Ben Walker was elected to the Bridgeport Board of Education in 2015. Recently, he resigned his seat and cited his reason being that a recent change to the board’s bylaws made it intolerable for him to finish out the remaining eight months of his term. He omits that, over the years, our attorneys repeatedly expressed the need to not simply revise, but replace the bylaws of the board that were in place until recently. Irrespectively, time and time again we were unable to move forward with that due to the resistance of a minority bloc of the board (which included Mr. Walker) who feared changing them at all cost.
Throughout my tenure, much of the good that we’ve tried to do has been hampered by board policies that were far out of the norm — many put in place to give certain minority-bloc board members (including Mr. Walker) an ability to micro-manage the district. This allowed those individuals to manipulate and abuse district staff and board processes. We were burdened by those individuals adding multiple items to meeting agendas, with no background information and no positive motive behind it. This is what has caused us to notoriously endure meetings lasting to midnight where, afterward, nothing was accomplished. As chairman, I was blocked from assuring the board was protected by having counsel available at meetings for issues with legal implications, which meant that board members with certain personal agendas were able to pursue ulterior motives unabated by facts and legal reviews.
The “dysfunction” that is often assigned to the BOE has rested primarily with those bylaws that created a free-for-all environment where board members could hijack meetings with whatever topics they chose because the bylaws gave the chairman no authority to decline them if they served no legitimate purpose. Here are a few examples from the 11/13/17 agenda, which had 25 such agenda items under “New Business”:
Where are we with teaching and learning and what are we asking our teachers to teach
Why is Kennedy Stadium not supplied with a real scoring board for games
How many students are being seen by guidance counselors on a daily basis
This is just a sample of what plagued our meetings for years.
The changes made to the bylaws were boilerplate ones which are considered normal by other boards. Board chairs are elected for the purpose of managing the work of their board by making sure they only address items that are impactful — not items that are an idle curiosity that could be answered with a phone call, and not items that are designed to push a board member’s personal agenda against other members, staff or officials. Democratic process doesn’t mean conducting ourselves spastically, which is how the BOE has operated for years. It means all have a voice, but majority rules and business is conducted in an orderly and focused fashion.
The acts of dysfunctional board members, which Mr. Walker has supported, would have continued unless our bylaws were replaced. None of these individuals’ antics have improved the educational opportunities for Bridgeport’s children. Fixing this was not about politics. It was not a power play. It was about the students who can now benefit from a more productive board being focused on the work it should really be doing, instead of spinning its wheels addressing matters of trivial importance.
For Mr. Walker to state his reason for resigning was a result of a change in the bylaw policy series is simplistic and childish. Ben Walker resigned because the writing was on the wall that the lunacy that has plagued the BOE (and that he has enabled by supporting it) is coming to an end. In short, he became upset by a change of the rules, threw a temper tantrum, picked up his marbles and went home. If it were really “all about the children” for Mr. Walker (as he frequently tells us), he would have put his personal feelings aside and worked within newly established policy that was approved by a majority of his peers and designed to make the board work better.
As a retired teacher, Mr. Walker brought great insight to the board and his loss will be felt in the Teaching & Learning Committee that he chaired. It is unfortunate he chose to put his ego ahead of working for our children and chooses to blame his decision to quit that work on myself and the actions of a board majority he disagrees with. I appreciate the frustration of being in a minority and I know that change is hard. However, frustration and hardship should not have meant walking out on the people who elected him in 2015 and the children he took an oath to serve. Nonetheless, I wish him well in his future pursuits.
John Weldon is chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education.