Walsh Argues For Elected School Board

You can take the City Council out of the boy but you cannot take the boy out of the City Council Chambers. Bob “Troll” Walsh, the former City Council curmudgeon, returned to the home base of the city’s legislative body Tuesday night to lecture the Charter Revision Commission about school district size being determining factors in education success.

Walsh stated during the public hearing that … “if you take a look at the top municipal district performers in the state you will see the names New Canaan, Redding, Wilton, Easton, Weston, Madison, Westport, Ridgefield, Simsbury and Avon. Probably all have elected boards of education but have some of the highest per capita incomes in the states. So is it school governance that makes them among the best? Did your experts speak to this phenomenon?”

Walsh claims Connecticut’s largest cities have the lowest performing school districts irrespective of an elected or an appointed board. New Haven has an appointed board, but Walsh isn’t convinced the Elm City’s school district performs head and shoulders above the state’s largest city. Walsh argued residents are more responsive to an elected school board.  Text of speech Walsh presented to the commission:

I appeared before this commission when you conducted your first public hearing cautioning you to act wisely when it came to changes to an elected board of education and urging you to look at other areas of city governance. I further warned you that you could be creating a bigger problem if you are considering expanding the powers of the mayor without strengthening and enhancing other checks and balances.

And although I have not attended your public meetings from everything I have read in the press and from others who have attended you have spent nearly all of your effort thus far on the Board of Education and not much substance beyond that. Increasing the power of the mayor now and dealing with adequate checks and balances later is a course for disaster.

And I must further note that, although you may disagree, from my point of view your analysis thus far has been very one sided.

Tonight I would like to first of all present the commission with copies of e-mails that were originally obtained by others through Freedom Of Information requests. There are approximately 50 pages of e-mail correspondence going back to more than a year ago dealing with the city’s and state’s efforts to disband the elected board of education.

If you take the time to read these and pay as much attention as to what is not there as to what is there, it became increasingly apparent that nowhere do participants talk about measurable improvements to student’s test scores or quality of education but merely control of the board, the process of eliminating the elected board and the preference of political governance.

And I urge you to read these in a personal and emotional manner. You read politicians, bureaucrats and other individuals with their own personal self interests talking about the future of the Bridgeport school system in a manner that assumes no one in our city is capable or caring enough to oversee our children’s education. And furthermore you will see that there are no guarantees of improvement just the guarantee of wresting away from the board the powers duly vested in it. It is not about the children but merely about the political power and who shall possess it.

And much of the “expert” testimony that you have received is of the same nature. How many “experts” guaranteed a given percentage increase in test scores if you abandon an elected board for an appointed one? None. How many of these experts provided you with proof positive that historically when a city of similar size changes its form of school governance a significant improvement in test scores will be realized? None. Instead of proof they offered common sense. Instead of historical evidence they offered personal opinions.

I took the time to do some general research which, from everything that I gathered, none of your experts did.

I went to the internet yesterday and googled my way around looking for some comparative measures of educational success in the state of Connecticut. I came across an internet site called www.schooldigger.com. This website took data from the National Center of Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education and the CT Department of Education and rated 165 school districts throughout the state. And sadly I must report that Bridgeport was ranked 161. However, I then noticed that the shining examples that you are being asked to follow, Hartford and New Haven, were ranked 157 and 151 respectively. Is this the level of improvement that you are willing to accept in return for getting rid of an elected board of education? Did the so-called experts share this exemplary level of performance with you when urging you to abandon an elected board?

And when you remove some charter school districts from this list there are only 2 schools systems that separate Bridgeport from Hartford and another three that separate Hartford from New Haven. Is this the excellence that you seek? The level of improvement that you find worthy of such a dramatic change?

Take another look at this list and you will see that in the top 50 school districts that there are only two districts with over 10,000 students and they both are barely over. In the top 100 there are only the same two. In the next 50 there are 5 district over 10,000 students and in the bottom 15 come the three largest schools systems in the state. If you want to find the most predictable factor of performance, it is clearly the size of the school system and not the method of governance employed.

And if you take a look at the top municipal district performers in the state you will see the names New Canaan, Redding, Wilton, Easton, Weston, Madison, Westport, Ridgefield, Simsbury and Avon. Probably all have elected boards of education but have some of the highest per capita incomes in the states. So is it school governance that makes them among the best? Did your experts speak to this phenomenon?

So I called the state of Connecticut’s Department of Education yesterday to inquire as to where on their website I might find a comparative ranking of school districts. The woman that I spoke to informed me that they do not compile such a list.

They feel that there are too many factors that contribute to such a ranking that it is their policy not to create such a comparison. So the state of Connecticut by policy would not even create a list to determine how school governance affects a school systems performance but your experts had no problem readily and eagerly stating an appointed board is better. Maybe you wanted to believe it but I do not think the public will when presented with these facts.

But while I was on the phone with the state of CT Department of Education, I was directed to a website where I might be able to develop my own list.

So I looked around, found a section on the CMT scores for 8th grade testing from a very current 2001. I ran these reports. I averaged proficiency percent for each of the four skills tested and performed my own ranking. And at the end of my list came the state largest districts with New Haven at 146, Bridgeport at 151 and HARTFORD at 152. So we should be following Hartford’s lead because …

There is no evidence whatsoever that an appointed or a hybrid Board Of Education will result in any improvement in school performance. None whatsoever.

But getting back to our dysfunctional BOE, I truly believe that there was never a dysfunctional board but at best case a dysfunctional board president and possibly a dysfunctional mayor. Whenever a vote was required, it was always 6-3. But in the eyes of some professional politicians and career bureaucrats three dissenting voices are three too many. With a 6-3 majority the board president could pretty much bring debate to a close, force a vote, move on a matter or table it. With a 6-3 majority the board president could have done whatever they wanted to. But either because the president was incompetent or worse yet the president was perpetuating this illusion of a dysfunctional board their power was never used.

But probably most accurately based on the e-mails that I provided copies of this evening it was more of a carefully orchestrated effort to create the illusion of one simply to give the state a reason to disband Bridgeport’s elected board. And now that that has failed the mayor has turned to you and is seeking the same.



  1. Good read, Bob. But will the appointed commission weigh the facts and do the right thing … or will they do what they are told to do? My opinion, based on many years observing Bridgeport politics, is they do what they’re told. Then it’s up to the voters.

  2. The proponents of the change desired by Mayor Finch, many were young teachers with less than five years in the classroom under their belt and many working in alternative classrooms in the City, were out in force last night. Many did not claim to be voters, disturbed with their right to elect being curbed.
    I was impressed once again by the words of Pastor Anthony Bennett and Pastor Mary Lee who recalled the lengthy and dangerous road traveled to gain the right to vote by ancestors of youth in our education system today. The right to vote, that is so little appreciated by those who would forgo it for a promise from a political Mayor with a four-year term who suddenly claims accountability.
    The results of the system that has been in place in Bridgeport (as well as the systems in Hartford and New Haven that have Mayoral accountability) show little to celebrate. The community is in agreement. But money has something to do with that as Bob Walsh showcased so directly.
    And recent administrations have failed to be financially accountable in one major degree by not attending to Chapter 9 Section 7 of the City Charter where 12 monthly reports of expenses, revenues and variances have failed to be delivered by Mayor to Council and people for over 20 years. Why not? And digging deeper into City financial records, you begin to question 2011 BOE Grants ‘expenses’ for $190,000 for Food-Restaurant, Catering nearly $12 Million for Human Services and $4.4 Million for Educational Services. City-BOE distrust has been raised multiple times to the Charter Revision Commission. Where is the fiscal body in the City that sees all of the expenses, knows all the revenues, sees the big picture with fiscal training and experience and is able to speak to people openly, with accountability and transparency??? And allows the people to come to meetings and ask questions and make comments??? Bridgeport does not have such a body. In Fairfield they call such a group the Fairfield Board of Finance. To calm fears and distrust, to serve as a knowing and fiscally wise overseer and watchdog, would Bridgeport voters and taxpayers be better off with such a body??? Will someone other than me, express your opinion about financial accountability to the CRC? Time will tell.

      1. When taxes are increased, and you wake up, perhaps you will pay my added taxes as well as your own. Less in your pocket is more in their phony budgets. Short enough to maintain your attention??? Time will tell.

  3. John Marshall Lee:
    The last time Bridgeport had a finance board to review city budgets it fell under the influence of the mayor and became essentially a stuffed dog instead of a watchdog. That’s the reason it was thrown out.

    All of you should have seen enough of city government to know it “works” only as well as the people participating in it.

    Bridgeport does not have a high level of participation, nor a good track record for encouraging independent thought. (See Bob Walsh.)

    It is evident the mayor will get what he wants out of this charter commission. They are merely a necessary pass-through to get the school board matter to the voters.

    It is important for everyone to get everything into the public record, but this is hardly a charter review no matter how much rouge they put on the critter.

    Bill Finch keeps on surprising me. This is classic machine, Bridgeport or elsewhere. Mandy would be proud.

  4. Jim Callahan,
    Regarding financial history you indicate the financial review board at the time of the financial failure that brought the STATE APPOINTED Financial Review Board was an appointed Board and was dysfunctional? At least the CT Statute today does not allow conflicted persons with City jobs to sit on a Finance Board. That would be one step forward.
    Max Medina accurately reported about BOE groups in the past 20 years that did function. And Walsh’s numbers about student results do not indicate a Mayor-appointed group necessarily does any better.
    Arguing Mayoral accountability does not get us there either. So maybe you are right, let’s look at power politics in the blinding light of a Presidential election, the voters are out and maybe they will vote for Accountable Finch and his Appointed Board. As all of the “experts from out of town” expressed, you have to consider community history and culture, conflicts of interest are not permitted in other towns, and money is important as New Haven and Hartford will admit since they have gotten larger slices of the State pie than Bridgeport all along, but maybe that’s only that “distrust” stuff about Bridgeport handling money.
    But with failure to supply Charter-required monthly reports for 20 years, failure to maintain an internal control staff as advertised for years in public documents annually, and failure to have a single group with the responsibility and practice of and for oversight, feedback and comprehensive reporting to the legislative body will keep us down for years to come … until the State comes back to appoint another Financial Review Board? Time will tell.

  5. In this town there is no difference between an elected BOE and an appointed BOE. Six out of the last nine elected are calamarians.

    There is too much money involved in the goods and services side of the BOE budget to ‘allow’ free elections ensuring the best and most altruistic candidates get elected.

    Another thing. Who in the hell does Paul Timpanelli think he is telling us the $250,000 Russo got for a BOE audit is into its third year and is nowhere near ready for report. 2-1/5 years of work? Any CPA firm worthy of a BOE audit would have chewed up $250,000 in just a few months. This is certainly worth an investigation.

  6. There are few if any elected officials seeking the best for Bridgeport students or Bridgeport taxpayers in this latest manipulation of voting rights.
    There are, however, exceptional voices following the Machiavellian goals of the Finch/Wood administration and we are made clearly aware of how self-serving, greed-ridden and power-driven these Administration goals are …
    The charter question put to voters in November will probably be written in a manner to confuse voters … so if you support a democratically elected BOE, your no may mean a yes or a yes may mean a no. Don’t expect clarity from those who would so easily exploit the process and the true intent of real Charter Revision.

    What must be clearly stated to and understood by Bridgeport voters is if you vote to elect a President, vote to elect State Senators, vote to elect State Representatives, vote to elect a Registrar of Voters, then you must be able to vote to elect members to the Bridgeport Board of Education. Nothing less can be accepted.


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