This Election Day, Bridgeport voters will make a critical decision that will impact students in their public schools for years to come. The district’s Charter Revision Commission has put forth a referendum that would give the mayor the final decision as to who would be appointed to the city’s board of education. It is vital that Bridgeport citizens vote yes to this proposed change in order to avoid the reversal of the many positive gains that have recently taken place for Bridgeport public schools.
Almost two years ago, Bridgeport’s school system was viewed as one of the absolute worst in the state. In 2011, Bridgeport’s elected BOE was criticized as having failed to collaborate for the benefit of Bridgeport’s students, and was facing the impending prospect of heavy cuts to deal with a large deficit. Bridgeport was planning to cut 430 school employees, roughly one in five—including administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, clerical workers, custodians, aides, coordinators and special education bus drivers. Other impending cuts included eliminating after school activities and possible school closure. Things were going so poorly, in fact, that during the summer of 2011, the BOE voted to dissolve itself. In response, then-Commissioner of Education George Coleman appointed new board members to oversee the educations of 20,000 Bridgeport District students, and that newly appointed, forward-thinking board, hired an innovative educator to lead the district. Formerly recognized for improving education in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, that new superintendent managed to balance the district’s budget—closing a $19 million deficit—largely by slashing administrative costs, rather than laying-off many teachers or cutting needed programming for students. The five-year plan for Bridgeport now includes redesigning the high school system in the district to give students what they need to succeed. These schools will partner with a university to offer juniors and seniors job training and access to college-level courses, new magnet schools designed to inspire students for future careers, and a “restart” high school where struggling students get another chance to succeed. In the spirit of doing more with less, these efforts include focusing existing funds on the resources teachers need in order to support students in their learning, like textbooks and materials, access to technology, enrichment and tutoring programs, and expanded Pre-K opportunities. Just when it seemed things were finally turning around for Bridgeport, progress was dealt a hefty blow. Despite the chaos of the previous board’s self-dissolution and the State Board of Education’s responsible selection of a strong, new board to set a course for Bridgeport’s future—the Connecticut Supreme Court invalidated these actions on the grounds that local board members should have undergone training before state law could permit state-level interventions. The decision calls for a return to the previously dysfunctional situation and fails to recognize the dire circumstances of the 20,000 children in these schools. Authorizing the mayor to select the members of the board of education creates a clear line of leadership and accountability for the learning outcomes of Bridgeport students. The mayor has access to far more resources in support of improving public education than the previously elected independent board of education. Current mayor Bill Finch is responsible for the economic and social well-being of the community he leads, and, as such, has a strong incentive to direct as many of the community’s resources as possible to ensuring that every Bridgeport child has access to an exceptional education. What Bridgeport needs is a system in which it can hold a leader responsible for ensuring that its children graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary to join the workforce and to become contributing members of society. That’s why your vote counts! We are just at the beginning of this progress. In order to keep up the good work, we need leadership that knows how to make positive changes. On November 6th let’s move forward, instead of backward. Vote yes to the charter changes!