Bridgeport Board of Education Member Maria Pereira speaks out against Malloy Education Cuts

Maria Pereira is a public education advocate and member of the Bridgeport Board of Education.  She recently testified before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee on Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposal to slash state support for Connecticut’s public schools. In her testimony Pereira highlights the devastating impact Malloy’s budget would have on Bridgeport.

Pereira explained;

I write to you today as a Bridgeport Public School (BPS) graduate, parent, Board of Education member (BOE), and staunch defender of true public education.

I and my five siblings were born and raised in Bridgeport and we all graduated from the Bridgeport Public Schools. When I look back on the education I received I often come to the conclusion that I received a good education administrated by amazing Bridgeport Public School Teachers.

I have been a staunch and vocal proponent of our true public schools since 2009, which is when I discovered my 12 year old daughter was on her 9th seventh grade math teacher as of March that school year. I often believe something good comes out of everything bad. My good was that this was my catalyst for becoming involved in the state of public education in the City that I love, Bridgeport.

I have witnessed public education deteriorate in Bridgeport over the last three decades due in large measure to the severe underfunding of the BPS.  Governor Malloy’s own ECS Taskforce Report issued in January 2012 recommended using “Free and Reduced Price Lunch eligibility to determine student need”, yet the proposed budget rejects that recommendation by using Husky A enrollment as the measurement for poverty. This will allow thousands of students living in poverty NOT to be counted. Examples are many fathers are court ordered to provide health coverage through their employer, yet the child lives with mother and in poverty. Many non-citizens do not, and will not apply for Husky A, especially in today’s world of mass deportation.  They are frightened to give their personal information.

There is another $22,000,000 in Malloy’s proposed budget for charter school enrollment and new school expansion. How is this state facing approximately $3 billion in budget deficits over the next two years, yet the SDOE requested bids for more charter schools? Why is there is always more money for the most segregated schools with the highest suspension and expulsion rates in CT? These CMO’s are pocketing between 10% and 13% of every state dollar provided to them for “fees” instead of using these funds to educate their students.

Bridgeport has more charter schools than any other district in CT with six. Over 10% of our total student population is in charter schools while the state is at 3%. Our school district had over $6,000,000 dollars in ECS funds siphoned off to these charter schools last year alone because we must cover their bus transportation and special ed. costs which is absurd. Under state statute, charter school students are defined as students of the “state” not the local school district, yet we must redirect our limited resources to fund charter school costs.  Just ten social workers for these charter schools cost us $1,000,000 last year. This upcoming school year, it is projected that we will be paying for more school busses to charter schools than our own Bridgeport Public Schools.

If you want to see the results of under regulated and over expansion of charter schools in urban cities, and how it negatively impacts true public schools, neighborhoods, and communities; one only has to look at Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit, etc. where the siphoning off of billions of dollars has caused such strain on impoverished urban communities that some are on the verge of collapse.

Bridgeport was heavily involved in the CCJEF lawsuit and has waited over 9 years to have the courts rule in favor of what so many of us that live in impoverished urban cities already know; our schools have been severely underfunded for decades.  The ECS Taskforce Report stated … “the state must make a long-term commitment to increasing its proportional share of total educational funding in the state. This commitment must be faithfully carried out in the biennial state budget through annual increases in total state funding for education including funding the ECS grants)…”

Governor Malloy’s Proposed Budget requires Alliance Districts to maintain the 2017 Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR); however it gives the Mayor the authority to appeal to the state Board of Education for a waiver of the MBR requirement. In essence, the MBR would be non-binding. And the icing on the cake is that although the state may well increase ECS funding to a district, the city/town is NOT required to use those funds for their public schools.

The ECS Taskforce Report calculations placed Bridgeport as the most underfunded school district in CT on a cash basis with a projection that we were underfunded by approximately $48,000,000 on an annual basis.  Bridgeport spends approximately $14,000 per pupil, New Haven is at approximately $17,000, and Hartford is at approximately $19,000.

This proposed budget would reduce Bridgeport’s ECS Allocation by $26,000,000, eliminate $ 5,000,000 in the Special Education Excess Cost Grant, and add $13,000,000 in Teacher Pension costs with a total reduction in our budget of $43,779,868. We would gain $39,151,000 in the new Special Education Grant which will give Bridgeport a net loss of $ 4,658,051.  Hartford will lose $4,841,869 and New Haven will lose $20,261,091. Teacher Pension costs are expected to balloon over the next 15 years.  What will happen to our cities/towns then?

Is this what our 21,000 Bridgeport Public School children waited for after 9 years of litigation in which we prevailed, but the end result is they are losing close to $5,000,000 in state funding? Is this really the comprehensive funding plan to close the achievement gap? I certainly hope not.

Please reject Governor Malloy’s proposed Education Budget.

How many corporate education reform failures must there be. Before we know the scheme is a disaster?

Yes, How many corporate education reform failures must there be. Before we know the scheme is a disaster?

Or to borrow from the great poet and songwriter Bob Dylan

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Sarah Darer Littman, fellow public education advocate and commentator, uses her most recent CT Newsjunkie column to ask the quintessential question about education reform by pointing readers to Dale Russakoff’s new book entitled, The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools.

Sara Darer Littman writes,

Although no Connecticut city is as high profile in the education reform battle as Newark, which received a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, there are interesting parallels to observe and lessons to be learned.

The reform movement has been characterized by jargon and combative rhetoric in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie described plans for Newark by saying the state needed to “grab the system by the roots, pull it out and start over.”

Other examples include U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s famous utterance: “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina,” and former Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor and Students First CEO Michelle Rhee’s statement that, “Cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated.”

Is such rhetoric aimed at largely minority communities in which the schools to be reformed are based? Or is it geared toward a different audience: the powerful funders of the education reform movement?

Russakoff quotes Newark resident and teacher Princess Williams. “My calling is to fix the public schools … If something is broken and we have the power to fix it, why would we abandon it for something else?”

“It’s not about children,” observes former Bridgeport Board of Education member and current candidate, Maria Pereira, of education reform rhetoric. “It’s about the 39 percent federal tax credit they get when they open charter schools in urban communities.”

Look at the epicenters of school reform and you’ll see one critical thing in common – mayoral or state control. Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Newark: If there’s an elected local school board, it’s merely in an “advisory” capacity.

The story then turns to Connecticut.

Read the full column at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_lessons_ct_can_take_away_from_dale_russakoffs_the_prize/

 

Bridgeport public schools losing big money to charters by Maria Pereira

Maria Pereira is a former member of the Bridgeport Board of Education, a leading advocate for Bridgeport Public Schools and served as one of the key plaintiffs in the successful lawsuit in which the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Governor Malloy’s takeover of the Bridgeport School System was illegal.

A year ago, almost to the day, a group of Bridgeport citizens, including Maria Pereira, attended the State Board of Education meeting to request Governor Dannel Malloy’s political appointees REJECT applications by two more charter school companies to open privately run, but publicly funded facilities in Bridgeport.  The Bridgeport Board of Education was so opposed to the charter school plans that it voted against the proposals and the Bridgeport Board of Education’s chairwoman was among those speaking against state approve for the charter school companies.  Among the issues discussed was the state law aimed at prohibiting the saturation of charter schools in a particular community.

But in another assault on the role of local control and historic value of local communities running their own school system, Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education approved both applications, including the controversial plan put forward by Steve Perry.

One year later, this commentary piece examines that charter school issues in more detail.  It first appeared in the CT Mirror at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2015/03/30/bridgeport-public-schools-losing-big-money-to-charters/

Bridgeport public schools losing big money to charters by Maria Pereira

As  a graduate of the Bridgeport Public Schools, a parent of a recent graduate of the school system, a former Bridgeport Board of Education member, and an active unpaid advocate for the public schools in my hometown, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read the recent editorial “CEA rhetoric not helping kids, public schools are” by Jeremiah Grace.

He is the Connecticut state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network which was co-founded by the disgraced Michael Sharpe from the now-defunct Family for Urban Schools of Excellence.

Full disclosure: I have never been a member of any union; and, I have never been compensated for my advocacy work on behalf of true public education.

Mr. Grace’s claim that the CEA’s “rhetoric” is “false, dishonest and insulting to parents” would be funny if it weren’t so incorrect. After all, isn’t it these millionaire-, billionaire-, Wall Street-backed charter school organizations that run ads depicting Connecticut school students as “trapped in failing schools” and advertise that “40,000 children are falling through the cracks?” [One of these ads appears at the bottom of this commentary — Ed.]

I think most of us would not only describe that as “rhetoric,” but also as deliberate “propaganda.”

Mr. Grace tries to discredit a recent CEA statewide poll because 78 percent of the participants were white; therefore, according to him, the poll was “marginalizing” the opinions of minorities.  The latest available U.S. census on Connecticut classifies 81.6 percent of our state population as “white alone.”

I would like Mr. Grace to share with us how many of the millionaires and billionaires that invest and/or founded the 22 Connecticut charter schools are “minorities?” One must ask who is really treating minorities like “puppets,” as Grace characterizes it.

I attended and provided testimony at the March 19 Education Committee hearing in Hartford. At 11:00 p.m., with testimony continuing late into the night, I took a moment to count how many charter school lobbyists, paid staff and charter school-compensated advocates were still in the room. Of the 27 I counted, I noted that just 4, or 15 percent, were minorities. Therefore 85 percent of those present were white.

In his willful distortion of the facts, Mr. Grace states that when a child leaves the public schools to enroll in a charter school, the district gets to keep that child’s state Education Cost Sharing allocation and “distribute most of that surplus among their other schools.”

A close examination of the findings of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Taskforce indicates that the Bridgeport Public Schools is the most underfunded district in Connecticut — to the tune of approximately $43 million each year. Even worse, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding has found that the state underfunds the Bridgeport Public Schools by $5,446 per student or approximately $119 million each year.

Meanwhile, each year our state spends $11,000 per charter-school student and $8,600 per Bridgeport Public School student. What “surplus” is Mr. Grace possibly referring to? What credibility does he hope to establish with the people of Bridgeport and of our state? How uneducated does he think we are?

The chief financial officer for the Bridgeport Public Schools, a highly experienced and educated Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Barnard in mathematics and education, conducted an in-depth analysis of how much real money the charter schools in Bridgeport will siphon away from the Bridgeport Public Schools budget. In addition, she provided an in-depth analysis of the loss of federal Title I funding that follows children who enroll in a charter school located in Bridgeport.

In total, the CFO forecast that the charter schools operating in our city, including the sixth charter school planned to open this fall, all told will siphon away over $26 million dollars from our school system over the next five years —already the most underfunded school district in Connecticut.

Although Bridgeport is allowed to seek state reimbursement for all transportation costs associated with the charter schools in the city, in all the years it has applied for such, in fact, the Bridgeport Public Schools has never received a single dollar of reimbursement for this. Although $20 million dollars of this money will be counted in the Bridgeport Public School’s state Education Cost Sharing grant, not a dime will go to the academic or socio-emotional needs of a single Bridgeport Public Schools student.

Highly compensated charter school advocates such as Mr. Grace consistently perpetuate the “waiting list” myth. Last year 6,000 children applied to gain entry to our Bridgeport magnet schools. Only 1,200 gained admission through a blind, randomized lottery; 4,800 students were placed on a “waiting list.

In this accounting, each student is counted only once. In contrast, charter school proponents often double or triple count, claiming that there are 3,600 students on waiting lists in Connecticut. If a child applies to three different charter schools, the charter school lobbyists count one student three times for their waiting-list story. That leaves us with an important question for our legislators: If there are 3,600 or perhaps more likely 1,200 students in the entire state waiting to enter a charter school, why should that be more important than the fact that there are truly 4,800 individual students on one waiting list for a magnet school in Bridgeport? Shouldn’t the state focus its limited resources on magnet school options? After all, in Bridgeport, every single magnet school outperforms every charter school.

In closing, Mr. Grace claims that the CEA’s statements were “patently false” and that they were choosing to “ignore the facts.” In fact, as it pertains to Bridgeport and its public schools, the “patently false” statements were made entirely by Mr. Grace, not the CEA.

Forces behind effort to eliminate democratically elected Bridgeport Board of Education donate to Kenneth Moales Jr.

Let’s hear it for less democracy!

Just days before the voters of Bridgeport overwhelmingly defeated Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s bizarre 2012 proposal to eliminate the democratically elected board of education in Bridgeport and replace it with one appointed by the Mayor, millionaire charter school champion Jonathan Sackler quietly wrote a personal check for $50,000 to help pay for the final set of mailings and advertisements designed to persuade Bridgeport voters to give up their right to vote for those who oversee their City’s public schools.

Now Jonathan Sackler and many of the same pro-charter, anti-public education, pro-corporate elite are pumping money into Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr.’s campaign for State Senate with the goal of helping Moales qualify for a taxpayer-funded state campaign grant that he would use to pay for his campaign in the February 24th 2015 state senate special election.

It won’t come as any surprise to those who have watched the ongoing effort to undermine and denigrate the people of Bridgeport that the very same individuals and groups that worked so hard to take away democracy in Bridgeport and keep Paul Vallas in charge of Bridgeport’s schools are now working overtime to put Moales – a Malloy/Finch ally and disgraced former chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education – into the Connecticut State Senate.

The corporate elite, education reform industry and charter school advocates know that Kenneth Moales Jr. will be a safe vote for their anti-public education agenda, even if it means hurting the people of Bridgeport.

Jonathan Sackler, whose pharmaceutical company makes OxyContin, is a founding member of Achievement First, Inc., the large Charter School Management Company with schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Sacker is also the corporate education reform industry advocate who formed ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group.  Sackler was one of the largest donors to Finch’s anti-democracy effort and now he tops the list for Moales as well.

Another key player for Moales is Andy Boas, the Chairman of the Board for Achievement First – Bridgeport, a member of the ConnCAN Board of Directors and the founder of The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation.  In 2012 Boa was also one of the largest contributors to Finch’s campaign to do away with an elected school board in Bridgeport.

And now Boas and his wife, like Sacker and his wife, have both donated the maximum amount to Moales’ campaign.

In total, more than half a dozen of Moales’ largest campaign contributions have come from members of the Achievement First, Inc. or ConnCAN Boards of Directors.

Yet another major player in Finch’s failed charter revision effort was Excel Bridgeport, Inc. the corporate funded education reform group that lobbied for the illegal state takeover of Bridgeport’s schools and then dumped more than $101,000 to support of Finch’s charter revision effort to do away with a democratically elected board of education.  Excel Bridgeport’s founder, Megan Lowney, who is also one of Malloy’s political appointees, recently gave Moales the maximum donation allowed under law.

Others who helped pay for Finch’s failed anti-democracy campaign and are now stepping up with donations for Moales’ campaign include;

Paul Vallas and his wife (now re-located back to Illinois)

Robert Trefrey

Trefrey is the former President/CEO of Bridgeport Hospital.  Trefrey chaired the illegal board that was handed control of Bridgeport’s schools by Governor Malloy’s administration.  When the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Malloy’s attempt to take over the Bridgeport Schools was illegal, Malloy appointed Trefrey to the State Board of Education’s Committee that oversees the state’s technical high schools.  Bridgeport Hospital gave Finch’s charter revision campaign the maximum allowable donation, even at a time it was laying off staff.  Trefrey has not given Moales the maximum allowable contribution.

Jeremiah Grace

Grace is the Connecticut State Director of the Northeast Charter School Network.  The organization not only lobbies for more charter schools but helps private charter school management companies develop applications to get public funds.

Lee Bollert

Bollert was an education advisor to Mayor Bill Finch and helped create Excel Bridgeport, Inc.

William McCullough

McCullough serves with Moales on the Board of Directors of Steve Perry’s proposed Bridgeport charter school.

Kadisha Coates 

Coates is a charter school advocate, member of Families for Excellent Schools and is the newest member of the Bridgeport Board of Education. Coates and her husband are both donors to Moales.

Liz Torres

Torres is a member of the Great Oaks Charter School Board of Directors.

Joshua Thompson

Thompson is the former Finch aide and Vallas assistant who posted on his on-line resume that he was the Deputy Mayor for Education in Bridgeport, even though he was no such thing. Thomson is now an executive New Leaders Fund, a corporate education reform advocacy group in New York City.  Brandon Clark, who ran on the Finch slate for Board of Education with Moales in 2013 but lost, also works with the New Leaders Fund with Thompson and also recently donated to Moales’ campaign.

Other Moales donors include a number of employees, lobbyists and consultants associated with ConnCAN, Achievement First, Inc. and other charter schools organizations in Hartford, New Haven and out-of state.

In order to get the full taxpayer funded grant of Moales has filed the paperwork to get a state taxpayer funded grant.  In order to get the money he must raise a total of $11,250, of which 225 must come from people living in Bridgeport or Stratford.  Depending on the number of signatures collected, Moales could receive a public grant of up to $71,000

Although Moales submitted the paperwork to get a grant last Friday, a review of his public financing report reveals a variety of problems and suspicious donations that could prevent him from qualifying for the public funding.

Note:  A special thanks to Maria Pereira who also researched Moales’ recent campaign finance report and provided her findings to the “Only in Bridgeport” blog.

Key Bridgeport activist in battle to stop education reform industry leaves Working Families Party

Maria Pereira, the former Bridgeport Board of Education member who fought Paul Vallas and his corporate education reform initiatives, helped lead the effort to strike down the Malloy administration’s illegal takeover of the Bridgeport Schools System, played a pivotal role in defeating Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s failed initiative to do away with an elected board of education and replace it with one that he would appoint, and helped run the successful campaign to strip the education reformers of their majority control of the Bridgeport Board of Education has resigned her position with the Connecticut Working Families Party State Central Committee.

Maria Pereira’s resignation is significant on a number of levels not the least of which is it highlights the problem facing some of Connecticut’s labor and progressive group leaders.

Governor Malloy’s decision to seek re-election has placed some labor leaders in an extremely difficult spot.  While Malloy has utilized a “scorched earth policy” in his attacks on public education and state employees, some labor and progressive leaders are trying to argue that their organizations should still endorse Governor Malloy despite the fact that has earned the reputation as the most anti-teacher, anti-public education Democratic Governor in the nation.

The effort to endorse Malloy won’t fly with many activists and rank and file members who have directly suffered from Malloy’s policies

In here resignation letter to the chairs of the Working Families Party, Bridgeport’s public school advocate wrote the following,

In 2009, the Working Families Party of Connecticut gave me an opportunity which I would not have been given by either major political party.  I was a parent of public school student, who had never aspired to, or been elected to public office.  I had not been politically active.

I will always be grateful to the Working Families Party for nominating me to run for a seat on the Bridgeport Board of Education.  I was elected to the Board and completed my four (4) year term.

During the course of that term, the State Board of Education, in a conspiracy orchestrated by hedge fund billionaires, the Bridgeport business community, Mayor Finch and the Governor’s Office, illegally disbanded the democratically elected Board of Education, and installed in its place, an appointed corporate dominated Board.

Along with a minority of the Board, I opposed this cabal, which was ultimately declared illegal by the Connecticut Supreme Court.  Thanks to the Rule of Law, I was returned to the Board, and completed the term to which I had been elected.  I spent my own resources on legal fees in this effort, but it was worth the effort.

Another attempt by the Mayor of Bridgeport, backed by Bridgeport’s corporate interests, sought to install an appointed Board of Education in the City of Bridgeport.  This power grab was rebuffed by the people of Bridgeport, who elected to retain their voting rights in November 2012.

As you know, the Working Families Party has never had a Bridgeport town committee with a formal organization structure, as that term is commonly understood.  Prior to the 2013 municipal election, the executive director, established, on a temporary basis a Working Families Party Committee in Bridgeport.  Following the 2013 municipal election, papers were filed dissolving that Committee.

However, notwithstanding the absence of a formal organizational structure, I was pleased when Working Families Executive Director, Lindsay Farrell, asked me to accept the ceremonial office of Chair of the Bridgeport Working Families Committee.  I deeply appreciated the gesture because I believe that the mission of the Working Families Party is to advocate for, and to speak for the people, not for the corporate and political elites.

The Working Families Party has served as a vehicle for ordinary people in the City of Bridgeport to make their voices heard and to make their votes count.  By winning seats on the Bridgeport Board of Education in two municipal elections and in a special election, the Working Families Party has served as an opposition force, which this one-party city so desperately needs.

Should you wish to establish a functioning  Working Families Party organization in the City of Bridgeport, I wish you every success.

However, because the Working Families Party has indicated its intention to support the re-election of Governor Dannel Malloy, I cannot be a part of or associated with any such effort.

I believed that with a Democrat in the Governor’s Office, for the first time in two decades, those of us who were working for better educational outcomes for public school students in our urban centers would find a supportive and encouraging governor. 

How wrong I was!

One of Governor Malloy’s first efforts was to disenfranchise the voters of Bridgeport by installing a corporate Board of Education.  By trampling upon the democratic process, Governor Malloy exhibited his disdain and contempt for the people of the City of Bridgeport and proved that he is a willing accomplice of the corporate educational establishment.

I had hoped for a governor who would work with the elected Board of Education. Instead, we were subjected to a hostile takeover, the arrogance of a corporate board, and contempt for the Rule of Law.

I believe that the hard working men and women of the City of Bridgeport are as fully capable as their counterparts in Fairfield and Stratford, of electing their own leaders.  Governor Malloy has demonstrated that he does not share this belief.

Therefore, in light of your support of the re-election of Governor Malloy, I cannot be associated with or be a part of the Working Families Party in any way.

Please consider this letter my formal resignation from the Connecticut Working Families State Committee effective immediately.

Thank you for your attention in this matter,

Maria Pereira
Bridgeport, CT

In response to Maria Pereira’s letter the Working Families Party put out a press statement saying,

Maria cites the upcoming gubernatorial election as a reason for her break with the party. The Working Families Party has a rigorous and democratic process for choosing our nominees, and there is lively debate within the Working Families Party about the best choice for us this year. But the party has not made any endorsement yet and any speculation that we have a candidate selected in advance is simply false.

The Working Families Party looks at the records of all the candidates, regardless of political party, and endorses the one who will stand up for working-class, middle-class and poor families. The process starts with an extensive questionnaire on topics ranging from the right to organize a union in the workplace, to fair wages and benefits, to protecting public education. This year, the Working Families Party will also hold a candidates’ forum for our members to hear from and publicly question candidates seeking our endorsement. Our leadership and members will also hold interviews with interested candidates. Only after all of this will the state committee officially decide whether or not to endorse a candidate for Governor, and which.

As has always been the case, the Working Families Party will endorse the candidate who will be the most effective advocate for policies that benefit hardworking families across the state. We’ve always been clear about our values. On some issues, like education, we have disagreed with the Governor. On others, like paid sick days, organizing rights, and the minimum wage, we have aligned with him. There will be extensive discussion and debate as the Working Families Party decides how to proceed with our endorsements.

The Working Families Party response is a hopeful sign that the labor and progressive oriented organization intends to take their endorsement process seriously, the truth will become apparent in the coming months when Governor Malloy tries to explain why he deserve support from those that he has trampled in his on-going effort to undermine the rights of teachers, state employees and other community based union, liberal and progressive groups and their members and supporters.