School board makeup sparks selective outrage

Published on August 11, 2011 by

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, the front page of the Connecticut Post declared that “Bridgeport Hispanics BOE Snub Leads to Angry Letters.” Former State Representative Edna Garcia, a dedicated and committed member of the Latino community, is quoted as saying, “I just thought that was so disrespectful to the Latino community.”

Frank Delgado, owner of Edit Group, is also quoted, “What is Mr. (state Education Commissioner George) Coleman trying to say? Is he trying to say he can’t find any qualified candidate? Is he trying to say, I don’t care about them?”

Both Garcia and Delgado applied for membership on the reconstituted board.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a letter, published in the Fairfield County Independent, stating why I would not apply for a seat on the reconstituted Board of Education.

I did not apply because I did not wish to legitimize a process which is, at its core, illegitimate.

Therefore, what follows, are not the musings of one who is saying, “The grapes are sour anyway.”

The people of Bridgeport have had their right to vote for the Bridgeport Board of Education ripped from them in a “Holiday Weekend Coup.”

Our elected Board of Education has now been replaced by an appointed oligarchy. A minority of this reconstituted board are residents of Bridgeport. By all accounts, none have children in the public school system. No one in Bridgeport has ever voted for any of these individuals in a municipal election.

Rather than providing a Board of Education that looks like and reflects the diversity of Connecticut’s largest city, we have a board that mirrors the board of directors of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council.

Several members of the Latino community have been vocal about the need for the presence of a Latino on the reconstituted board. As the quotes above indicate, they feel insulted and outraged that the Latino community is an afterthought. I am personally acquainted with most of these voices of outrage and know them to be long standing supporters of the principle of inclusion of Latinos on boards, commissions and elected positions. They have labored long and hard to promote the notion of Latino representation.

More than a few of this outraged chorus applied for a seat on the reconstituted board. They claim to require diversity, but, I respectfully submit to them that, they have confused that very worthwhile objective with mere representation. They are willing to settle for the latter.

Representation is easily achieved. I am certain that General Electric has at least one Latino it can loan to this board in order to give it a bilingual flavor.

However, true diversity is another matter.

I am saddened by the fact that the outrage of those who question the makeup of this new board is highly selective.

While they howl for representation, they are OK with an appointed board whose chairman is from the bucolic town of Easton and one of whose members is a resident of New York. They are OK with the fact that this board has only three residents of Bridgeport, one of whom has lived here for less than six months.

They are apparently OK with the fact that another resident board member is the campaign treasurer for a candidate for mayor and operates a non-profit organization that receives money from the Bridgeport Board of Education.

They are apparently OK with being ruled by Bridgeport Hospital, Sacred Heart University, Sikorsky Aircraft, People’s Bank and presumably, General Electric.

They evidently have no problem with an elitist corporate mindset which masks a thinly disguised paternalism, which is directed to every citizen and taxpayer in this city.

They also seem to have no outrage or shock over the fact that the Jan. 11 email exchange between Megan Lowney, a Fairfield consultant and employee of the Greenwich billionaire, Steve Mandel, and Allan Taylor, the chairman of the state Board of Education, clearly establishes that the Gold Coast of Connecticut was engaged in seriously “strategizing a Bridgeport charter revision campaign that would result in mayoral control of the schools in a confidential conversation.” In other words, none of the residents or taxpayers was deemed capable of comprehending the merits of this scheme.

They are evidently not insulted by this patronizing and condescending attitude. Only the absence of a Latino surname spurs them to action. While their outrage might be sincere, it is misguided.

If the merchants of outrage wish to blame anyone for the absence of Latinos on the new Bridgeport Board of Education, they need only look to the now defunct elected Board of Education and its two Latina members. Both of them voted to abolish the elected board.

Because the vote was 6-3, the resolution could not have passed without the vote of the board’s two Latina members. Why does this not produce outrage?

Some have said that the Bridgeport school system is in such desperate need of assistance that they are willing to do anything to help, including relinquishing their right to vote. This philosophy misses the point entirely, because according to Mr. Coleman, the reconstituted board will not receive any additional state money or resources.

In fact, it is quite possible that the first act of this oligarchy will be to conduct a “get acquainted retreat.” presumably paid for by Bridgeport taxpayers.

What is desperately needed is a diversity of thought in this machine dominated city. Placing a compliant Latino on this reconstituted board will do nothing to alter the reality of the elitist takeover of our city. Whether or not the next appointment has the demographic attribute of being a Latino is not as significant to the principle of diversity as whether or not that person brings a diversity of skills, ideas, experience and perspective, along with a fair amount of moral courage to resist the subtle, and not-so subtle attempts to seduce an outsider with the promise of insider status.