Board chair switches out regular meeting with a special one
BRIDGEPORT — Wielding new powers granted to him by a majority of the city school board, Chairman John Weldon canceled Monday’s regularly scheduled business meeting, replacing it with a special meeting where the public has no opportunity to speak.
The meeting also won’t be held at the Aquaculture School — where regular meetings are usually held — or even Room 305 of City Hall where committee meetings are generally held but in Room 324 of City Hall.
Even Weldon was uncertain of the exact location of 324.
Weldon said he canceled the business meeting because there was not much business to discuss. His cancellation came as a surprise to most board members including Board Vice Chairwoman Jessica Martinez the day after it was announced.
Board member Maria Pereira, in an email to Weldon, called the move outrageous.
By Friday, the meeting had been replaced with a special meeting to discuss how to fill a vacancy created when State Sen. Dennis Bradley resigned and approve a city school bus contract.
Approval of the bus contract was delayed last month when Board member Chris Taylor objected to contract language that would have prohibited individuals convicted of certain crimes from working as school bus drivers.
Weldon intended to send the matter to the Finance Committee but was advised by Marlene Siegel, the district’s chief financial officer, that if the contract is not approved by the end of February, We Transport, the district’s school bus provider, would have the right to revisit agreed upon rates.
“For that reason, instead of having a city attorney address the Finance Committee, we’ll have him (or) her address the full Board on Monday so that, hopefully, the contract award can be finalized,” Weldon said.
As for the public’s ability to weigh in on the contract or the individuals allowed to drive school buses, Weldon said “there never would be any for something of this nature. It is a contract with pricing negotiated between Bridgeport Public Schools and We Transport, with their respective attorneys making sure the contract terms and conditions are acceptable to both parties from a contractual standpoint. None of that would require public input.”
Weldon said the issue is with a board member’s concern that the terms and conditions being overly restrictive.
“They just need them explained so they can be more comfortable with them,” Weldon said. “The issue is more about language being so restrictive that someone with a years-old misdemeanor or minor traffic violation gets shut out of a job.”
Weldon also said he chose another room for the meeting because Board Member Ben Walker has a Teaching and Learning Committee Scheduled for Room 305 at 5 p.m. on Monday.
“In the event he wasn’t quite ready to adjourn by 7:30, I didn’t want him and his meeting participants feeling they were being forced out,” said Weldon.
Weldon said if Walker’s meeting finishes in time, his special meeting would be shifted to 305.
Walker, along with Pereira and Joe Sokolovic make up the Teaching and Learning Committee. They are the three board members who voted against the blanket replacement of the board bylaws on Feb. 13. None of the board members who voted for the new bylaws asked any questions about them.
The new bylaws give Weldon the right to cancel meetings, keep things off the agenda and summon the board attorney without full board approval. Another change trimmed regular board meeting agendas, eliminating student reports and student and staff recognitions.
Even so, Weldon insists student representatives not going anywhere.
“It’s a shame certain people have made them think that,” Weldon said.
Weldon said his intention — which is not spelled out in the bylaws —is have students participate in business meetings and give reports at separate meetings which have not yet been explained.
Meanwhile, the process for replacing Bradley is also not simple. Bradley is a Democrat and under normal circumstances would be replaced by a Democrat. However, the board must maintain a minority party representation of three members and Sokolovic, elected as a Republican announced last week he had switched parties, becoming a Democrat.
The new board member, then, can not be a Democrat. The person also must be selected by the remaining board members within 30 days of Bradley’s Feb. 15 resignation before the decision is turned over to the mayor.