Be careful what you wish for

Published on July 31, 2011 by

Now that the nuking of the Bridgeport Board of Education is a matter of historical record, it’s a little surprising to us that no one in City Hall has sounded the alarm — at least publicly — about the implications of what took place.

What took place was this: The state, responding to a dramatic (and cynics might say well-choreographed) plea from six members of the local school board and the Finch administration, swooped down on the Park City like alien invaders in a cheesy sci-fi flick and zapped the board into oblivion. In so doing, the state overturned the results of a municipal election and negated the rights of everyone who voted in it.

The state claimed it has the authority to do what it did under a “school accountability” law enacted a year ago. Under this law, the state in April took over the Windham school district because of its students’ chronically miserable academic performance. However, in Windham’s case, the state named a special master for the district but did not replace the local school board.

Looking past the political furor that followed what happened in Bridgeport, we think the real issue is whether the state should have the power to intervene in the affairs of any municipality to such an extent. We expect that before long, the law will be tested in the courts and rejected as an unconstitutional overreach.

State Education Commissioner George Coleman’s actions in Bridgeport are nothing less than a coup by one level of government against another, aided and abetted by a local political machine whose leaders were desperate to be rid of three very painful thorns in their sides.

To the folks who run Bridgeport’s version of Tammany Hall, we offer this simple advice: Be careful what you wish for. Government actions build on precedent. One day they’re telling you to wear your seat belt or be cited for an infraction; the next they’re telling you to buy health insurance or pay a hefty fine, maybe go to jail — all in the name of some worthy social policy.

It’s like that with a government takeover. Once you permit them to do it, it’s hard to know where they will stop.

The abolition of the city’s Board of Education sets a bad precedent. If the state gets away with this, it may not be long before another group of lawmakers in Hartford, tired of seeing a gazillion dollars in aid disappear into Bridgeport’s cavernous maw every fiscal year, crafts a bill to let the state step in and run “dysfunctional” municipalities lock, stock and barrel.

Politicians of both major parties and other insiders — and a good number of ordinary citizens — know that machine politics in Bridgeport are at least partly responsible for the city’s rapacious appetite for state money.

So, we suggest those who earn their livelihood by being part of the machine think about what the state just did and how that might affect the city’s future, and their own. That will not be science fiction.