State Votes to Take Over Bridgeport Schools

This is the first time a municipality has gone to the state looking for help.

The Bridgeport Board of Education is now under state control.  Members of the state Board of Education voted on Wednesday to take over the troubled school board and reconstitute it, at the city's request.

This is the first time a school district has gone to the state for help. Under most circumstances, the state chooses to step in and help, as it did with schools in Windham and Hartford.

During Wednesday's meeting, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch told state board members the city will raise private funds to cover the costs of a state takeover.  

"As a parent, the status quo of the Bridgeport Public Schools is not acceptable to me," said Finch, who was joined at the meeting by the city's assistant superintendent and school board chair who also support the request.  On Tuesday, the local school board voted in favor of the idea.

Bridgeport's schools have long been financially-strapped and plagued by low standardized test scores.  Now, supporters of the takeover say there's just too much bickering on the board to improve education.

The board is now operating without a budget, after members were unable to decide on how best to spend their limited education dollars.

Mayor Finch also told the board the state's current system of funding education by relying on property tax revenue is unfair.  He says they've made deep cuts to staffing and services in Bridgeport, and that raising property taxes to generate more education money would cost people their homes.

"This system stinks.  It is rotten to the core.  We know this is a state of the suburbs, by the suburbs, and for the suburbs," Finch said.

Some parents objected to the takeover.  "Disenfranchising our people in Bridgeport will set a bad precedent going forward," said Korene Garcia, a Bridgeport resident with two children in the city's school system.

Maria Pereira, a minority member of the Bridgeport School Board, voted against asking the state for help and spoke in opposition to the idea.  "I believe that the registered voters of Bridgeport have a right to elect their Bridgeport Board of Education members," said Pereira.

Reaction about the takeover proposal was mixed. One state Board of Education member called it "embarrassing" that adults can't get in a room and solve their problems.  Other members expressed support for the request. 

After the lengthy hearing, the state Board of Education voted 5 to 4 in favor of the takeover.

Now, George Coleman, the commissioner of the state Department of Education, says he'll appoint an entirely new board, probably of five members, that may include people from outside Bridgeport.

"There will be an intervention," said Coleman. "I think I'll probably take some time over the next week or so with consultation from the board looking at and assessing the real issues in Bridgeport."

Coleman specified no timetable for when the new board will be in place.

"I think we need to be deliberate about how we exercise that responsibility in making sure that the individuals that we appoint to this responsibility has the capability to make the difference that we believe needs to be made."

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