Maria Pereira School board must reflect community
Mayor Ganim and his cohort of Bridgeport Board of Education members, Chair John Weldon, Vice Chair Jessica Martinez, Hernan Illingworth, Christopher Taylor, and Sybil Allen, strike again!
Sen. Dennis Bradley, the school board member with the worst attendance, resigned on Feb. 15. This triggered a 30-day period for the remaining eight school board members to fill the vacancy.
Dennis Bradley, who asserted he was both black and Hispanic, was the only black male school board member prior to submitting his resignation. In fact, we now have a Males of Color Ad-hoc Committee focused on addressing the issues male students of color face including racism, the school to prison pipeline, disproportionately being labeled special education, disciplined, suspended or expelled, yet this important committee is being chaired by a white male school board member.
As of March 1, the Bridgeport Public Schools student demographics were 13 percent white, 34 percent black and 48 percent Hispanic, yet our school board was 13 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic and 63 percent white, with 50 percent of our school board being compromised of white males. The 2010 Census shows Bridgeport’s population was 22 percent white, 35 percent black and 38 percent Hispanic. This demonstrates a significant disparity between the makeup of the Bridgeport Board of Education when compared to the student and resident population of Bridgeport.
There is a national, state and local debate regarding the importance of a representative democracy reflecting the very community and constituents it serves. There was recently a bill introduced in the state Legislature requiring juries to be racially diverse, which I absolutely support.
We had six applicants that applied to fill this critical vacancy. All six were male. Four were white, one stated he was both black and Hispanic, and one was black.
Lamar Kennedy was born and raised in Bridgeport and graduated from both High Horizons and Central High School. He has lived in the East End of Bridgeport his entire life, a community where young black and Hispanic men face crime, drugs and significant poverty. Kennedy used to work for the Bridgeport Public Schools and was inspired to further his education to become a certified special education teacher. Kennedy is currently employed by the Waterbury Public Schools and also coaches both the basketball and football team. Kennedy shared he was offered a position at Warren Harding High School mid-year last year, just blocks from his own home, however he declined the position because he could not leave his special education students and the students on the athletic teams he coaches mid-year. His decision wasn’t based on what was best for him. His decision was based on what was best for his students. Pretty impressive, right?
Kennedy shared his compelling story about being a black male student, father and teacher and highlighted the success of his black and Hispanic son who graduated from Fairchild Wheeler High School last year and who is currently attending college. Lamar Kennedy was a highly qualified candidate as a minority, urban educator, coach and a lifelong Bridgeport resident with a point of view and perspective desperately needed on the Bridgeport Board of Education. However, none of that mattered.
You see, Mayor Ganim had already ensured his Board of Education members were all lined up to vote for his hand-picked candidate, Joseph Lombard. Lombard is a white male who resides in the North End who has no experience with the Bridgeport Public Schools as a student, father, volunteer or educator. Even more disturbing, he is currently employed and has served as a financial aid counselor with Porter & Chester Institute located in Stratford. Porter & Chester Institute has a well-documented history of predatory lending practices in which they charge exorbitant fees and interest rates often leaving their students with massive debt with little to show for it.
The election was so rigged that Chris Taylor, a white male school board member who missed every candidate interview and arrived late, participated in the vote to fill the vacancy, and left right after the election was completed. The vote was 5 to 3 in favor of Lombard.
Our current school board make-up is now 11 percent black, 22 percent Hispanic and 67 percent white, including five white males, which in no way reflects our student body or 2010 Census population.
Joseph Lombard wasn’t elected because he was the most qualified or best candidate. He was elected because he will do exactly as Mayor Ganim and his henchmen direct him to do. Independent thought is something Mayor Ganim, Chair John Weldon and the corrupt Democratic machine cannot and will not tolerate.
Is it enough to just select a school board member based on race, ethnicity and/or gender? No, it is not. Not only must our school board reflect diversity in race, ethnicity and gender; it must have intelligent, articulate members well versed in national, state and local education policy. And, maybe most importantly it must reflect diversity of thought. If every school board member had the exact same position on every issue you wouldn’t need nine school board members. You would only need one.
Urban, minority educator and lifelong Bridgeport resident Lamar Kennedy was the best candidate for the job; however, Mayor Ganim’s only qualifications were that the candidate report for duty, follow orders and demonstrate no diversity of thought.
I hope you agree, that our 20,400 students, 30,000 parents, 2,700 school employees, and the entire Bridgeport community deserved better. However, the minority community that Mayor Ganim relied on so heavily to be elected mayor in 2015 should be especially outraged.
Maria Pereira is a member of the Bridgeport Board of Education.