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The Working Families Party Claims a Scalp in Bridgeport
Albert Shanker, the legendary president of the American Federation of Teachers, once said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.”
Let it be known: The spirit of Shanker lives on in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where a union-backed political party has all but succeeded in running out of town one of the nation’s most successful and respected education reformers.
As a city, Bridgeport has a lot of problems. Crime is high and the unemployment rate is 12.1 percent (statewide it’s 8.2 percent). Good news has been in short supply in the Park City. With one exception: In December 2011, Paul Vallas was appointed acting superintendent of the Bridgeport Public Schools.
It was a high-profile hire for the troubled city. Vallas is an education reformer with a reputation for rescuing failing school systems. He was CEO of schools in both Chicago and Philadelphia and achieved impressive results. But he made his name in post-Katrina New Orleans, where he took over the rebuilding of that decimated city’s Recovery School District. Over 100 of New Orleans’s 128 school buildings were damaged or destroyed by the 2005 hurricane. The Louisiana Legislature authorized a sweeping takeover of the public school system, which had previously distinguished itself as one of the worst in the nation.
Although Katrina was a human tragedy, it gave New Orleans a rare chance to start fresh. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Vallas was given “free rein to do whatever he needed to improve [the schools],” and improve them he did:
All but the most committed nostalgists agree that, despite the growing pains, the schools have risen above their abysmal pre-Katrina state. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other national figures have praised New Orleans as a model for school reform.
If Vallas could turn around desperate situations in Chicago and New Orleans, you’d think he’d be perfect for Bridgeport, wouldn’t you?
You wouldn’t if you were part of the education status quo. This morning’s New York Times explains the issue:
Parents are upset over [Vallas’s] plans to increase the use of student testing. Union officials have denounced his insistence that administrators frequently visit classrooms to evaluate teachers, as well as his history of enthusiastic support for charter schools. And community activists argue that he consistently shuts out dissenting voices.
In other words—we like the failing Bridgeport Public Schools just the way they are, thank you very much.
Last month, activists succeeded in convincing a Connecticut Superior Court judge that Vallas is not qualified to run Bridgeport’s schools because he hasn’t done the coursework required for certification as a superintendent by the State Board of Education. He must step down while his case goes through an appeals process.
It seems like a small thing to require a proven reformer like Vallas to take a class when the stakes for Bridgeport’s kids are so high. Who would go to such lengths to keep a celebrated reformer with a track record of success out?
Bridgeport is a Democratic city. The mayor, Bill Finch, is a Democrat, as are all 10 members of the city council. The nine-member board of education is split among six Democrats and three members of the Working Families Party (WFP). The Times story this morning made passing mention of the role in this drama of the WFP –calling it “a liberal coalition based in New York City with outposts in Connecticut, [that has] made removing Mr. Vallas its mission.”
But that doesn’t quite do justice to what the WFP is and does. In 2010, the not-so-conservative-editorial-board of the New York Daily News called the Working Families Party “a political organization that has become largely a front for labor unions that make claims on public funds.” In a 2013 Mother Jones article, Alison Hirsh, the political director the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, “representing 120,000 workers in eight Eastern states” was quoted calling the WFP “one of our most important political allies when it comes to moving our political agenda forward.” According to the Connecticut Post, the Bridgeport Education Association, the local teacher’s union and an NEA affiliate, has worked “side by side” with WFP on policy initiatives such as both groups’ shared opposition to charter schools.
The New York Times’s decision to publish a story leaving the false impression that the Working Families Party is just another “liberal coalition” in the diverse quilt of our rowdy democracy is a shameful sin of omission. In reality the WFP is a creation of unions, including teachers’ unions, and its goal is to defend and retain a system that works just dandy for its adults even as it fails its children.
Smart mayors in struggling cities around the country are surely hoping to capitalize on Bridgeport’s sad mistake. Paul Vallas will land on his feet. If only we could say the same of Bridgeport’s kids.Published in General
I live in Stamford, where we have a pretty crummy public education system but not as bad as Bridgeport, which is like our Detriot. This story really makes me sad. I was hoping that groups like Domus, which has opened two charter schools in Stamford that have helped at risk kids get great educations and the graduates from those school usually go to college, could help push for education reform but I guess the grip of the teacher’s union is too strong in this state.
Last month, activists succeeded in convincing a Connecticut Superior Court judge that Vallas is not qualified to run Bridgeport’s schools because he hasn’t done the coursework required for certification as a superintendent by the State Board of Education.
This drive for regulatory certification in all of life’s tasks is absolutely rampant in government and unfortunately in big (bureaucratic) businesses. All sorts of professions have found that certification is an effective barrier to entry of competitors. More and more (IMO) it serves only to reduce competition for jobs.
I agree, Ross, though it’s especially rampant in the education sphere. And it’s a handy tool in the hands of unions — another big barrier to competition.
Matede — it’s an apt comparison. Bridgeport actually filed for bankruptcy protection in 1991 and, like Detroit, has a long history of kooky political behavior. It makes me both sad and mad, because this may actually be the last, best chance for these kids. Finally getting reform done in 10 or 20 years won’t do today’s children any good.
(Shanker, the legendary president of the American Federation of Teachers, once said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.” )
Similarly, the Detroit auto unions said, in effect: “When car buyers start paying union dues, that’s when we’ll start representing the interests of car buyers.”
And Detroit auto manufacturers said, in effect: “When car buyers become major shareholders, that’s when we’ll start representing the interests of car buyers.”
How did that work out for them all?
Vallas is no real reformer. The CPS school system was no better after his tour at the helm. He’s a political operator that talks a big game.
Herein lies the most accurate statement made about Bridgeport in all of human history: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qna1JHIsyVM
Note: It’s a family guy clip that has some coarse language.
My memory could be a little shaky, but I believe that a few years ago they were re-doing a bridge through Bridgeport. I guess they were going to put up barriers on the side of the bridge. The mayor lost his mind, saying that the barriers would keep people from visiting his city. As anyone who has ever been there knows, it is only by the crafty use of barriers–and the attendant ignorance about what you’re getting yourself into–that a person could be induced to get off the highway in Bridgeport
That clip was hilarious except no one in Bridgeport talks like that, they sound more like New Yorkers. I also do remember during the election of our esteemed governor Malloy (my former mayor, pls note the sarcasm) they “found” enough votes for him in Bridgeport for him to win the election.
Look at the Gerrymandered mess of a congressional map this state has. District 1 is all over the place just to keep Hartford and Bristol in the same district. This map is a corrupt joke and it was upheld by the state supreme court.
There’s a lot of truth in that video (although Matede is right, the Bridgeport accent–if there is such a thing–is more South Bronx than South Boston).
Bridgeport is the main reason why one of the wealthiest counties in America is represented in Congress by a liberal Democrat. It’s an old-fashioned free-for-all on Election Day.
Bridgeport is the main reason why one of the wealthiest counties in America is represented in Congress by a liberal Democrat. It’s an old-fashioned free-for-all on Election Day. ·
4 minutes ago
You mean the pols pay for drinks in the pubs as in Colonial times? Oh to be a professional CT voter!
I see Vallas continues his record of being chased out by fellow Democrats. I was extremely disappointed when he lost the in the gubernatorial primary against Rod Blagojevich. Vallas, in his too-short time here in Chicago, made moves toward charter schools and privatization while improving efficiency and attacking cost. I disagree with Bill Thom that he was all talk; sure, CPS remains bleak after having reverted to the bad old ways, but Vallas started down the road to improvement and was run out of town (after perhaps overreaching in running for governor) for his efforts.
In the 2010 gubernatorial race, Tom Foley received 560,874 votes on the Republican ballot line compared to Dannel Malloy’s 540,970 votes on the Democratic ballot line. But Malloy managed a victory by taking an additional 26,308 votes on the Working Families Party line; he won by 6,404 votes. At the time, there were allegations of widespread “voting irregularities” in Bridgeport, including reports of unattended ballots and photocopied ballots. In fact, city officials didn’t print enough ballots, and a judge ordered the polling places there stay open an additional two hours. The election stunk to high heaven, but nothing came of the follow-up “investigations.” In Connecticut, only the smaller towns and suburbs display any sign of fiscal restraint. At the state house in Hartford and in the cities, the deep blue, union-run forces are omnipresent and all-powerful.