The Case For An Appointed School Board

Maria Zambrano, a 2002 graduate of Central High School, was one of dozens of speakers who made their case for a mayoral-appointed Board of Education during a public hearing Tuesday night conducted by the Charter Revision Commission. The mayoral-empaneled commission is expected to formulate a question to be decided by city voters in November regarding an elected versus appointed school board. More than 100 education stakeholders attended the hearing.

Mayor Bill Finch wants the power to appoint school board members, saying the elected process has created dysfunction detrimental to the students. If you’re going to fault me for education failures, the mayor argues, give me the power to improve the system.

As she explained in her presentation, Zambrano is executive director of the advocacy group Excel Bridgeport, See the text of her presentation below:

My name is Maria Zambrano and I am a graduate of Bridgeport Public Schools (Central High School Class of 2002) and the executive director of Excel Bridgeport. Excel Bridgeport is an advocacy organization working to ensure that all children in Bridgeport have the opportunity to attain a world-class education that prepares them for college, career and life.

Here is the reality in Bridgeport: We are the worst performing school district in a state with the worst achievement gap in the country. My organization, Excel Bridgeport, did a data analysis last summer and found that only 1 student in the sophomore class at Bassick High School is on grade level in reading, writing, math and science. One student! Across the district only 3% of our high school students are on grade level on all subjects. Three percent! As a graduate of this school system and a resident of this city, I am devastated by these numbers. And I know the rest of our community is too. We need change in this school district. And we need it now.

While there is no silver bullet to improving our schools, Excel Bridgeport believes that an appointed board introduces several very important components to our city’s school board that have been lacking for many decades.

The first of these is Accountability. For too long no one in our education system has been held responsible for the education of our children. And this has allowed for our system to fail devastatingly. With a mayoral appointed board there is a clear line of responsibility for improved performance of our school system–and it points directly to our mayor. In other communities with this structure, school boards are in fact more responsive to the community because it is easy to identify and challenge mismanagement.

In order for Bridgeport to achieve the dramatic academic improvements necessary to provide students with a world-class education, a school board or governing entity must take ownership over the progress in our schools and the community should be able to hold them accountable for that progress.

And if the community is not happy with the progress or direction, the community can vote the mayor out.

The second component is Unity and Respect. As our history shows us, a dysfunctional and fractious school board accomplishes little to nothing. School board members who are focused on their individual constituencies and positions lose sight of the bigger and more important picture–the best interests of all of our children and a school system that will continue to work for future generations.

We must have school board members who have a collaborative relationship with each other, our superintendent, our teachers, our mayor, and our community members. Research shows effective school boards are able to unite behind a shared vision, take unified action on complex and often divisive issues, work swiftly and decisively to enact improvements, and create and sustain an environment that is conducive to improvements that will benefit students.

In the past nine months we have seen an appointed school board in Bridgeport that meets these criteria and has been exceptionally attentive and responsive to our community. We believe we must continue with this progress.

The third component is Expertise. Our community cares about our children and wants a school system that does right by them. Running the second largest school district in the state is a major undertaking, and we need people with exceptional skills and talents to ensure it’s done correctly.

School boards in high achieving school districts have members who have experience in implementing good governance practices, who understand how to analyze data and use it to drive continuous improvement, and who are skilled at managing budgets so that dollars are allocated most effectively and resources are sustained even during budget challenges.

With an appointed board, we can ensure that our members have the necessary array of crucial skills and expertise to run the district, as well as the demographic diversity that is important to represent all our community.

I want to end with an excerpt from the testimony of a 2010 graduate of Central High School. She could not be here to testify in person tonight because she is a student at UConn but she had this to say:

“When I think of my experience as a student of the Bridgeport Public School System, I think in terms of ‘what ifs.’ What if there was no stigma attached to being from Bridgeport and being a student of Bridgeport schools? What if Bridgeport schools had the same resources as other Fairfield County schools? What if being from Bridgeport meant there was an expectation of achievement instead of an expectation of failure? Don’t misunderstand me, I am a proud graduate of Bridgeport schools, but I often wonder how my life could have been different, how many opportunities might have been available to me had I attended one of the successful schools outside of Bridgeport.”

Let’s eliminate the regrets and “what ifs” for our students. Our kids should not think that the only way to get a good education is to go outside of our school district. Let’s do something today that will change the current reality for our 20,000 students. They deserve so much better.



  1. Excel Bridgeport is a straw operation set up by Meghan Lowney and friends. It is a spinoff of Teach for America. TFA does nice work but it is basically an internship and resume builder for very bright people who will go on to bigger and better things. It is the Peace Corps of teaching.

  2. Has anyone articulated clearly the duties and responsibilities of a BOE? Especially in a Global Economy? How much decision-making influence do these nine people have that is not just window dressing on major issues? Can the BOE, whether elected or appointed, really impact the test scores of students who have many impediments to performing well on standardized testing? Are we getting good test results out of a student whose first language is not English? Should the BOE be a check and balance to the Education Bureaucrat hired to supervise the educational system?

    Bottom line is there are no easy answers to these challenges–and are probably way beyond the abilities of an elected or appointed BOE.

  3. It’s hilarious some of the Foster people who are speaking against an appointed board are only doing so ’cause Finch is Mayor …

    Because, in Foster’s “education plan” she supported the idea of a partial appointed board …

    So I say, make it a fully appointed board of five, who must all be residents of Bpt, one must be a parent, one a teacher and one a student or former student.

    The Superintendent should also be a member of the Mayor’s cabinet staff.

    1. Let me get this straight. CC, you have first-hand knowledge of what the Foster people would have done regarding the Board of Education if, in fact, Mary-Jane would have become Mayor? What did you do, take a poll? This, my dear, is called an opinion, and it’s a pretty ignorant one indeed. You are obviously not a Foster person so don’t speak for them.

      1. Zena, not sure why you don’t like my “Azucar,” but sweetie, her plan was distributed and it suggested a partially appointed board of ed …

        Clearly “Foster people” were not on the same page or knew the messages delivered … because the plan was distributed and many of us who were on the fence questioned why someone who opposed the state takeover would then say they would support a partial appointed board that gives the mayor some control over the boe …

        I listened to what both the Finch and Foster camps said and made my choice …

    2. The Foster plan called for a blended board! Interesting that Mr. Illingworth was rebuked by Finch when he wanted to take Crossin’s place. Another ha-ha is Nate “The Skate” Snow of Excel Bridgeport ran as a Republican in 2009 for Board of Ed and lost to WFP! WTF???

      1. Let’s not lose sight of what has really happened here. Bridgeport Partnership for School Success (BPSS), run by Meghan Lowney, paid for by Steve Mandel, conspired with Mayor Finch to disenfranchise voters and deprive elected officials of their property rights in their office so as to control the BOE. This is called not just lack of integrity but total lack of guts. Not to mention Finch’s new favorite word–so long “Green,” hello “Transparency.” No integrity, no transparency. Finch then said at the State BOE hearing democracy didn’t matter in Bridgeport. Suits filed–city lost. Pushback so strong that the retroactive legislative fix gets dropped. Turns out democracy does matter. BPSS is now so toxic it has to change its name to Excel. BPSS Board members (at least those who had not already resigned in disgust) resign and they reconfigure. New board, new look and the same old patronizing we-know-better agenda. Totally funded by Mandel and fellow TFA buddies who install Nate Snow (Exec. Dir. of TFA-CT) as Chair of the Board. Where did Maria Zambrano get her credibility? Hired by the same gang. The tragedy is they are in real danger of getting away with it. Mandel has brought in a bunch of other out-of-town biggies to contribute–they’ll pick up the Vallas tab and other things, Paul Timpanelli and the BRBC Board (hardly any live in and lots don’t even work in Bridgeport) are nearly hysterical–no, totally hysterical–over the Supreme Court decision and are doing all they can to support the Mayor and his efforts to stall implementation of the Supreme Court’s decision. Mayor Finch has a Charter Revision Commission that will stick to the education-only agenda and the Governor and Commissioner of Education will support all. City Council sure to follow. Last-ditch stand will be November and whether the residents of Bridgeport roll over. And speaking of Illingworth, who the new BOE trots out as the minority with kids in Bridgeport schools–he was only appointed after a citywide uproar about the lack of diversity and parents on the reconstituted board. The hypocrisy throughout is enough to choke us all.

        The bind is all of the above is an utter travesty yet in order to make an informed decision on how to move forward, we need to put it behind us and think in the present and for the future. Finch and his gang of thugs doesn’t deserve the consideration but the children (usually forgotten in this discussion) surely do.

        1. Baffled, at this point I say let Finch and Excel put their money where their mouth is …

          One thing for sure is, our schools are in dire need of change … so let’s see if Finch and the private foundations with an interest can make a difference … if it doesn’t work either only time will tell …

    3. Celia Cruz // Mar 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm
      To your posting

      How right you are … because Finch/Wood is mayor is exactly why action of this magnitude cannot be implemented by greed-driven, power-hungry, corrupt and morally depleted individuals who currently hold the office of Mayor.
      That should be clear to you at this point in your life. Charter Revision is a sham … the money is key to their motivation, not the students of the Bridgeport public school system.

  4. Regarding number of people and qualifications or criteria, has anybody considered the amount of time Board members must expect to offer in BOE service to successfully handle expectations? I have not heard that issue addressed at any of the CRC hearings.
    After watching other City meetings, it seems to me service to a group exceeding several hours per week (preparation, training, research, review of material, special assignments and meetings of committee and sub-groups must be considered) may be too much for many volunteers. So perhaps we not only need to think of people as placeholder or stakeholder representation, but as thinkers, workers, and presenters to outside groups and expand the number?
    Perhaps the Mayor would like to identify what exact results he wishes to be accountable for, come to think of it? And how does the Mayor account for actual differences of opinion with BOE volunteers? If there is a difference of opinion (but still in tune with overall School Mission Statement) does the BOE member have to resign? What are some of these interplays? Some must have given thought to this. Time will tell.

  5. We are dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars and the lives of 20,000-plus students here. Do we want a board albeit appointed by the mayor that is not prepared to give many hours and make significant decisions about our kids?
    One must remember we are not appointing people to fill PTA positions. It has been apparently clear we need people with financial knowledge and at least a rudimentary knowledge of the school system.
    I think the best way to handle this situation is to have a representative Board of Finance that will handle all of the city’s revenue and its spending. Then have a blended board of Education that can actually spend their time dealing with school issues minus financial headaches most would not understand.
    You have 20 council people and out of that 20 I think it’s safe to say 20 of them do not fully understand the budget.

  6. With a fully appointed board, the membership would change completely with each new mayor. I am in favor of a blended board where the four-year terms of the elected members overlap the four years of the appointed members. Continuity is important. As for the appointed members, there must be minimum qualifications that are part of the appointment and confirmation process. Just looking at the appointments to the land use boards, no minimum qualifications are required; no training is mandated; yet they are on two boards where much of their decisions end up in the court. If the Mayor, any Mayor, gets to appoint members to the Board of Education, there better be minimum quals for the appointees. Assume nothing.

  7. countdown is correct–a fully appointed board will change with each mayor and be accountable only to that mayor. The students will not receive a better education and voters will still be disenfranchised.

  8. I supported Mary-Jane Foster but told her to her face I was opposed to an appointed Board of Education. My issues with Finch and his Crew of Cronies run much deeper than this one issue.

  9. Speaking of his crew of cronies:
    BRIDGEPORT — Don Kennedy, who was brought in as chief operations officer under Interim Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas, was fired from his last job as financial director of the school system in Seattle, Wash.

    But unlike Millicent Few, a human resources consultant who spent one day working for the district before it was discovered she was caught up in an Atlanta cheating scandal, local school officials and others say Kennedy continues to have their full support. …

    Vallas has brought in a number of consultants and temporary employees to assist him in his work. Kennedy is in charge of business functions and facilities and according to Vallas is being paid a per diem rate of $900 a day.

    Robert Trefry, chairman of the state-appointed school board, said he too is satisfied with Kennedy.

    “We’re not trying to second-guess him on who he is bringing in,” Trefry said of Vallas.

    Trefry said he is confident Vallas is being careful, getting references and checking individuals out on line.

    He also said he is now checking the references of all consultants brought into the district since it was discovered in early February that Few, hired to manage human resources, had been accused of trying to cover up a huge Atlanta test cheating scandal.

    So which is it Bob, do you trust him or are you checking references??? Seems like a lot of double talk or a dysfunctional approach.

    Read more: www

  10. At $900 a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, we are paying this Kennedy the equivalent of $234,000 a year.
    Hmmm …
    Not chump change.
    Maybe Ben Barnes will reapply.

  11. I am addressing the situation involving Mr. Kennedy and his former job with the Seattle BOE. Mr. Kennedy was COO when $1.8 million in funds that were supposed to help minority business get contracts were found to have been stolen.
    The key here is the missing funds were picked up in an audit.
    Here in Bridgeport :
    1. Although the budget shows we have an internal auditor we in fact have not one auditor, just ask Mr. McCarthy.
    2. Art Harris is suspended or fired I am not sure which for finagling minority contracts. Has he been replaced? And by whom?
    3. May I suggest to Mr. Telfry he closely check all candidates for consultant positions in the BOE.
    4. Could someone tell us how much is being spent on consultants since we have had an appointed BOE?
    5. Are there any plans to hire an audit staff?

    1. Thanks Andy for noticing the important story within the Don Kennedy story. Yes, he and the Superintendent separated from Seattle but though they were fired, they received severance packages, not indictments. Kennedy claims he called in the State of WA, and whether that is true or not, auditors did conclude “those funds (meant to help minority businesses get contracts with the district) may not have benefited the public.”

      How does that story relate to Bridgeport???
      Does Bridgeport on the City side or BOE side have internal auditors who can spot inappropriate behavior and limit damage??? Yes according to narrative language in annual budget documents. But no according to Council President Tom McCarthy in testimony to the Charter Review Commission. So which is it??? Maybe?
      And what is ongoing in Bridgeport regarding minority business enterprises??? Any problems here? Well, the former head of City construction management services has been terminated around unethical behavior it appears. What the charges or the ultimate settlement are may be known to some, but not me. However, if Mr. Harris was terminated, who is running construction management services, that is an oversight department that views City capital spending??? Does CMS provide any reporting the public can see? Does this sound like an area that might require regular reporting, review and public oversight??? In the past five years the City has generated expenses totaling $407 Million or over $80 Million per year. Our ordinances (studied, discussed and approved by City Councils in the past) call for certain reporting and audit protocols for City purchases. Are they being observed in general? Are they being observed for purchases overseen by construction management services??? Who is minding the store today???
      We must expect honest and ethical behavior of City employees, elected representatives and volunteers who serve the City. Oversight and regular full-disclosure reporting are necessary parts of an effective public watchdog operation. Where do we stand today? Who can answer such questions? Time will tell.

  12. This city under Finch never tells us the whole story. Things come out and then disappear from print. I fault the CT Post also, very little follow-up by them. Here are a few examples:
    1. In October it comes to the attention of the PD someone is selling items that belong to Bridgeport to a local scrap dealer. The scrap dealer is arrested. We then learn a female employee is caught selling scrap valued at $38, she gets a week off. In the meantime the bigger thief we find out is a favored employee of public facilities. No arrest is announced and his name is not released.
    2. Art Harris is suspended or fired and we get a sketchy report on what transpired.
    3. An official in P & Z is under investigation and where does that go and why the investigation?
    4. We have group of police officers caught covering up a dui for a fellow worker, they create insurance fraud, misrepresent charges against this officer in that there had not been charges originally. Fired? NO. Arrested? NO! Why!
    The list goes on and on. There seems to be two sets of laws here, one for Finch and company and another for the rest of us dumbasses.

  13. A lot of clever rhetoric about the benefits of an appointed BOE vs. an elected. As I said before, in this era of Mario Testa and Paul Timpanelli, there is no possibility a pro bono publica BOE can be expected if either scheme prevails. I think Vallas is not right. Now, am I to understand a key Vallas aide must explain what happened to funds in the Seattle BOE? Somebody please give me a break. I deserve it.

    Paul, if you are out there, would you please explain why Russo’s audit is taking so long. 2-1/2 years already with $250,000 total budget. Who is conducting the audit? Is that firm independent of city influence as defined by the AICPA?

  14. If we’re bringing in these BOE people from out of state, where are they staying? Are we putting them up in hotels, paying for meals and rental cars? What’s the full package? Where’s the full disclosure? It’s easy for an appointed BOE to sit back and rubber stamp these expenses as they have no clue what’s right or wrong. This is not the corporate world people, this is the COB and you are wasting taxpayer money yet again.

    Bring back Maria, Bobby and Sauda now. We need some accountability and we need it now.

    These people are just like Nunn, Wood and Sherwood. Living high on the hog spending other people’s money. WTF is going on here?

    Is it true city employees are being laid off so more of Finch’s cronies can be hired? That’s the scuttlebutt. Does Finch have a clue what his administrators are doing? WTF is going on here?

  15. *** How about five city elected and four state appointed by the State Education Commission; and to top it off a state BOE budget separate from the city? OIB bloggers feel free to fill in the overall requirements for city BOE members, like (example) 2-D’s, 2-R’s and 1 Ind. *** Less Politics, More Education ***


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