While most of the attention will be focused on the vote for President and members of the U.S. Senate, Congress, State Senate and State House of Representatives tomorrow, there will be plenty of eyes cast on what happens with the charter revision referendum in Bridgeport.
Mayor Bill Finch, “education reformers” and elite members of the corporate community are spending a record amount to try and convince Bridgeport voters that it is in their best interests to give up their democratic rights to select members of the Bridgeport Board of Education.
Instead, Mayor Finch and his followers want voters to believe that skipping democracy and simply allowing him to choose who will serve on the “citizen” board overseeing Bridgeport’s schools will produce a better education system.
This from a team that brought in Paul Vallas, the $229,000, part-time, “education reformer extraordinaire, ” superintendent of schools, whose primary claim to fame, upon arrival in Bridgeport, was to sign more than $12 million in no-bid contracts, including contracts hiring many “consultants” who actually worked for his private consulting company, The Vallas Group.
Throughout history, there have been certain moments in which a decision was made that may have sounded “good” at the time, put led to disaster and debacles of historic proportions.
Imagine the strategists who told Custer in 1876 that he’d have no problem pacifying the savages at Little Big Horn, or the military strategists who suggested that they just drop allied troops on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915.
Similar moments have arisen in politics. For example, the brain trust who told President Richard Nixon, that it was a good idea to have thugs break into Democratic Headquarters, and that no one would ever figure out who did it.
Or the McCain campaign aides who told the Senator, pick Sarah Palin of Alaska to be the Republican candidate for Vice President, she’ll give the party just the boost it needs to beat that Obama guy.
Knowing what I know about Connecticut politics, Bridgeport’s Charter Revision Referendum, including the language doing away with an elected Board of Education and replacing it with one appointed by the Mayor, may pass tomorrow, but the repercussions of Finch’s move will haunt him and will undermine any dreams of grandeur he may harbor for a statewide political career.
Why? Because Connecticut voters believe in education, they believe in democracy and they have had more than their fair share of politicians who seek to use their office to provide financial support to their friends and supporters.
The number one conclusion that I’ve reached over the last nine months is that if Bill Finch had listened to public education advocates like Judge Carmen Lopez, and the Working Family Party members of the Board of Education, instead of his team of miscreants, he could have done a lot more to put Bridgeport’s education system back on track while creating an image for himself as someone who is actually dedicated to broad-based educational opportunity and achievement.
Instead, Captain Finch has turned his ship over to anti-union, anti-teacher and pro-privatization forces that are dismantling public education as we know it.
In direct opposition to the needs of children and taxpayers, Finch’s ship has transported a cadre of greedy, self-serving and unwelcome enemies, people and corporations that are more interested in seeking ways to turn our public schools into private money-making ventures.
To achieve those goals, they’ve decided that a democratically elected board of education, even in a City where the Democratic machine will always control six of the nine seats, is a threat. So instead of building consensus and finding common ground, they are moving to simply do away with the perceived problem that democracy might cause for their agenda.
We’ll see tomorrow whether their money can buy them the outcome they desire, but their message and methods are an anathema to the people of Connecticut, and Finch has made the terrible mistake of choosing to serve as their Patron Saint.
Should Finch ever attempt to seek office outside the borders of the City of Bridgeport, he’ll find his approach to education and democracy are not appreciated.
Connecticut has 166 public school districts, 169 if you add in the three quasi-public academies. There are 663 public elementary schools, 173 public middle schools and 170 public high schools. Every day, more than 51,000 teachers and 40,000 professional and support staff go to work helping to provide over half a million students with the knowledge and skills to succeed.
The state’s greatest natural resource is its people, and in Connecticut, that means an educated workforce.
Nearly 87 percent of our citizens have graduated high school, the highest percent in the nation. Almost 36 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is 30 percent higher than the national average.
And Connecticut’s parents understand the importance of education. The state’s high school graduation rate is over 82 percent, the fifth highest, and well above the national average of 75%.
According to most recent data, 37,904 students graduated from Connecticut public high schools, and more than half of these graduates went on to attend a four-year college or university.
Another 24 percent of the graduates continued their education at two-year colleges or other educational institutions. A record 3 out of every 4 Connecticut high school graduates continued on with some type of educational program.
And nearly every single one of those school districts is guided by a group of citizens elected by their fellow voters. Citizens whose job it is to preserve, protect and enhance the quality of education in their communities while weighing the very real financial limitations that face many communities.
At the same time, many of Connecticut’s urban school districts do face unparalleled challenges. That is because poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services are the greatest predictors of academic success as measured by standardized test scores.
However, there is absolutely no evidence that communities with politically appointed boards of education do better than communities that have boards of education that are elected by the people.
Although we can certainly guess that the politically appointed ones have more success in driving resources and contracts to politically connected individuals and corporations.
Even when Hartford went for a mayoral appointed board, it recognized the importance of having some members elected, as well as appointed.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch has made a huge political blunder and by associating himself with in-state and out-of-state corporate education reformers, he has ensured that he will be seen as one of Connecticut’s leading anti-public education, anti-union and anti-teacher politicians.
It would be a recipe for disaster for any Democrat, but particularly one from Connecticut.
The fact is that Bill Finch will undoubtedly pay a political price for failing to listen to what the pro-public education advocates have been saying, but sadly, it is a small price compared to the price Bridgeport’s public school students have had to pay as a result of the City’s misguided and mean-spirited policies.
Regardless of tomorrow’s vote, it is not too late for Finch and his political operatives to put aside their short-term political goals and actually open their ears and HEAR from those who put students ahead of politics.
But if the past year is any indication, they’ll continue to pursue the failed and destructive path they have been walking upon.