Will new school board sever police and facilities ties?

BRIDGEPORT – In the gone but not forgotten category, the former city school board ended their final meeting late last month arguing about school police.

(I missed to meet a deadline and the argument – the dearly-departed school board’s last – occured after 11 p.m.)

True to their dysfunctional selves to the bitter end, the meeting ended with two members leaving in protest after which a slim majority cast a vote that may or may not survive the new school board. I bring all this up because the new board is expected to discuss and possibly act on school security and school facilities at its meeting Monday. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Aqua Culture Center.

The argument at the Nov. 25 meeting was about the duties of school police and security guards, which under Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas, has been managed by the city police department. F

unding for the service remains with the school board.

Former school board member Maria Pereira called for a motion immediately tell the city police chief he had no authority to direct school police officers and security guards to do any work outside of the scope of the school system. It seems officers who are being paid using school operating dollars have been called on by the police department to patrol the parks during the summer and to assist with calls to parochial schools, charter schools, accidents and domestic violence complaints during the school year.

The district’s memorandum of understanding with the department does not address whether school police can be asked to do other things on the school district’s dime. A dozen or more union grievances have reportedly been filed over the issue.

Vallas said the arrangement between the district and police department benefits the district since he said it has led to unprecedented support for schools. Since the police department’s involvement, Vallas said the arrest rate and out of school suspension rate in the schools have gone down. He said he also can’t imagine the district lessening police support post Sandy-Hook.

“This consoldiation has brought so many advantages,” Vallas told the board. “Not to mention the tremendous investment that the city has made in technology and cameras and modernization…. bottom line, our coverage has never been better.”

Vallas urged the board to wait until the police chief could address the board. Apparently Gaudett was invited to the meeting but did not attend the meeting.

Outgoing School Board Chairman Kenneth Moales urged the board to wait until the new board took over.

“We agreed we would not do anything drastic as it relates to voting until the new board came,”  Moales argued.

Pereira said Gaudett’s failure to show was not the board’s fault.

“To hear his side of it,” Moales responded.

“It’s not our fault,” Pereira repeated.

There was more back and forth before board member Sauda Baraka called point of order, at least three times between Moales and Pereira’s arguing. At one point, former board member Thomas Mulligan interjected, asking whether the intent was to have the chief of police wait through a five hour meeting (it started at 6:30 p.m.)  before the issue came up.

Moales tried to adjorn.

Pereira and Baraka told them he couldn’t

He did anyway and walked out with Mulligan.

The board voted 4-0, with one abstention to approve the motion. Hernan Illingworth abstained; Baraka, Pereira, John Bagley and Bobby Simmons all voted aye. The motion carried.

In “to be continued” fashion, the board will take larger issue of the district and police department’s relationship, as well as facilities department arrangement on Monday.

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Linda Lambeck