Call this one a reminder of the old adage; “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
On Friday, in preparation for the move, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch sent his aide, Joshua Thompson, the “Director of Education and Youth Policy and the Deputy Mayor for Education for the city of Bridgeport, CT” out to blast the Board of Education members who have been critical of some of Vallas’ practices and policies.
In a statement to the “Only in Bridgeport” blog, Thompson wrote, “I want to make something 100-percent clear…I am very concerned that we have elected board members whose values are tied to that of the Working Families Party…. With Superintendent Vallas’ evaluation coming up this Monday, it is clear that anyone who is part of the Working Families Party did not objectively evaluate the Superintendent’s performance…”
Of course, for starters, there is the technicality that Bridgeport doesn’t actually have a position of deputy mayor.
It has a Mayor and a Council President, but it doesn’t have a deputy mayor…
So who is this Josh Thompson who, as a taxpayer-funded Bridgeport city employee, is warning that the democratically elected members of the Bridgeport Board of Education, who are also members of the Working Families Party, are taking positions that Mayor Finch doesn’t like?
Josh Thompson was hired by Bridgeport Mayor and Vallas cheerleader, Bill Finch, to serve as his education liaison in August 2012.
At the time, the CT Post reported that “Joshua Thompson will develop and carry out public education policy and shape new initiatives. He will earn $102,000 as an at-will employee of the mayor. Funds for the salary were approved by the City Council and come from a dedicated line in the budget, said Adam Wood, Finch’s chief of staff.”
Neither Finch nor Wood explained to the City Council that the “dedicated line” they were referring to was actually the City’s education budget.
Finch did say that, “Thompson will be the point person for his administration’s education reform efforts.”
While Thompson’s official position has remained that of a deputy chief administrative officer, the Finch Administration started calling Thompson the Mayor’s “Director for Education and Youth.”
Director of Education and Youth is how he refers to himself on his LinkedIn social networking account, although on his twitter account, Thompson calls himself the “Director of Education in Bridgeport, CT”.
Thompson’s quick rise to senior administrative status is most impressive if one reads his published biography on The Council of Urban Professionals’ website. CUP is New York City based “energetic 21st century leadership development organization that molds diverse business and civic leaders, and empowers them to exert influence, achieve their individual goals and create collective impact through a range of programs and initiative.”
On the CUP website, Joshua Thompson writes that he is “Director of Education and Youth Policy and the Deputy Mayor for Education for the city of Bridgeport, CT.”
Thompson’s biography goes on to explain, “Joshua Thompson is the Director of Education and Youth Policy and the Deputy Mayor for Education for the city of Bridgeport, CT. Prior to this position, he was the Program Analyst and Projects Manager for the Deputy Mayor for Education in the Executive Office of the Mayor in Washington, DC. In this capacity, he served in a direct oversight role in the District’s schools, working in partnership with charter schools, as well as the federal government on policies such as Race to the Top and other major initiatives that impact the District at large. Joshua has also served as the Director of Athletics and Institutional Advancement at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, which he attended as a youth.”
The evidence is a bit unclear about his role as “Program Analyst and Projects Manager for the Deputy Mayor for Education” in Washington, DC, but considering he was working at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School up until January 2012 and joined Finch’s Administration in August 2012, it wasn’t an extended stay in Washington.
In addition, while it is true that he and his wife served as “as house parents at his alma mater, St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, for more than a year, ” he wasn’t actually Director of Institutional Advancement at Saint Benedict’s Prep, he was more like Associate Director. He did hold the position of Director of Athletics, although truth be told, it was for less than two months.
Thompson’s bio goes on to explain that, “He was awarded a Public Service Legal Fellowship by Vermont Law School to help shape the changing landscape of education in Newark. During his fellowship, Joshua co-wrote the strategic plan for the creation and operation of Partnership for Education in Newark (PENewark), a program that reached and involved more local residents than had ever been engaged in a city of Newark’s size. He then served as a Research Analyst for the project, funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In this role, Joshua worked as a direct advisor to PENewark’s co-chairs, Shavar Jeffries and the Mayor of Newark, Cory A. Booker.”
It does appear that Mr. Thompson spent part of 2010 in Newark; although as one professor from Michigan State University wrote after studying the PENewark campaign, “A door-to-door outreach campaign in Newark got underway in December 2010. The campaign was coordinated by a new organization, Partnership for Education in Newark (PENewark), which was created by a PR firm, Tusk Strategies. Tusk was paid $1.5 million, and the engagement effort was criticized for its expense and vague results.”
The professor concludes, “What has become of PENewark since the expensive outreach campaign? The website has been repurposed by a vintage furniture seller. The group’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been silent since 2011.”
But be that as it may, the 27-year-old Thompson’s arrival in 2012 was heralded as a major development and Finch is rarely seen these days without Thompson at his side.
Last year Finch told the CT Post, “He comes to us with impressive credentials and success.”
Adam Wood, Finch’s Chief of Staff added, at the time, “I think there has been a lot of change and we want to strengthen and grow the relationship between the board and city,” said Wood. “We have come to the consensus we need to devote a dedicated and experienced resource toward this effort.”
Paul Vallas was effusive about Thompson saying, “He is a splendid choice” and according to the CT Post, Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor “said hiring Thompson will help the Finch administration advance the turnaround of the city’s school district.”
Upon his arrival, Thompson became one of Finch’s key point people in the Mayor’s unsuccessful effort to do away with an elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by Finch.
After the loss, Salon Magazine wrote, “Joshua Thompson, Finch’s director of education and youth, defended the unsuccessful effort, saying the mayor was following the recommendations of “a report handed back to him” by a charter commission that was based on testimony by academics and “major reformers” like former New York City schools chief Joel Klein. “It seemed to be the best way to move school reform that’s deserving of our children,” Thompson told Salon. He said that maintaining an elected school board “would almost be perpetuating the definition of insanity” because it has shown an “inability to carry out what’s necessary for our children.” Thompson added that “taking the politics out” was “a catalyst” for reforms elsewhere.”
But even with the defeat, Finch and his supporters are pushing ahead with their education reform efforts, and for now, that effort is focused almost exclusively on extending Paul Vallas’ contract.
Vallas is Finch’s key to controlling the Bridgeport Schools and Finch will apparently say or do whatever is needed to keep Vallas around.
Oh, and last but not least…
Bridgeport’s school budget is in the range of $225 million a year. Of that amount, more than 80 percent comes from the State of Connecticut. However, to get that money, state law requires that the City of Bridgeport devote at least a minimum level of financial support for the schools from city funds.
Bridgeport is rather notorious for trying to sidestep that requirement but this past November, under pressure, the City Council authorized an additional transfer of $3,649,575 to the Bridgeport Board of Education.
That was the amount of money needed in order for the City to meet the Minimum Expenditure Requirement (MER) under state law. Included in that amount was none other than the funding for the position of Deputy CAO for Education/Youth (AKA Josh Thompson’s position)
In other words, more than one hundred thousand dollars a year in funds meant to educate the children of Bridgeport will, instead, be going to pay the salary of Josh Thompson.
So the guy who is spending his time blasting members of the Bridgeport School Board is actually a City employee but he is being paid from the funds under the jurisdiction of the very board members that he is attacking.
Oh and Mr. Thompson’s wife? She landed a job at Achievement First Inc. – Bridgeport.
Right, that Achievement First, Inc. – the charter school management company co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor. The charter school management company with 20 taxpayer-funded schools in New York and Connecticut, one of which is located in Bridgeport. The very same Achievement First Inc. that has received permission from Pryor’s state agency to dramatically expand the number of students it accepts, thereby increasing the amount of public funds it gets.
It certainly seems to be some poetic justice in the notion that Joshua Thompson’s diatribe against certain members of the Bridgeport Board of Education showed up Friday in the blog entitled, “Only in Bridgeport.”
That and the not so poetic justice that Bridgeport’s children and teachers are being played by the likes of Finch, Vallas and the “education reformers.”