The Election Battle For Control Of The School Board

Connecticut’s most populous city rarely disappoints for the entertainment of it politics and perhaps never before in the history of the city has a race for school board placed more on the line for the political establishment in charge and interlopers who want to seize control. What is normally a sleepy election cycle for five Board of Education seats will have the full attention of political operatives for both a possible Democratic primary in September and general election in November.

A coalition of campaign operatives for the Connecticut Working Families Party, Bridgeport Education Association that represents city teachers and politicians opposed to Mayor Bill Finch have fanned across the city trying to secure enough certified signatures from registered Democrats to place their three candidates on the primary ballot to challenge party-endorsed candidates.

Last Monday night the 90-member Democratic Town Committee endorsed for school board the Rev. Simon Castillo, a city police commissioner, Katie Roach Bukovsky, an education marketing professional, and Brandon Clark, a counselor with Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Elementary School. The next day an opposition slate took to the streets to seek the more than 2000 certified signatures from Democratic electors to wage a primary: East End City Councilman Andre Baker, former City Councilman Dave Hennessey, a retired school teacher and Howard Gardner, ex-candidate for City Council.

Hennessey, who served on the council in the mid 1980s representing Black Rock, has been disengaged from city politics for a long time. His contacts in the Bridgeport Education Association persuaded him to reengage. Gardner, from the West Side, is trying his hand at a citywide race after waging runs for City Council. Baker, with a strong base of  support in the East End, is the key member of the opposition ticket. He has waged the noble, sometimes lonely, fight on the council questioning initiatives of the Finch administration, especially since the retirement of Bob “Troll” Walsh a few years ago. Baker also has pockets of political support outside of his East End base to help drive a vote in a low-turnout primary.

The messaging of this primary will be intriguing to watch, assuming the opposition slate qualifies for the ballot. The Working Families Party and Bridgeport Education Association are not strangers to local races, nor to joining forces. They worked together to defeat last year’s ballot question that proposed a mayoral-appointed school board. They will help finance the opposition against the party-endorsed candidates. Working Families, a Democratic spinoff group, has recruited operatives in this potential primary because they believe it will help sway the balance of power on the school board. Working Families has a decent opposition footprint in the city having elected three of its candidates to the school board since 2009. They will try to build up the opposition candidates as independent alternatives to the party-endorsed candidates they will claim as slaves to the political establishment. But the party-endorsed candidates are largely unknown except for Castillo who has served Good Shepherd Christian Church on the West Side for nearly 50 years. They may be party endorsed but they certainly don’t have the baggage of party hacks. All of them have credible backgrounds to bring to the table.

Political operatives in support of the endorsed candidates will have some fire to return against the opposition, for instance, do you really want to elect the school board candidates whose campaigns are financed by unions whose leadership will expect a big fat pay raise for union workers in return for aiding their election? Instant tax increase.

So get ready for a pretty good throw-down for school board this summer. There will be charges and counter charges and loads of campaign activity for control of the school board.

And then it’s onward to the general election. And that’s another story.



  1. Political operatives in support of the endorsed candidates will have some fire to return against the opposition. For instance, do you really want to elect the school board candidates whose campaigns are financed by unions who’ll expect a big fat pay raise in return? Instant tax increase.

    Can you explain this statement in further detail? How do the unions get a pay raise? Are you referring to the teachers? I am not following your logic here.

    1. beware, the teachers union is supporting the opposition slate. Leadership of the union will argue they are doing so for the good of the workers they represent and the kids. Operatives for the endorsed candidates may argue the union will be rewarded with unaffordable pay raises from school board members they elect.

      1. And the endorsed candidates will be expected to back contracts to groups connected with the phony school reform movement that backs Vallas such as more charter schools run by private companies. It is big business in some places. In some places they no longer maintain much of a pretense they are true public schools, they actually advertise and offer you prizes for enrolling your kids … so much for spending money on education.
        Sounds like the city can expect layoffs of teachers if the Machine majority maintains its hold over the Board of Ed.

    2. Why isn’t anyone asking the obvious question … why is the Working Families Party and Bridgeport Teachers Union working so closely together on all this education stuff? Because they both exist solely to represent labor interests. Working Families Party’s entire board of directors is made up of national union bosses who don’t live in Bridgeport. These people don’t care about the kids or about fixing the schools. All they care about is getting more dues-paying jobs, increasing their pensions and benefits at the expense of the taxpayer and keeping job protections intact. Good luck running on that platform!

  2. Sports athletes say it is not about the money, it always is.
    Bridgeport Board of Ed “players” say it is about the kids, but it never, never, ever is.

  3. The comment the unions will be getting a fat pay raise for supporting the non-party-endorsed candidates is pure bullshit. The endorsed candidates are supported by the administration, if they lose why would Finch and company reward the unions for beating the administration candidates?

    1. Andy, school board members vote on the school budget that is submitted for City Council approval. School board members have a say in salaries, benefits and job protection. Is union leadership helping the opposition slate out of the goodness of their heart? It’s a legitimate argument to raise in an election.

      1. Is Bill Finch helping his handpicked, endorsed candidates out of the goodness of his heart? Bill Finch on the other hand will expect his handpicked majority–if he gets them in–to gut and cut the Education budget in order to avoid a bigger deficit on the city’s side. He’ll expect them to go along with cuts and keep the School District’s budget at a minimum or flat. Has he come up with the Minimum Budget Requirement funds yet? He was expedient in coming up with his three handpicked candidates.

  4. Questions.

    More background on the party-endorsed candidates needed–not on issues, but on their personalities and connection to the community.

    Sure, the endorsed candidates will have money for a campaign. Money certainly works in Bridgeport like anywhere else. If the opposition qualifies, you can see them having some bucks, too.

    But do the endorsed candidates have sizzle? It appears the challengers (at least Baker and Hennessey) do. They have bases in two districts that the organization will have to either overcome or ignore and top elsewhere.

    Is the organization plus money enough to carry non-controversial people over the line?

    Has anybody thought this conversation would not have been necessary if the DTC had been more careful in picking education candidates over the past couple decades? (And this is not meant to be a shout-out in favor of Mayor Finch’s proposal to appoint school board members, even if his frustration is justified.)

  5. I am sure Lennie will correct me if I am wrong or if my post does not fit his take on the issue, but:
    Brandon Clark, a counselor with Achievement First Bridgeport Academy. As far as I know, has no connection with the community. I believe he recently moved to Bridgeport. Last year when he was the poster boy for the Charter Question to eliminate the elected Board of Education, he was identified as a Bridgeport Teacher and not as a Charter School teacher.
    Now he is a Charter School counselor. Since charter schools are relatively new as is Brandon, I see no connection and possibly some controversy.
    But Lennie can post Brandon’s full bio when he gets a chance.

  6. *** Teachers Union is looking out for the teachers’ best interest not the kids nor the community. Also most Bpt school teachers don’t live in the Park City, vote or pay taxes either. Same goes with the Charter Schools interest, private schools, etc. In the politics of things it appears to be pro-admin vs. anti-admin for the overall control and not really together on what type of change will be needed to turn things around. Then there’s the outside “BENJAMIN$” interest looking for a bigger slice of the school systems pie or just a taste! In the end, whatever the reason, it will end up leading the public schools children nowhere fast, no? *** GROUNDHOG DAY! ***

  7. Let’s discuss how the endorsed candidates got the endorsement. Not one of them is a member of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee. That’s because–like I’ve stated here time and time again–Mario Testo is the Party Chairman on paper only. Is this the first time not one member of the Democratic Town Committee is endorsed for a BOE spot? Lennie can answer this question. Hector A. Diaz had expressed his interest in entering his name for a nomination.
    The Bridgeport DTC originally was handed a list with five names for the DTC to consider for the three BOE spots. The list did not have a Hispanic on it and district leaders objected to that asking why Hector A. Diaz was not on the list of five. Later, the District Leaders were given a list with only three names and Simon Castillo was the Hispanic added to the list. Castillo is a good man. As a Police Commissioner he has been described as a go-along-with-the-program man. He is a Bill Finch ideal pick and I understand he did not want to run for the BOE; and it took some convincing from the mayor. I’d expect him to be another Tom Mulligan if elected to the BOE. All three were silent when Bill Finch wanted to take away the people’s right to elect the BOE members. Now they want the people to elect them after being appointed–not freely nominated–by the DTC controlled by Bill Finch.

  8. They may be party endorsed but they certainly don’t have the baggage of party hacks. All of them have credible backgrounds to bring to the table.
    So Lennie, please enlighten us some more. Right after you post the bio on Brandon Clark maybe you can tell us more about Katie Roach Bukovsky, an education marketing professional.
    What exactly is an “education marketing professional?” How many years experience does she have in this field? What school system has she provided her service to?
    Inquiring minds want to know. Since you are all for this full disclosure, let’s have it and not half it.

    1. EMP … that’s an edushyster … see here: it’s all about the Benjamins.

      The goal is to break the union, deprofessionalize teaching, create a churn of teach-for-awhile newbies, reduce the labor force/human capital (previously called teachers), prey on the assets (once known as children/students) and funnel taxpayer money to eduschemes:

      Let’s face it, reader. Most teachers go into the teaching biz for one reason and one reason only: the money. And the only reason they continue to show up, day after day, year after year, is to collect the golden parachutes, otherwise known as pensions, that will make their golden years literally golden. But is there anyone brave enough to look these fat cats in the eye? Meet billionaire and 38-year-old retiree John Arnold who is on a quest to rescue the nation from large-living teachers and at last put students first.

  9. Dear beware,
    I’m not sure where your information on teachers comes from, but all the teachers I know are certainly not in it for the money. The teachers I know are sorely underpaid and are in the classroom because they love children and teaching. Most teachers reach deep into their own pockets on a regular basis to provide the basic tools that are necessary for the children to learn. Most classrooms in the city don’t even have pencils or chalk. And those are only a small portion of what teachers buy out of their own pockets.
    As far as pensions go, when it comes to teachers, I think they certainly earned it!!!
    By the way, who taught YOU how to read, write and do simple mathematics?

  10. Sunshine, did you read the link? The blogger edushyster is calling out hedge fund reformers like John Arnold who are hell-bent on privatizing public education for their own financial gain. Unless beware actually buys into Arnold’s vision. Arne Duncan, Stefan Pryor, Michelle Rhee, Paul Vallas, Adomowski, the Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation, Kipp, Teach for America are all dancing to their corporate puppet masters in their quest for control of America’s education system. John Arnold and his ilk would better to take a long hard look at the person in the mirror rather than be “brave enough to look these fat cats in the eye.”

  11. And there is a big issue that is not being discussed, the conduct of Ken Moales who has huge conflicts of interests with Board of Ed money going to privately controlled religious schools run by members of his family.

  12. CT Post:
    This superintendent of schools was imposed on the city of Bridgeport by the state power structure. Abraham Lincoln once famously said whenever he heard a man arguing for slavery, he had a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

    Would the members of the state Board of Education who live in Trumbull or Shelton ever employ Paul Vallas as their superintendent of schools, or agree to pay his legal fees if he could not meet the qualifications?

    I think we all know the answer to that question.

    When legitimate questions and public input are stifled, we all lose.

    The race of the overseer does not alter the reality of plantation life in Bridgeport.

    I still believe that through perseverance and dedication, and a belief that our young people are as capable of learning as those of any other town in Connecticut, we the people of Bridgeport shall one day overcome this plantation mentality.
    Full oped:www


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