It has been said that in order to understand and make sense of the present, we must have some level of clarity of the events and factors that led us into the present. While this is true for the individual, it also applies to organizations, corporations, and government.
As the students and teachers of the Bridgeport school system were engaged in the usual activities of a summer vacation during the months of June, July and August 2011, the superintendent of schools, along with the Board of Education president and their six- member majority, the mayor of the city of Bridgeport, the city of Bridgeport bond counsel, the state Board of Education chairman, the interim Commissioner of Education and high level officials within Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office were involved in some summer adventures of their own.
The planning for the summer adventure of the government officials began in January 2011.
The discussions surrounding this particular type of adventure, however, were very exclusive in that only individuals in possession of political and/or economic power and control were allowed to participate.
The rest of us, relegated as we are to the status of mere mortals (voters and taxpayers), were precluded from membership in this “power club.” We were not even allowed to know of its existence until it was a done deal and all of the political actors were in place.
This elitist mindset cannot entertain the notion that those of us on the outside of power can possibly comprehend the benevolent nature of their plans, or provide any meaningful input. They, and they alone, designed the plans, orchestrated the school system takeover and dispensed information on a strict need-to-know basis.
Those of us who vote and pay taxes in the city did not need to know, according to these elitist snobs.
The paper trail of emails between Bridgeport and Hartford are very revealing and disclose a paternalism and arrogance one usually associates with a feudal society.
Steve Mandel, a Greenwich resident, is the founder of Lone Pine Capitol in Greenwich. He is described as a hedge fund billionaire with an interest in education reform. He has used some of his wealth to start a family foundation entitled the ZOOM Foundation. He is in possession of economic power.
Meghan Lowney, a Fairfield resident, is employed as the executive director of the ZOOM Foundation. She is also the founder and principal of Ripple Effect Consulting in Fairfield. As an employee of the foundation, she is presumably charged with the responsibility of assisting ZOOM, a philanthropic organization, to accomplish its goals of education reform.
According to an email sent by Lowney to Allan B. Taylor, the chairman of the state Board of Education on Jan. 11, 2011, Mr. and Mrs. Mandel were interested in learning what they “might do to help Bridgeport get going with meaningful school change as Hartford and New Haven and many other districts had done.”
In this email, Lowney also informed Taylor, a partner in the Hartford-based mega law firm of DayPitney that “a small group of us are strategizing a Bridgeport charter revision campaign that would result in mayoral control of the schools. This is a confidential conversation of course.”
And so begins the epic tale of the overthrow of the elected Board of Education in Bridgeport by non-residents. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the residents of Bridgeport now have an email paper trail that unambiguously sets forth their scheming, conniving, and abject contempt for the people of this city. These emails reek of arrogance and pomposity.
The members of this cabal were united around one central belief, that the residents of a city two-thirds of whom are African-American or Hispanic, could not possibly understand or debate the future of the Bridgeport public school system. They decided to keep us ignorant, presumably, for our own good.
The idea, however, of replacing a democratically elected board with a board appointed by the mayor did not originate with this cabal. It emanated from the highest levels of our nation’s government in Washington.
So where did the idea of a mayoral controlled school board gain traction?
The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations larger than 30,000. According to the organizations website, there are 1,191 such cities in the country today. Each city is represented in the conference by its chief elected official, the mayor. It is a dues paying organization.
The city of Bridgeport is a member of the organization.
In March 2009, the organization held a National Forum on Education in Washington sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (a philanthropic organization in possession of economic power). The event consisted of a morning session, a key note address and an afternoon session. The forum, of course, was attended by the nation’s mayors.
The keynote address was delivered by Arne Duncan, who had just been appointed by President Obama as U.S. Secretary of Education to spearhead an agenda of educational reform to address the failure of the nation’s schools system.
The National Forum on Education was covered in the April 6, 2009, edition of the official newspaper of the U.S. Conference of Mayors entitled “The U.S. Mayor.” In the article, Duncan is quoted as proclaiming, “I fundamentally believe mayors should be in control of their school systems.”
Duncan accompanied the declaration of his philosophy on mayoral control of school boards by promising to do whatever he could to help the mayors take control of the school board.
“I’ll come to your cities,” Duncan said. “I’ll meet with your editorial board. I’ll talk with your business communities. I will be there.” (The irony is that the Bridgeport takeover has revealed how completely our public school system is dominated by the mayor and the machine).
Malloy, at the time, was the mayor of Stamford. He served as vice chairman for education of the Conference of Mayors Jobs, Education and the Work Force Standing Committee. In that capacity he moderated a session of the forum. He was quoted as telling Duncan to “Make sure you address our state legislatures the way you have addressed us because at the state Capitol building it’s just not getting through. You really need to get the message out for us.”
One of the forum’s session included Washington, D.C.’s Mayor Adrian Fenty and District School Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. They are described in the article as boldly setting forth their strategy to take control of the district’s schools. Fenty declared that the mayors must “Get rid of the school board, just do it. They have no purpose anymore.”
Rhee said that “the mayor’s willingness to tackle key issues head on is the primary reason we’re able to see these reforms.”
Armed with the information acquired in the Forum on Education, the mayors adopted a resolution at their 77th Annual Meeting in 2009, entitled, “Mayoral Leadership and Involvement in Education.”
The seeds of reform having been sown by the Obama administration, the mayors were sent home to inform their constituents and to explore the various options designed to improve the failing education system.
Bridgeport has never had a debate concerning the merits of an elected board versus a board chosen by the mayor. Apparently, the elitist snobs, aided and abetted by state governmental officials, did not think we were smart enough to have that debate.
They, therefore, chose clandestine, closed-door plotting rather than open and robust debate in the marketplace of ideas. They chose to impose their will on the city of Bridgeport, rather than soliciting our input.
This is in the best tradition of tyranny.
The 2011 conspiracy did not result in a board chosen by the mayor; instead it resulted in one imposed on the residents of this city by Hartford bureaucrats and political schemers. Perhaps reform can take place in our city. However, as a necessary first step, our leaders must both trust and respect the people.
Democracy is a test, an examination designed to measure our ability to tolerate ideas with which we disagree. Those who orchestrated this secret cabal have failed that test.
Carmen L. Lopez is a retired Superior Court judge and a columnist for the Fairfield County Independent.