The 40-Year Plan:
'cause it ain't gonna happen overnight...
by Ken Krayeske
M ayor Eddie Perez, please resign as chair of the Hartford Board of Education.
I can't believe that in this city of 120,000 people, you are the best candidate - professionally trained and politically independent - for the job.
You deserve some credit for setting a precedent as the first mayor of a major American city to appoint themselves head of the school board, according to attorney John C. Brittain.
"I know of no other model in the country where a mayor in an urban area names him or herself chief of policy-making on the Board of Education," Brittain said. Brittain helped represent Sheff, the minority children's interest, against O'Neill, the apartheid state, in Connecticut's two-decade old school desegregation lawsuit.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has met with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on how to take charge of the Boards of Education that they have appointment power on, and, "That's good," Brittain said. But neither of them appointed themselves chair. Nor did the mayor of Chicago.
"I think it is an inherent conflict of time, energy and duties," Brittain said. "I think it is the prerogative of the strong mayor system."
But, it doesn't work, Mayor. If you appointed yourself in order to force Robert Henry out as superintendent, that worked. But even Brittain agrees that it was time for Henry to go.
"He succeeded Tony Amato as a stop-gap measure," Brittain said. "The school board didn't choose Henry from a national search. Mr. Henry was chosen by an outgoing board."
Three years ago, the Board of Education still had state-appointed members. Today, it has five mayoral appointments and four elected seats.
"It is fitting and proper to take this opportunity with a new board to find a new chief," Brittain said.
Brittain was in town Wednesday, March 22 to discuss the NAACP's intervention in the No Child Left Behind lawsuit filed by Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal against U.S. education secretary Margaret Spellings. In front of 100 people at Milner School, Brittain and other NAACP counselors said the intervention was to represent minority children.
Children are political gold, and this mess sees Bush and Blumenthal and you, too, Mayor Perez, all trying to cash in. Brittain's anger shows when he decries the state's violation of the Sheff settlement that Blumenthal helped negotiate in 2003. The state promised to build two magnet schools a year from 2004 through 2008, and CT has only completed one school.
That problem deserves mayoral attention, whereas the day-to-day affairs of the school district are best left to trained professionals and concerned citizens. And what do the trained professionals think of day-to-day affairs?
"With inclusion, we are so focused on the students, we are not affected by Henry or Perez," said one teacher at Quirk Middle School, an anonymous friend.
Inclusion - mainstreaming special education students into regular classrooms as mandated by NCLB and implemented by Hartford's school board - causes many problems: overcrowded classrooms, diluted teaching time and discipline issues. At Quirk, the teacher said he and his peers didn't learn about inclusion until five days before school started this past fall.
Class sizes jumped overnight from like 25 to 30, and those five or six new special ed students who demand intensive individual treatment in tiny classrooms created a powder keg. A dozen or more suspensions daily bewildered administrators at Quirk, the teacher said.
The NAACP takes no position on inclusion. The teacher said he loathes the classroom consequences of NCLB. A day without a teacher being shoved, bumped into or stepped on by middle schoolers is a good day, he said. The best days are when he reaches all his students, when the satisfaction outweighs the paycheck.
Yet the deck is stacked against success when an average 26 of those children live below the federal poverty line. Teachers struggling with inclusion, fighting fire drills and windowless classrooms need the Mayor to advocate regionally and statewide for solutions, like full funding of Educational Cost Sharing and more state aid for new buildings.
Connecticut schools are separate but unequal. The Mayor's pulpit is most effective organizing his constituency into effective action teams, or shining the spotlight on the inequities of race and class, not politicizing what should be an independent policy body.
"I understand the Mayor may have said if I put myself at head of board, maybe I can make a difference," my friend the teacher said. "Where he fails is that someone who is head of the Board of Education needs to devote 100 percent of their time and effort into that job. If you're not doing that, you are cheating students and city of Hartford.
"Like being a teacher, it is not a job you can just go into and wing your way through. You really have to question someone's intentions when they know ahead of time they are not going to be devote everything to the job," he said.
Mayor, your participation in the school board may jeopardize the very goals for the school children of Hartford that you have set. So Mayor, please, resign from the board and delegate your authority over the Hartford Public School system to a certified professional or an experienced parent.
children leave quirk school monday afternoon march 27 in hartford