Is Excel Bridgeport The Agent For Educational Change?

As Mayor Bill Finch pitches his new proposed budget and gears up his public outreach campaign to convince city voters they should grant him the power to appoint city school board members, an organization has emerged as a key financial and organizational presence trying to help the mayor reach his goal in November. From Excel Bridgeport’s mission statement:

Excel Bridgeport is building a movement of students, parents, teachers, community members, and policy makers who will work to dramatically improve education for students in Bridgeport’s public schools. The focus is clear. Ensure all children in Bridgeport have an opportunity to attain a world-class education that prepares them for college, career, and life. And work tirelessly until this vision is a reality.

Maria Zambrano, Excel’s executive director and a product of city schools, recently appeared before the city’s Charter Revision Commission citing a litany of examples why the city must have a mayoral appointed school board to improve a dysfunctional school system and provide new opportunities for students. Zambrano, according to Excel’s website, has a BS in political science from Boston University and a master’s degree in education policy and management from Harvard University. Zambrano, in fact, is no stranger to city ballot questions. She led a grassroots campaign a few years ago that persuaded city voters to approve a new dedicated funding source for city libraries, a guaranteed one mil from the city budget representing a sizable spending increase for the financially strapped system.

Most of the political establishment was against the library referendum, saying the city could not afford the extra dough, but now city pols supporting mayoral-appointed school board members have found an ally in Zambrano and the organization she represents. Excel Bridgeport is gearing up for a public education campaign to try to change the way the city selects school board members.

In February the Connecticut Supreme court invalidated the state takeover of schools citing a technicality in state statute that required the elected school board members to undergo training before dissolving in favor of state control. The Supremes ordered a special election that will likely take place this summer for four open school board seats. Meanwhile Mayor Finch, through a Charter Revision Commission he empaneled, wants voters to decide the future of school board members in November. Elected or appointed?

Excel Bridgeport will be a key factor in the message and strategy of the November ballot question in a presidential cycle. This will not be an easy sell of some 40,000 voters expected to vote in November, most of whom don’t participate in local elections. This is where dear old MOM–money, organization and message–is paramount.

Excel Bridgeport has an eclectic group of board members including city resident Nate Snow, Connecticut’s executive director of Teach for America; Carl Horton, Jr. a healthcare consultant and husband of Kristin duBay Horton, the city’s health director on medical leave; Scott Hughes, Bridgeport’s city librarian; Meghan Lowney, executive director of the ZOOM Foundation; and Joe McGee, vice president of the Fairfield County Business Council.

Lowney had been working behind the scenes for many months corresponding with city and state officials to position city schools for state control before the Board of Education, by a 6-3 vote had dissolved itself last summer. See here.

Excel Bridgeport also lists a mighty group of financial supporters including the Frederick DeLuca Foundation, Fairfield County Community Foundation, Zoom Foundation and Newman’s Own.

So the showdown for the November ballot question has begun. In time we’ll see if an organized effort develops against a mayoral-appointed school board.



  1. An appointed Board has some merit under some circumstances. If it were anyone but Finch doing the ‘appointing’ it could work. So long as Timpanelli, Stafstrom and Don Calamari et al. have any influence, it will not work in Bridgeport.

      1. Local Eyes. I must assume you are genuine in your continual harangue that the status quo as perpetrated by Timpanelli and Don Calamari is an acceptable way of life in Bridgeport. Well, it is not!

        Last night a very good friend had dinner with me. At the prospect of Finch’s tax hike he has finally decided to throw in the towel. He struggled last year. This year he will not be able to cover his tax obligation.

        That’s sad. This man built that house himself board by board, brick by brick. It is simply a modest split level located off of Park Avenue near 3030 Park. The neighborhood is idyllic for a retired widower who spent his entire career teaching in the Bridgeport public school system. He got his baccalaureate at UB and his Masters at Sacred Heart. He grew up in the Hollow. Bridgeport is his way of life. Bridgeport is the only home he has ever known. Now he must leave. He has no choice. His pension is typical of a 35-year veteran of the Bridgeport classroom. Increases to the pension amount are nearly non-existent. Yet each year the retired teachers face huge increases in premiums while actual insured coverages shrink. It is criminal these people who have dedicated their lives to service to Bridgeport cannot enjoy their retirement in the homes they love so dearly. Under Finch’s new tax plan, his property tax will rise to $8,831.00. He pays $287/month for medical insurance premiums which carries a $2,500 out-of-pocket annual expense. My friend’s pension brings him $4,105.00 per month after he has federal, state and medicare taxes taken from the gross. Because Bridgeport is not properly policed and the crime rate has risen to national recognition, my friend pays $103 per month for car insurance and $1,110 per year for his house.

        This is the reality you and your Timpanelli and Testa minions have provided for our citizenry. It is our fault. Our citizenry will not go to the polls to effect the change that is needed.

        My friend is contacting realtors today. It’s too bad. If he could only hang on for a while, I’m certain he could supplement his income by getting a job as a greeter at the WALMART that will dominate the footprint at Steelpointe. If he can’t get work at WALMART, I’m sure the WALMART will attract a DOLLAR TREE or an ALDI or a Tattoo Parlor. Sadly, even working full time, he would still not be able to generate the resources he would need to pay for the reckless manner the DTC-endorsed politicians manage things.

        Hopes that we could have developed our Harbor as did Baltimore and Boston are fleeting so long as the likes of you and Timpanelli and Testa have any say in who gets what and why.

        You and your people should hang your heads in shame. You should be contacting a realtor.

          1. yahooy,
            Good posting. However, don’t throw in the towel. Rather, read the budget. How much slush is there? Why should salaries go up for the highly paid? What is the deal with the large pension increase the Mayor suggests is someone else’s fault? Education needs appropriate funding, but at this moment I can see no one concluding it has to be the way the Mayor has handed down from the mountain.

            By the way, after he contacts a realtor and finds what passes for fair market value, and then does a little planning to see where the net sales value will let him live outside Bridgeport, maybe he will be angry enough to assist with the Budget Study and B.O.B. 2012. There are three more evenings of hearings.

            I am waiting for someone to report impressions of the first night. This budget has some way to go before it will get approved from what I can see. Time will tell.

  2. There is a long way to November and whether a charter measure on a mayorally appointed school board makes it to the ballot.

    Assuming the measure makes it, the key is Barack Obama, and not any district leader or other figure. The higher voter turnout for president changes the electorate.

    The “normal” Bridgeport turnout would reject the mayor. I include many of the Democratic machine voters.

    The Excel interest group will pitch its message to the “other” voters. A higher vote for president ties into the interest of Excel.

  3. Your assumptions are incorrect. Urban foxholes enable me to identify grammatical criminals. Methinks Hitler ride’s shotgun in yahooy’s car.

    JML’s brevity is a welcome alternative to your lengthy, verbose and inaccurate posts. You’re lucky you don’t have to answer to me.

  4. No Trivial Pursuit!

    Megan, Mandel’s Messiah, Lowney’s mother, Joan, is a former president of the Fairfield Teachers Union (FEA).

    Nate Snow ran for BOE in 2009 and lost to WFP.

  5. There is a letter floating around the city that spells out the terms of a forgivable loan from the state to the city. This is the letter the CT Post tried to FOI but the city and state are stonewalling. The loan requires the city to increase education spending. That is why Finch is increasing the budget. But the City Council has never seen the terms of the loan and has not approved it.
    This is what happens with an appointed BOE and not an elected one. If we had the old BOE in place you know their budget would never had been approved without this becoming public. An appointed board does not represent the public.

  6. I am one person and I have listened to Paul Vallas on multiple occasions and have had no reason to believe he was untruthful. However, when you are playing “show me the money” with this group of “leaders” who would rather play money musical chairs and leave you standing because any dollar spent on the kids is one less you get to spend on your pet projects (think of water taxis or your own favorite Finchwoody idea). On February 28 I spoke at the BOE meeting about money issues and was told I would have a meeting in a week or two. Well it is currently scheduled for April 19, and I have a lot more info under my belt than I would have three weeks ago, so I am patient. When the dust settles I expect Paul Vallas will place info on the web site that will let people see what is going on (TRANSPARENT) with ease, connect the dots for who does what and with what funds from both the City side and the BOE side (OPEN), and post results that mirror his expectations for development of the students individually and for the City as a whole (ACCOUNTABILITY) in a systematic and informative format with regularity. I have seen Vallas operate rapidly, haven’t you? And why would he shoot his mouth off about OATs unless he were going to deliver most of it? Does he look like a terrorist ready to explode? I have also watched Mayor Finch surround himself with people who are not Open, Accountable or Transparent in their work, and whether they are able or well educated or experienced is also not necessarily obvious. But they must be loyal. What a shame, they can’t even let you know when you are walking around with your fly open, I guess. The opportunity to lead people and do so with personal humility when you have made a mistake or stepped in it is so necessary today when things are complicated. Time will tell.


Leave a Reply