Foster To State: Do The Right Thing For Schools

In her latest news release Democratic mayoral candidate Mary-Jane Foster urges the state to bring in a special master, as it has authorized for the town of Windham, to oversee city schools. Many community activists are unhappy that the state, at the request of local education leaders and Mayor Bill Finch, has blowtorched the Bridgeport Board of Education (undoing an election) in favor of a new controlling board. From Foster:

Foster: Special Master to Fix Schools Protects Voters’ Rights and Triggers Funding “It’s Not Too Late To Do the Right Thing”

Bridgeport businesswoman and social action advocate Mary-Jane Foster, who is running for mayor, today issued letters to the Bridgeport delegation and the leadership of the Connecticut General Assembly calling for the creation a Special Master to oversee education reform in Bridgeport. Such action would not only trigger funding that could help alleviate some of the local education budget woes but also would allow the State to avoid subverting the will of the electorate by not overturning the elected Board of Education.

“It is not too late to reverse course and do the right thing by our children, their parents, and our taxpayers,” stated Foster. “The reconstitution of the Bridgeport Board of Education is the first case of its kind in Connecticut, triggered by an untested law that was passed just last year. Besides ousting three vocal members of the Board who had the audacity to ask probing questions and pursue straightforward answers, we have yet to hear anyone explain what the benefit will be and what the end goal is.

The people of this city deserve answers. They deserve a transparent process. They deserve better, period. For those who say, ‘It doesn’t matter how we got here, just so long as reform is enacted,’ I disagree.”

Public response to Foster’s radio ad featuring Mayor Finch’s insulting testimony before the State Board of Education has been overwhelming. Throughout his testimony Mayor Finch remarks that Bridgeporters do not vote, characterizes Bridgeporters as having criminal backgrounds and not being citizens, and he states “I don’t see it as a great loss for a few years to lose the electoral process … democracy doesn’t work … it doesn’t work in all cases.” The ad may be heard on WICC, STAR99, and WDJZ.

The text of Foster’s letter follows:

July 19, 2011

The Honorable Donald E. Williams, Jr.
President Pro Tempore
Room 3300
Legislative Office Building
Hartford, CT 06106-1591

The Honorable Christopher Donovan
Speaker of the House
Room 4100
Legislative Office Building
Hartford, CT 06106-1591

Dear Speaker Donovan and President Pro Tempore Williams:

I am writing to ask that you call a special session to establish a Special Master to oversee the Bridgeport school system. In addition, Bridgeport needs a one-time funding allocation to its school budget, to prevent massive layoffs of teachers and paraprofessionals that are likely to occur without intervention from the State of Connecticut.

I oppose the process undertaken by our mayor, superintendent, and the six-person majority of the Board of Education to relinquish their responsibilities to the children of Bridgeport and abdicate their elected positions. This situation can and should be corrected. I sent a letter to Commissioner of Education George Coleman on July 9, in which I requested that he stop the process and utilize Public Act 10-11, section 21, subsection (d, 1), which would compel the State to go to the General Assembly and obtain legislation providing Bridgeport a Special Master and allocating desperately needed funds. I am now urging that the leadership of the General Assembly, assisted by our Bridgeport delegation, take these responsible actions.

Recently the City of Windham received a Special Master and two million dollars from the State to take over the Windham school district, which serves 3,675 school children. If we use the same dollars to student ratio, a proportional formula for Bridgeport, which serves 22,000 school children it, would result in Bridgeport receiving approximately 12 million dollars.

I respectfully request that immediate action be taken due to the lack of fairness and irreparable harm to our electoral process. Elected officials have a constitutional right to serve out their term unless there are set recall provisions. To essentially overturn elections subverts our democratic process and calls into question the constitutionality of the relevant sections of Public Act 10-111.

I ask you to review this matter with your attorneys and seek a declarative ruling from the Attorney General to review the constitutionality of taking over the Board of Education, cutting the elected term of the members short and disenfranchising the voters.

At a minimum, there are three areas to review.

1.The State Board of Education did not follow the procedures outlined in the statute requiring that the local Board of Education members receive educational training prior to any reconstitution by the State.

2.The statute may violate Connecticut’s Home Rule, article 10 of the Connecticut Constitution, which prevents the legislature from making any laws that effect the terms of office for elected officials.

3. In terms of federal violations of our Constitution, I would ask that you review the rights of elective representatives to finish their terms and the Board of Education members’ right of free speech. The overwhelming majority of the 4 hours of testimony illustrate that the purpose of the takeover was not the legitimate purpose of the statute, but rather a retaliation for the oppositional opinions of the minority of the Board, otherwise known as the legislative process.

I recognize that the State is in the midst of an economic crisis and severe financial difficulties. However, the treatment of the education of our children should be fair and equal. There are many cities that are failing based on the No Child Left Behind test scores and those boards are not being reconstituted. Further, cities such as Windham received a Special Master and additional funds. A reorganization without additional funds would have little or minimum impact on test scores.

On behalf of the children of Bridgeport, I’m asking you to prioritize their future and treat them equally. The General Assembly should emulate the Windham model and appoint a Special Master, thereby avoiding the arguably unconstitutional subversion of the will of the electorate of Bridgeport. Such action would relieve the State from having to defend both the failure to adhere to the statute’s requirements to educate our Board of Education before acting, as well as a potentially unconstitutional statute.

It is not too late to change course. I urge our Bridgeport delegation and legislative leadership to work together to prevent the implementation of a behind the scenes process, orchestrated by a few to steamroll the many. For the sake of our children, the electorate of Bridgeport, and the Democratic process, please, reconsider this issue and the rights of the people.


Mary-Jane Foster

cc: all members of the Bridgeport State Delegation

cc: all members of the Connecticut General Assembly



  1. To take it a step further, Stafstrom is behind all of this and he is bailing out his buddies Finch and Bellinger; and Malloy and Stafstrom are close.

  2. C1,
    I am a bit confused by your recitation of players and roles. First I guess you are telling us Ben Barnes had a major hand in setting up the CT law, and the local dynamics just so he could get some type of revenge? Why, is he out for payback? Did he have hidden things the three were seeking? What, and where should we be looking today?

    In the session I attended, as well as in reported remarks, Coleman appeared to me to be enjoying his ability to be helpful to Bridgeport, to use his professional expertise and time, rather than for the face time he is getting in the papers. If he wanted more attention, wouldn’t he have made known his willingness to go from Acting to Actual Commissioner at some time in the recent past? He appears to have sufficient self-esteem not to need the ‘public steam’ many politicians require to keep their balloons aloft.

    Finally, I really don’t know who is buddy-buddy in the City and State. Do you? For real, or is it just speculating with your tea leaves? Where is Mario in all of this? Can anyone really bail out Bill? You think?

    Bill spent so much time in Hartford this year on property tax matters, on Pension Plan A begging expeditions, and on Board of Ed delivery planning, as well as the Trumbull land swap, I truly wonder what those at the Capitol think of him and our City.

    Janus was the two-headed dog known to Roman households for its ability to look to the future and to the past. Bill is our two-headed bow-wow who talks one story in Hartford (poor Bridgeport) and lives a different one in Bridgeport (rich administrative staff … notice we see word about 200 layoffs during Finch tenure, but never backup data … and then we hear about new people added regularly to City payroll as well as promotions to high-paying jobs such as putting up notices on City bulletin boards). Must be embarrassing for a leader to rarely have a listener understand which orifice is talking to you. Grounds for serious misunderstanding …

    1. Barnes went on the record after the takeover saying he can attest to the dysfunction on the board. He apparently was not accustomed to being questioned and there is no love lost between him and the three dissident members. They raked him over the coals over Bodine. I don’t know if he played any role in the takeover, but I have to believe he was an advocate for Finch and Bellinger when the issue was raised. As for the relationships, Stafstrom put Bellinger on the Board and made her president. Stafstrom and Dennis Murphy are also personal friends with Malloy and worked tirelessly to get him elected. These relationships should all be taken into consideration given the secrecy shrouding the planning of the takeover and how quickly it was thereafter approved by the state.

  3. I attended many board meetings and Barnes was grilled, and rightly so, by the three members. Barnes wanted to sell the BOE down the Bodine river and drop that $10 mil disaster on the BOE for reasons unknown. They wouldn’t be on his Xmas card list. No speculation here about buddies, known facts. If you are interested in your city and who your hard-earned tax dollars go to, you ask the proper questions, and being a single dad with two kids in school here, I try to be as involved as possible.

  4. I love this site. I hate to sound like a broken record but you should write a letter to Malloy to stop the $900 million for the Road to Nowhere project and the $800 million facelift to the UConn Health Center, that place seems to bleed the Connecticut taxpayer white every year since its beginning. Use some of this money to keep the ball going forward with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards for the kids of Bridgeport and the rest of the state. Clean up this Education mess statewide. These “Special Masters” or “Special Reformers” do nothing or next to nothing in the way of real or substantial reform.

    I wish you Good Luck.


  5. BEACON2,
    Janus was the Roman god of gates and doorways. A man god, not a two-headed dog. Other than that another spectacular contribution to OIB.

  6. Mary-Jane if you want real and substantial reform you better call for a Super-Duper Grand Special Master because the Special Master that is going to Windham only accomplished this after being the Hartford Superintendent of Schools for five years.

    10th grade CAPT scores
    11% at Goal level in Reading
    14% at Goal level in Science
    17% at goal level in Mathematics
    31% at goal level in Writing
    one out of every two students quitting for a 50-something % graduation rate.

    I wish you the Best of Luck


  7. Leaders do the Right Thing and Managers do Things Right! Foster will do the right things and surround herself with managers who will do things right. I am continually hearing nightmare stories of the Finch administration telling people to do the wrong things when the city professionals tell them it is wrong. Bill thinks two wrongs make a right. $600.00 tax credit equals NSF (Non-Sufficient Finch)!


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