Talk about a long night’s journey into the next morning. The Board of Education Tuesday morning, by a 5-4 vote, approved the site plan for a new school to replace Harding High on property owned by General Electric that once housed a munitions factory on Boston Avenue.
Linda Conner Lambeck of the CT Post covered the eight-hour meeting:
The 5-to-4 vote came during a marathon eight-hour meeting and was approved with the proviso that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection deem a extensive Remedial Action Plan for the site–delivered to the city and board on Monday–be approved. Board member Andre Baker along with Hernan Illingworth, Jacqueline Kelleher, Kenneth Moales and Joe Larcheveque decided to sidestep sending the matter back to the Facilities Committee where its fate remained uncertain.
More from Lambeck here.
The key vote here is former City Councilman Andre Baker who represented the East End neighborhood that Harding serves. The 80-year-old structure next to Bridgeport Hospital has fallen on hard times physically. Mayor Bill Finch proposed building a new school to replace Harding on the site of an old munitions factory owned by General Electric on Boston Avenue. The new school would also make land available to Bridgeport Hospital to address expansion needs. Finch opponents on the school board such as Working Families Party members Sauda Baraka, the chair, and John Bagley, who chairs the committee where the high school construction vote remained in limbo, argued against the site due to environmental concerns. Finch supporters argue Baraka and Bagley vote against any idea hatched by the mayor.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has a prepared plan for the site that addresses a remedial process. Rather than the site plan approval continue to languish in the Facilities Committee chaired by Bagley, a basketball star at Harding in the late 1970s, Baker pushed for a vote among the entire school board as the city faces the expiration of funding sources for the new school construction.
Baker’s vote represents a large break from a coalition that has a 5-4 vote on most matters. Baker ran on both the Democratic and Working Families Party lines last November. Baker was a frequent Finch critic when he served on the City Council. Many residents who make up Baker’s East End voter base had urged him to support construction of a new school to replace Harding that represents a challenging learning environment.
There’s one more step in the process. The school board must approve the building plan for construction when it’s prepared.
Statement from Mayor Bill Finch:
“We congratulate the Board of Education for approving a critical step for this important project. As the father of two kids currently attending Bridgeport public schools, I know first-hand what children and families are dealing with every single day. And it’s unfortunate that the kids currently attending Harding High School are stuck with inadequate facilities that are not providing them with the world-class learning environment they deserve.
“But we can change this by building a new Harding High School. The new school will be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that provide kids in the East Side and East End with the high-quality learning environment they need to thrive. In turn, it will help ensure more Bridgeport kids are prepared for college and to compete for 21st century jobs.”
During the marathon meeting the board also approved by a 5-4 vote a resolution to board members’ concerns about the city not meeting the state Minimum Budget Required for school funding. The city will kick in an additional $500,000 for the budget year starting July 1 contingent upon City Council approval. Baker, Larcheveque, Hennessey, Illingworth and Moales voted to approve.
The school board also voted to approve spending $5,000 to explore a lawsuit to block two new charter schools approved by the state Board of Education. The money will be used to retain education attorney Thomas Mooney, from Shipman & Goodwin of Hartford, to conduct research.