Now In Charge, Baraka’s Role Reversal Center Stage On School Board

Education Bridgeport is Megan DeSombre’s “attempt to publish an unvarnished look at what is happening in Bridgeport schools.” In her latest commentary under a headline “Bridgeport Board Working Overtime To Ignore Parents,” the city resident shellacks Board of Education President Sauda Baraka for betraying her mantra of involving parents in the school board process. In a matter of months Baraka has gone from insurgent to controlling group. It goes with the territory. DeSombre has supported many of the initiatives of outgoing school chief Paul Vallas. From DeSombre:

Though its tenure has barely begun, Bridgeport’s Working Families Party-run Board of Education seems to be doing everything it can to disenfranchise parents, particularly working or single parents.

Strange, for an organization that calls itself community-led.

Case in point: Last Monday’s Board of Education meeting lasted seven hours. Starting at 5:30 p.m., the meeting didn’t adjourn until after midnight, and more than one-and-a-half hours of that was spent in executive session, behind closed doors.

It’s important to note that the Working Families Party lists the goal of “getting parents more involved in their children’s education” as one of its “values.” [Working Families Party, Core Values]

How in the world could a working parent spend more than seven hours at a board meeting that lasts until 1 a.m.? What about a teacher, who has to be in front of a classroom at 8 a.m.?

And it gets worse. Over the past week, there were board meetings four days in a row, comprised of more than 20 hours-worth of “executive sessions” and public meetings.

Then, to add insult to injury, the newly elected board’s Processing Committee, which includes Chairman Sauda Baraka, decided to codify routinely-held back-room executive sessions during what are euphemistically called “special board meetings” prior to regular, publicly attended board meetings.

That decision, which would only make it more difficult for parents to attend hours-long meetings, must still be ratified by a 2/3 board majority. Oh, by the way, the Processing Committee met before a three-and-a-half hour executive session on Wednesday.

So the plan, if we have this straight, is to make all the decisions during back-room conversations before the public has a chance to weigh in? Do we have that correct?

Let’s keep in mind that discussions held during “executive session” are not publicly available. We’ll never know what was discussed–no records are kept and whatever goes on is not available through Freedom of Information requests.

Flash back to November, when Sauda Baraka was running her union-backed bid for board control and told the Hartford Courant that, “People want their voice to count, that’s what the civil rights movement was all about.” [Hartford Courant, 11/1/2013]

Awesome job listening to the voice of the people, Ms. Baraka. You’re off to a great start.



  1. Hats off to Megan! Thanks for providing a fuller story of what the large number of recent BOE meetings means for those of us who can only get to a few of these. It seems there is a public out there that does want to know more (about education and administration/City Council matters; that wants to be informed on a regular basis; that wants an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings with their elected representatives; and that thought “political control” and secrecy issues were unique to the Finch administration.

    When you say one thing publicly and are observed doing something else later in order to serve the public, you can lose some luster for sure. You can be called a “phony” or opportunist. And in Bridgeport, people start digging around for the source of your conflict of interest. And among certain folks, you have lost your authority or claim to integrity.

    Lots needed to get done quickly, I imagine, will be the explanation (excuse) of the BOE, especially with so many new members aboard. However, when any of these actions begins to change the very open, accountable, and transparent balancing of the school budget (with regular public review available to all for the past two years) including grants budget, the wheels will begin to depart the vehicle. Is that necessary or likely? Time will tell.

  2. Somebody explain to me what a “political machine” actually is, because what it looks like to this political moron is when one “machine” loses power the majority voting bloc becomes the new “machine.”

  3. *** All public speaking; parent, teacher and kids informational time or BOE transparent info should be scheduled during the first two hours of the BOE meeting. Everything else that may take the board into executive session or longer hours of the meeting should be put towards the middle to end of the meeting’s agenda! Seven hours or more is far too long for any meeting in one night! Maybe meeting every Monday would cut down on the length of time of the BOE meetings and help in actually getting something done, no? *** EVERY MONDAY A THREE-HOUR MEETING? ***

  4. Megan DeSombre has a problem with the Working Families Party but where was her outrage about the last BOE President in how meetings were run or Mayor Finch’s takeover of the BOE?

    1. Mayor Finch never took over the BOE. He tried to gain control of the schools for which he is held responsible but that measure was defeated. Now that existing members want to retain Paul Vallas’ methods, his reasoning looks wise.

          1. Mustang Sally, thanks. What was so sad was the fact Mayor Finch has a 6 to 3 majority on every vote, he had his person as the BOE President but he couldn’t stand the fact three BOE members challenged his decisions.

  5. Ms. DeSombre has spent many a late night at the BOE meetings of the previous board. This mea culpa is certainly not new, it is just an issue now because she seems to not support Ms. Baraka. In addition, she speaks about the struggle of a single parent to make the meetings. She’s not a parent, let alone a single parent, why speculate? If she were a parent she would quickly realize a choice would have to be made; stay late at the meeting or go home and take care of the kids (the proper choice). It is very admirable (if she’s not paid by charter and privatization interests) she does take the time to be another set of eyes at the BOE meetings. We already have enough partisan politics on the Board, if an interloper chooses to be a part of the process, at least be transparent.

  6. Squeaky wheel–so you are saying since she is not a parent, then she cannot comment? She is merely questioning whether or not parents can be part of the process due to the time involved with participating. You said, quote:
    “If she were a parent she would quickly realize a choice would have to be made; stay late at the meeting or go home and take care of the kids (the proper choice)”
    That attitude does not promote parent involvement. The BOE, if truly concerned with parental involvement, should be looking at ways to make it easier for the parent to attend the meeting and be home in time for their children, not choose one or the other! Mojo makes a valid point, public speaking and public-related items should be first, executive sessions should be at the back end. This way the voluntary participants (parents, etc.) can be there for items relevant to them, and then the elected officials can stay late and do their work. Not too much to ask.
    And the prior meetings ran long because of all the arguing among board members. That dynamic seems to have changed–less combativeness, which is good. Now do something to make it easier on the parents.

    1. Certainly she has a right to an opinion. Where was the article when the first BOE meeting under the new board was over before 9P? It seems to me the last meeting was full. There was the administrators’ contract, Vallas’ negotiation, the security/school PD issue, and the teachers’ contract to be discussed. There have been countless times the previous board shunned the public in favor of executive session. Routinely meetings ending after 10P. I do agree with Mojo, public comment should be before exec. session. The gist of my rant is it seems like DeSombre has an ulterior motive.

  7. First, for the record I think Sauda is doing a remarkable job. First and foremost the combative tone of meetings has dissipated. It appears the new board is looking to work together and forge consensus.
    I have read this woman’s post several times and it make no sense. She is saying she wants shorter meetings, less meetings and no executive sessions; even if they are scheduled outside of the timeframe of the regular meeting in order to reduce the time the meeting takes.
    And yet she also says she wants an involved public and Sauda apparently lets the public speak for as long as they want to. And of course John Marshall Lee agrees because she likes Paul Vallas and so does John.
    Keep up the good work, Sauda. I am sure you will accept criticism gracefully and continue to tune and tweak the meetings as required.

    1. Bob,
      Paul Vallas, for good or ill in the opinion of each person, can be seen essentially in the rear-view mirror at this moment for most purposes.
      Did you notice I did not mention his name? So as a thinking man, get onto the current subject, operating a school system with improved results for the kids, with good input from parents and other stakeholders, and with the resources that are at hand applied as efficiently as possible.
      That’s what the BOE will be doing, I expect.
      I think Chair Baraka raised the subject of limiting public input in some manner at the last BOE meeting. Is that what you understand? I was there and that is what it sounded like to me. A motion was made and suddenly the unanimous approval of the Board members present supported listening to all before other business was considered. The decision was cheered by many in the audience.
      It is difficult to resolve the many interests present. I also wish good effort and good effect to Chair Sauda Baraka and the other Board members. They are a unique Board at a different time than ever before. What will happen to the results shown by students in different areas as a result of “reforms” in place, some budget predictability and Board harmony? Time will tell.

  8. John, when you said “when any of these actions begins to change the very open, accountable, and transparent balancing of the school budget (with regular public review available to all for the past two years) including grants budget” I assumed you were talking about Paul Vallas. I guess you were heaping praise on Reverend Moales.

    1. Actually, I was referring to Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Marlene Siegel, someone who has a comprehensive grasp on school finances. It is her specific work I have come to review and understand in this time period. Have you come to the BOE Finance meetings, when they are held? Or had a chance to meet with her and talk about finances with her? You like talking about people these days and I would be interested in your comments on operating budget, grants budget and personnel info being available on the MUNIS platform very regularly for all to review or question. This type of reporting was not available when you were on the Council and still isn’t the standard for the City side of operating budgets. Have you noticed? Time will tell.


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