The Battle For Control Of Schools

On Nov. 6, city voters will decide if they want to allow Mayor Bill Finch to appoint school board members or continue the current process of electing them. Finch has been making the rounds urging a yes vote on the charter revision question. The mayor this week attended a panel discussion and the screening of the film “Won’t Back Down” that chronicles efforts to reform a failing school. See details released by the mayor below followed by a commentary by Hugh Bailey, a member of the Connecticut Post Editorial Board, who expresses suspicion of the motives of Excel Bridgeport, a school-based organization that supports a mayoral-appointed school board.

Mayor Bill Finch and StudentsFirst hosted a screening and panel discussion of the major motion picture “Won’t Back Down” on Tuesday in Bridgeport.

The Hollywood film, which stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, is based on real-life events, and opens in theaters nationwide today. The movie portrays two mothers–one a teacher–working to transform their kids’ failing inner city school. Opposed by powerful bureaucracies, they challenge the status quo to make sure their children receive a quality education.

Following Tuesday’s screening, Mayor Finch served as moderator of a panel discussion which featured State Representative Charlie Stallworth; Amy Marshall, Principal at Beardsley School; Jessica Martinez, parent advocate; Maria Zambrano, executive director at Excel Bridgeport and George Parker, senior fellow at StudentsFirst and former president of the Washington Teachers Union.

Finch, Martinez, Zambrano
Finch moderates a panel discussion about education with a parent, Jessica Martinez, left and Maria Zambrano, executive director of Excel Bridgeport, following a screening of the film "Won't Back Down."

Topics covered during the discussion included giving parents more options with their child’s education, talent support and recruitment and the progress seen in Bridgeport schools during the last ten months, which include hiring a nationally renowned Superintendent in Paul Vallas, cutting the school’s deficit and the establishment of a Parent Engagement Policy in partnership with parents like Ms. Martinez.

Bailey’s commentary and link to full article below:

The goal is the same–helping Bridgeport students. So why the mistrust?

Members of Excel Bridgeport, the well-connected recent arrivals on the education scene, must be asking themselves this question. They just want better outcomes in one of the worst-performing districts in the state. Why do they inspire such suspicion?

The answer starts with the company the organization chooses to keep.

Last week featured a special event with the mayor of Bridgeport promoting what’s been called “a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with very limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product.”

That was from the online magazine Salon about the school-reform movie “Won’t Back Down,” screened last week at a Bridgeport theater, and it’s one of the kinder reviews out there.

Read more here.



  1. One of Finch’s first actions if he gets control will be to have school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

    What’s next? Christmas!

    Also if he gets control watch for favoritism for Bridgeport pols where their kids get to go to school.

    How are your kids doing?

  2. Bridgeport is an ‘underdog’ City in the imaginations of many who keep alive the dreams of its potential but live the reality of its grasp not being quick or strong enough or being subverted by the personal ambitions and interests of those who are in positions of responsibility rather than serving the community and doing their pledged duty.
    Mayor Finch has such appointment power already in the City, there are few to complain when he secretly subverted the education governance in the City with the help of Hartford in 2011. When the Supreme Court ruled against the State-appointed process and forced new Board members to be elected and seated, he resorted to a handpicked (Mission Possible) Charter Reform with “power of appointment” for BOE placed in his hands. Well the schools have continued to operate with some necessary reforms, with budgets balanced (assuming the City is fully responsible and accountable for their funding) and the normal settling down of a new school year amidst changes and the difficulties in projections with transient populations and school closings, etc.

    The underdogs are not so much the youth in the schools at the moment (because there is professional expertise at the top working to right the past lapses in curriculum and instruction) as are the parents who may still be reeling from the changes and the parties alternately claiming ACCOUNTABILITY and your vote for their position on November 6 with the Charter question.

    And the Mayor runs a private ‘informational’ session and identifies the underdogs (because they are the people he did not invite to the meeting). And a very reliable attorney resident tells me this morning the Mayor is raising money in the business community to promote the Charter Reform. The best way to do that would be to invite the CRC to put on four public Q & A sessions weekly before the election and put them on video. Why not? If we can have Presidential and VP debates, why not a similar PUBLIC presentation and questioning about the Charter?
    The underdogs are current students and a generation unborn who cannot vote today. Their Mayor will take the vote away from them before they finish their education and return to the community to work, raise a family and vote directly for people in charge of their kids’ education. Lots of underdogs out there. Let’s see how many come out barking because some in the community serve as WATCHDOGS of finances, governance procedures and citizen responsibilities and rights, rather than as LAPDOGS content with being stroked by the supposed TOP DOGS who look more like HOTDOGS in the light of day. VOTE NO on the Charter Question November 6. Time will tell.

  3. Why hasn’t the town committee in the 131st and the council voted for a replacement for on-again-off-on-again BOE member Leticia Colon?

    Is it because if the measure passes she will be on-again the city council? Paging CT Post???

  4. I see Mayor Finch and others have paid no attention to whom put up the money for this movie, they are the same two brothers who are the big money donors to get President Obama “OUT” of office and to put in Republicans all over America.

  5. *** What Bpt Needs To See And Follow Suit Is The Old Movie “Lean On Me,” Changes Like Mr. Clark Brought To That Urban City High School. This is nothing more than political window dressing to appease the students who are looking for something better but won’t see it in their Bpt schools’ lifetime unfortunately. However it seems like it would be an interesting movie to watch with kids! ***

  6. In regard to the movie “Won’t Back Down” and Bridgeport’s quest to close our gaping education gap, we know the decline of American education is the result of poverty–not the cause of poverty. It is cruelly and infuriatingly ironic the same characters (of the same ilk) responsible for pushing the myth of “prosperity through globalization”–the post-World War II phenomenon created by the military-industrial complex that has impoverished this country and created our dangerous and absurd income and education disparities–are also pushing for education reform via an “education-industrial complex.”

    No good can possibly come of it. Just as the military-industrial complex has caused a sinful waste of resources and resulting hyperinflation of staple commodities, as well as for our massive, wasteful military hardware inventory (with the famous $300 screws, etc.), and caused untold wars and civil unrest/bloodshed in order to sell military hardware and secure other countries’ resources (all for US corporate profits), this new “education-industrial complex” will cause untold hyperinflation of various commodities/supplies/services, waste, dysfunction, and further educational/income disparity without addressing the real cause of educational underperformance (indeed, while exacerbating it!), which, we know, is poverty. The enormous amount of money that will ultimately be funneled to the private-sector contractors will probably eventually rival our military spending–the private money will leverage evermore public money through lobbying and bribery/corruption (just as with the military-industrial complex).

    The cities need living-wage jobs and adequately funded schools–not charter/privatized schools being used to divert the public’s attention away from any focus on the destructive effects on families and children of chronic unemployment/low-wage jobs caused by our corrupt economic system/policies.

    As attested to by the creation of our vaunted university system–and our previously vaunted public education system–the creation of superior education systems/institutions is caused by the need to accommodate the development/expansion of technology-dependent business. In this case, the “egg”–the need for trained labor by developing/expanding industries–comes before the “chicken” (the training/educational facilities). The extant tax base/expected tax base expansion/wealth creation fuels the creation of educational facilities in a self-regenerating synergy.

    As long as Bridgeport is intentionally kept in poverty by the Gold Coast–which covets our cheap labor and will lose their lifestyle/advantage if Bridgeport secures high-value tax base based on good, living-wage, local (Bridgeport) jobs–we will never get out of poverty and have high-performing schools. As long a Stamford gets the Bridgewaters and Bridgeport gets the Bass Pros and “workforce housing,” all of the education reforms in the world won’t create good schools or level our education-performance/income playing field.

  7. Jeff Kohut’s assessment of the Educational Industrial Complex is really central to the whole discussion. The reason they want mayoral control on the board is to keep the school construction pipeline flowing. Most of the money made is by out-of-towners and with the mantra of helping the children. Ha, like the $40 million Juvenile Detention Center at the Congress Street Bridge as Rell put it: “time to do right by the children” with Senator Finch instrumental, again.


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