you over the past year. What a year it has been!

Last June, we faced a dire reality in Bridgeport. Our school board was engaged in a difficult and emotionally draining budget approval process. The district faced a $19 million deficit. Hundreds of school staff members (including teachers and guidance counselors) faced layoffs. Even beloved programs like high school sports and the Talented and Gifted program were threatened with cuts.

Today the reality is completely different. In December, the state-appointed Board of Education hired a national education reformer, Paul Vallas, to lead the Bridgeport Public Schools. Since then, Supt. Vallas has succeeded in closing the deficit and setting forth an ambitious 5-year district-wide reform plan.

He has already begun to deliver on some aspects of that plan including a groundbreaking partnership with local colleges and universities to provide Bridgeport high schoolers with access to college courses and experiences.

I am inspired by the progress made in our school district over the last year and I am excited for what the next year will bring. I urge you to continue to stay engaged with Excel Bridgeport through the summer months and through the next year. Our movement is growing stronger every day because you are a part of it.


Battle lines have been drawn over the school board issue. Supporters for an appointed board–assuming the City Council votes to place the question on the ballot–must organize an effective outreach campaign to persuade voters to fill in the Yes oval.



  1. An appointed school board is just one more way of keeping members of the Democratic party in line. It’s not about the kids (never has been!)–it’s all about rewarding party faithful!

  2. I have always thought those proposing to revise the City Charter have the burden of, at a minimum, showing: (1) the change is needed; and (2) the change will be an improvement over the existing charter. The proponents of the proposed charter revision have failed to prove either of those things is true. The Council should reject the proposed changes.

    1. Phil,
      As the “dean” of Charter commentators on OIB it is good to be reminded of the minimums necessary to be met when it comes to Charter revisions.

      Obviously Mayor Finch set a lower minimum. His need for change rather than the community is what pushed this activity over the past six months. His need for control of the change caused him to “appoint” a group of people who for the most part were not active in BOE issues (or attending Council or Committee meetings) in recent years and therefore were relatively unaware of how the governance machinery had been failing. And he ignored people who had volunteered who might have had ideas other than the one he was advancing. Finally, he stressed his accountability and if you are married to an attorney who receives hundreds of thousands from the City, or are one of the Mayor’s own cabinet, or temperamentally like short meetings and rapid votes with limited public input, then it is no surprise THERE WAS NO WITNESS OR DOCUMENTATION THE MAYOR IS INDEED ACCOUNTABLE AS A LEADER!!! That is a big problem to me when I continue to raise Charter issues like authorized annual meetings that are ignored, and financial reports due from the Mayor to the Council and public that are neither regularly monthly (even in 2012) and have not provided a June closing month report in two decades. Accountability? Not.

      And the evidence for elected versus appointed Boards of Ed seem mixed at best. The only thing not in question was the kids in Bridgeport were not being served up until one year ago despite expense of over $300 Million annually. Part of that service was the broad distrust of parties in that process with each other. The administration did not trust what was going on he has publicly declared. Board members did not trust reports from educational administrators, and the public did not trust whatever fiscal numbers escaped from that system. To me it is obvious OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT process and governance was and is called for. And with facts and sufficient information the dialogue, given time and opportunity, can bring more respect and understanding overall. We are not there yet, and there is a good deal of comment and consternation about Bridgeport BOE history, court action, etc. but I have observed more sharing of information about educational structure and broad financial planning than ever in recent years. That gives me hope and expectations for the delivery of a system that will be OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT. The Charter Review process may call for quarterly financial meetings and a faster date for monthly reports to show up on the Council person desks, but what if these are ignored as the Charter is now? Are their consequences? Who is accountable if the Mayor is not? And the Council, as a whole, cannot find an independent voice when challenged? And there’s the rub, isn’t it? Time will tell.

      1. Too wordy, for crying out loud. You have an important point to make. Write it such a way it can be comprehended by the masses, not just the pedantic putzes you hang with.

  3. Phooey, yahooy!
    Don’t like it, don’t read it!
    If you are the voice of the masses, use it to free them. Do something other than attempt to edit someone else.
    If you are the voice of the _asses, feel free to carry on.
    Bravo on using alliteration where you projected your persona by using ‘pedantic putzes.’ Don’t trip over your own … words.
    Time will tell.

    1. You really are a pedantic asshole. ‘Time will tell.’??? Who has the time to read all of the wasted rhetoric you spew forth? Not the people who matter. I find it frustrating to support what you say but deplore the manner in which you say it.

      A message lost is a message of waste. (yahooy 2012)

  4. Maria Zambrano would of course support an appointed BOE. She is paid to by Steve Mandel, the same guy who funds Meghan Lowney–who ran the BPSS–who conspired to bring about the state takeover. BPSS became so toxic they had to change their name to Excel Bridgeport. Her anniversary valentine quoted above is the same doublespeak crap that crowd–which now includes Vallas and the illegally constituted board–have been dishing out since the takeover. Didn’t fly then and it doesn’t now. You’d think by now they’d all be embarrassed for themselves …

  5. *** Elected or Mayor appointed, in Bpt what’s the difference? I prefer State appointed for a couple of years to see where that takes the school system in general, couldn’t be worse than what the city’s been used to, no? *** It’s not an overnight quick fix! ***

  6. Can we count on Malloy to pick the right people or is Malloy a pawn of Stafstrom, Testa, Timpanelli et al.?

    In my opinion there are two vital matters that, if done correctly, will greatly improve the prosperity, prospects, prominence and promise of this once great City of Bridgeport. They are, first and foremost, a SteelPointe that will attract 10s of thousands of people to a place of elegance and an effective educational system that will ensure a steady flow of a skilled and educated workforce that will be available when commerce returns in abundance.

    The self-interested few in this town seemingly in control of our very lives must be FORCED to do what is best.

    First fix? Get people involved, mad and ready to vote.

    Just how do we do that?


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