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Two Must Read Letters On Bridgeport BOE Election

by Jon Pelto from Wait, What?

Even now, at a time when government and elected officials seem more distant than ever before, the voters of Bridgeport are proving that the power of democracy should never be underestimated.

Bridgeport’s voters overwhelming defeated Mayor Bill Finch’s proposal to do away a democratically elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor.

And just this past September, Bridgeport voters stunned the Democratic Party endorsed slate and instead turned to a team of pro-public education advocates who were willing to stand up and fight the corporate education reforms being pushed by Governor Malloy, Mayor Finch and Bridgeport’s faux superintendent of schools, Paul Vallas.

The establishment may have the money, but they have lost the moral authority to lead.

The voters of Bridgeport will have their say tomorrow, but here are two commentary pieces sent to Wait, What? that explain why Bridgeport is on the verge of electing new leadership and sending Paul Vallas packing.

A letter from former Bridgeport Board of Education member Max Medina:

Sauda Baraka Deserves To Be Re-Elected To Bridgeport’s Board of Education

Sauda Baraka is one of the several candidates we have to choose from on Tuesday, November 5th in the Bridgeport Board of Education election. Sauda has earned our support and deserves to be re-elected. I served with Sauda on the Bridgeport Board of Education and saw how she came to meetings prepared to debate and attack the challenges and issues we faced, how she spent many hours not only reviewing what was provided to all of us by the administration but also doing independent research into the best educational practices elsewhere and how effective she was in making real connections with the members of our community who would be immediately affected by what happened in our schools. In fact, Sauda was serving our children long before joining the Board; she was an important member of a parents’ group which led the effort to renovate Kennedy Stadium, a project no one was talking about before they began their advocacy.

Sauda and I often disagreed with each other when we served together; in fact, every time I was nominated to be the Board’s president Sauda opposed me! None of that affected our working relationship. We put the interests of the children first. The recent reports of “obstructionism” are off-base when it comes to Sauda; my personal experience is that Sauda gives everyone the same respect she receives from them.

With her intelligence, tenacity and commitment, Sauda Baraka deserves our votes.

Maximino Medina, Jr. (Bridgeport Board of Education Member, 1993-2009)

The second, a powerful call to action, from Craig Kelly, former President of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP

Shame on the Administration for politicizing the issue of the suspension of a school principal following an evidentiary hearing on the merits!

Shame on those elitist politicians who are using these hearings, and the outcome, for political gain!

Any politician who is so out-of-touch with the realities of Bridgeport’s school district is not fit to serve on the Board of Education and should apologize for their outrageous attacks.

There is a serious and growing problem within the Bridgeport public school system.

Since Mr. Vallas took over as superintendent in January, 2011, a large number of educators and administrators who are of-color have been demoted or dismissed.

The list includes the following highly qualified individuals:

Denise Clemmons- Assistant Superintendent of High Schools – Terminated
Cynthia Fernandez- Director of Teaching & Learning – Demoted
Dr. Aresta Johnson- Central High School Principal – Demoted
Alejandro Ortiz – Bassick High School Principal – Demoted
Dr. Ricardo Rosa – Director of Math – Demoted
Gladys Jones Walker – Principal Bryant School – Demoted
Joyce Turner- Principal Dunbar School – Demoted
Dr. Byron Williams- Principal Military Academy – Terminated& Rehired
Carmen Perez Dickson- Tisdale School Principal – Suspended and Recommended for Termination
This is absolutely unacceptable and the administration needs to address it immediately. It is profoundly wrong whenever discrimination of this nature is employed, but even further troubling because the makeup of Bridgeport’s student body is predominantly of color.

The leadership of our schools should reflect that reality. Instead this administration has sent a negative message to the students and the community about the qualifications and leadership abilities of their educators.

This community owes a debt of gratitude to Board member Sauda E. Baraka for the courage to call out this type of invidious discrimination and ensure that fairness and equality are the standards used by decision makers.

In the most recent chapter of this trend, Superintendent Vallas and members of his administration have made inappropriate remarks about the punishment delivered to Principal Carmen Perez Dickson. On Wednesday the Board of Education voted to suspend Ms. Perez-Dickson for misconduct in the schools.

As in any hearing before a Board, Commission or a Court, a decision is made by fact finders after a full review of the evidence has been completed. In this case, the Board reviewed the evidence and the testimony of all of the witnesses. It is the function of the fact-finders to evaluate their credibility; after all, it is their responsibility to find the Truth.

After hearing the testimony of former Director of School Security, James Nealy, as well as reviewing the video introduced into evidence as substantiation of the incident in question, the Board found that the chain of custody of the tape was questionable and therefore raised a question about the legitimacy of the tape. The Board also considered the fact that the Department of Children and Families investigated the complaint but did not make a finding of abuse. Furthermore, the lack of consistency in the testimony of the main witnesses of the school administration was also considered by the Board.

“I didn’t see anything egregious, just a principal trying to do her job,” said Nealy. “It was a principal escorting a student from one location to another. That was about it.”(CT Post, 9/4/13)

The Board did not exonerate Carmen Perez-Dickson. However, based upon the evidence presented, it believed that a 35-year career was entitled to some consideration and some respect. Notwithstanding those considerations, Ms. Dickson’s punishment was quite severe; six months suspension without pay, sensitivity training and conflict resolution training, individual mentoring and supervision, removal from the school where she serves, as well as a prohibition against serving as a principal for a full year.

It is also relevant that she is has been a target of the Vallas administration since she won a million-dollar lawsuit against the Bridgeport Board of Education for discrimination. The fact that three Finch loyalists on the Board of Education, Thomas Mulligan, Leticia Colon and Hernan Illingsworth believed that the Death Penalty was appropriate does not render the even-handed and fair disposition handed down by the majority of the Board unreasonable or subject to attack. Nor does it justify the petulant Ad Hominum attack on the Board majority by Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas. Perhaps someday, Mr. Vallas will realize the he works for the Board and the taxpayers and not the other way around.

This latest revelation can also be seen as a manifestation of a more disturbing issue:

Institutional Racism!

This cannot be tolerated in the City of Bridgeport!

Craig Kelly, former President of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP