Bridgeport BOE switches out business meeting for recognitions

March 22, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — The city’s school board chairman waited until 4 p.m. on a Friday to announce he was canceling the board’s regular business meeting and replacing it with a student showcase on Monday.

It is an event Board Chairman John Weldon said has been in the planning stages for the last couple of weeks.

Yet central office staff, he said, were directed not to talk about it to the media.

The switch was not on the school board’s website. Central office staff said they had no information about it or the status of the board meeting when contacted several times during the day on Friday.

Weldon said the move was in keeping with new bylaws that put him in charge of meetings and strip regular meetings of student and staff recognitions and high school student reports.

“Contrary to what some have said, this was not a maneuver to silence the voice of our student body,” Weldon said.

Rather he said he wants to keep regular business meetings focused on actionable business items and give school, student and staff recognitions their own dedicated spotlight.

“I thought doing something like this would give people a breather, something positive,” Weldon said.

The first spotlight is set for 6:00 p.m., Monday, March 25 at Cesar Batalla School, 606 Howard Ave. It will follow a 5:30 special meeting in the same location to handle to business items punted from what would have been the board’s regular business meeting. Both were posted on the district website minutes before 5 p.m. on Friday.

“It had to be properly noticed and clerked,” Weldon said. “This is the first time doing this. We didn’t want to put it out there until everything was pulled together.”

Student representatives who used to give reports to the board will now give them at spotlight events. In addition, the Roosevelt School drumline, Batalla School modern band and Harding High School Choir will perform.

“I think it will be a very enjoyable event highlighting many great things that are happening in Bridgeport Public Schools,” said Weldon who promised a quorum of the board would attend.

When asked why central office couldn’t talk about the planned program, Weldon said they know they are not supposed to talk to the media until it’s “final, final.”

Weldon insists the event was not a secret, yet not all school board members were apprised of the planned cancellation of the regular meeting or the replacement.

“Some board members knew,” Weldon offered.

Board Secretary Joe Sokolovic and board member Maria Pereira didn’t know for much of the day Friday. They learned something was up when they did not get their regular board packets on Thursday. Pereira said she called the superintendent’s office and couldn’t get a straight answer.

“This is a blatant attempt by Chair Weldon and his cohort to deny members of the public an opportunity to speak to the Board on issues impacting our 20,400 students, parents and staff,” Pereira said. “This cancellation of another regular meeting even violates the illegal bylaws passed by Chair Weldon and his cohort.”

Sokolovic said he did not learn until 3 p.m. Friday the meeting was being replaced with a special one. He in turn was charged with noticing it with the city clerk’s office before the end of the business day at 5 p.m. Under Freedom of Information laws, there needs to be a 24 business hour notice of public meetings. It was stamped in the City Clerk’s office at 4:26 p.m.

Since the bylaw change, Weldon has canceled two out of three regularly scheduled business meetings.

Pereira, who hopes to launch a legal challenge of the bylaw changes, called the situation “war.”

Yet, he said the program was finalized Thursday, Weldon said.

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck