Amid the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we learned that Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $20,000 dollars to a campaign aimed at helping the mayor of Bridgeport, Conn. gain control over the city’s school board.
Sound familiar? Well, that’s the same level of power Bloomberg exerts over our city’s school board.
Bloomberg donated the money to a Super PAC called Residents For a Better Bridgeport, which is running, to say the least, a rather misleading campaign to persuade Bridgeport voters to relinquish their power to elect the city’s school board officials.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and RFBB are in overdrive trying to convince Bridgeport citizens to vote yes for mayoral control over education at the polls today. On the mailer sent out by RFBB, the PAC somehow equates losing the ability to elect school board officials with exercising a civil right.
“Vote Yes on 1,” RFBB’s mailer says. “If you believe quality education is a civil right.” Sure, that makes perfect sense. What better way to fight for your civil rights than to give one up?
Nowhere on RFBB’s website is it clear that voting yes for the proposal means citizens are voting in favor of giving up their right to elect school board officials. Instead, the message essentially is, ‘if you think quality education is important vote yes for question one.’
At the top of the website there’s a photo of Finch with President Obama, and a quote from Obama beneath it, which reads “We need to fix and improve our public schools, not throw our hands up and walk away from them.” Nice quote indeed, but it has nothing to do with the matter of who gets to elect the school board.
RFBB’s campaign also boasts about gains made by Bridgeport public schools during the nine months in 2011 when the board of education voted to have its members appointed, not elected. Earlier this year, Connecticut’s Supreme Court overturned the board’s vote. Now the decision is up for public vote today.
Despite claims by Finch and supporters of mayoral control over education in Bridgeport, there’s not much evidence that it works all that well. Just take New York City for example. Bloomberg’s education policy-making powers have gone virtually unchecked for most of his time in office, yet the educational landscape in New York has experienced little substantive improvement.
New York City’s board of education, now called the Panel for Educational Policy, has 13 members, 8 of whom the mayor appoints himself, and five of whom are appointed by the borough presidents. The mayor can remove and replace his appointees at any time, so he therefore maintains a majority rule.
Aaron Pallas, a professor of education at Columbia University, argued on his blog Thursday that Bloomberg’s policies and reforms aimed at helping close the achievement gap in the city have been unsuccessful during his reign over the PEP– though he did say there may be room for those policies to yield positive results in the future.
Finch’s push for mayoral control over Bridgeport schools has received support well beyond Bloomberg’s contributions. In efforts to convince the public to relinquish their current voting right, agencies that receive public subsidies are donating money to Finch’s cause.
Bridgeport Hospital and St. Vincent Medical Center have donated over $14,000 a piece, and the utility company United Illuminating, which is receiving criticism for its response to the power issues plaguing Bridgeport in the wake of Sandy, gave $10,000, according to government watchdog Jonathan Pelto. Those are just a few of the many donors who have given to the cause.
Never the types to miss out on an opportunity to roll back public involvement in public schools, education-reformers have also jumped into the fray. StudentsFirst, an organization headed by well-known ed-reformer Michelle Rhee, has thrown substantial support behind the cause. Accordingly, the organization’s New York subsidiary is a major supporter of Bloomberg’s educational reform efforts in the city.
We’ll find out later on tonight whether, money, support and a deceptive ad-campaign can convince Bridgeport residents to willingly give up their power to elect school board officials.