The last agenda item at this week’s Bridgeport Board of Education meeting was entitled “School Readiness Grant Program, Priority School Districts, July 2013 – June 2014”.
According to the agenda and board packet, the Board of Education was being asked, as it has for more than a decade, to authorize the City of Bridgeport to submit a grant application for federal and state funds to run the City’s early childhood education and day-care slots. This time the grant totaled just over $11.4 million for the next two years.
However, what made this year different is that a major controversy surfaced because over $1 million a year of those funds are targeted for daycare facilities owned and operated by the family of the Chairman of the Board of Education, Kenneth Moales.
In what could only be called a bizarre move, when the Board reached the daycare agenda item, rather than confront the conflict of interest that is facing Moales, Chairman Moales and the other 4 members of the Bridgeport Board of Education who are aligned with Mayor Bill Finch simply adjourned the meeting, claiming that they had discovered that no vote was actually needed in order to allow the city to submit the grant application.
Bizarre indeed because a quick search of news articles about the School Readiness Grant Program will reveal that over the last month, boards of education and town councils across Connecticut have been voting on whether or not to submit their school’s own School Readiness Grants. In just the last few weeks, “yes” votes have taken place in Waterbury, East Haven, Thomaston, Vernon, Middletown, Winchester, Canterbury and dozens of other communities.
So how is it that Bridgeport suddenly determined that its Board of Education was free to simply walk away from the issue rather than vote on whether to authorize the grant application?
At least a portion of the story can be found in a recent article in the CT Post.
When the agenda item in question was reached, Board of Education member Maria Pereira appropriately demanded that Moales relinquish the chair for the debate and recuse himself from the vote on this year’s grant since he and his family would directly benefit from the Board’s action.
Instead, Moales refused to hand over the task of running the meeting to the vice chair and, instead, announced that a vote on accepting the grant was not needed,
When his statement was challenged, Moales asked for a motion to adjourn and on a vote of 5 to 4, with the 5 board members loyal to Mayor Bill Finch voting to end the meeting, the Bridgeport Board of Education voted to go home rather than fulfill their longstanding responsibilities related to the grant.
According to the CT Post story, the decision to forgo any vote was based on the news that Bridgeport’s director of early childhood education had explained that according to a communication she had with the State Department of Education, since the city itself was receiving funds for daycare slots, the Board was actually prohibited from voting on the distribution of the grant.
No documentation related to the conversation with the State Department of Education was provided.
Nor was there any mention as to how the Mayor and the Superintendent of Schools had the authority to sign an $11.4 million contract without Board or Council approval.
In fact, there was no substantive discussion, whatsoever, about how Connecticut and Bridgeport’s laws and regulations related to the grant process.
Instead, Moales, a prime beneficiary of the grant, simply assured the Board that they could go home and Connecticut taxpayers would still send along the $11.4 million.
Of course updates will be posted, as they become available.
To read the CT Post story on the Board vote go to: http://blog.ctnews.com/education/2013/05/14/no-one-votes-preschool-slots-get-awarded-anyway/