Taking his education reform show on the road, Governor Dannel Malloy on Thursday crashed into former Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira, one of the plaintiffs in a successful suit that overturned the dismantling of a Bridgeport Board of Education.
"On Tuesday, the Supreme Court overturned your administration's illegal takeover of the Bridgeport Board of Education," Mrs. Pereira told Mr. Malloy in a packed room at the Village South Center for Community Life in Hartford, "and I want to know if your plans to reform our schools are all about disenfranchising parents in schools all over the state like you're attempting to do in Bridgeport?"
Mr. Malloy attempted to deflect the question by asking Ms. Pereira, “How happy are you with the Bridgeport schools?"
Ms. Pereira acknowledged that the school system could use improvement. “No, the Bridgeport Board of Education hasn’t done a good job in the last 20 years,” she responded. “It’s been controlled by Democrats, that’s why. This is a democracy, not tyranny.” Ms. Pereira quickly turned the conversation back to its original track: “For you to say that we don't have the intelligence to have Bridgeport voters do the right thing …this is democracy, not tyranny."
“When Pereira was done speaking,” according to a report in CTNewsJunkie, “Malloy began to respond. When Pereira tried to interject, the governor told her she was done speaking at that point and went on to explain his position regarding the Bridgeport Public Schools.”
“Tyranny,” Mr. Malloy responded, “is sending the children to a school, year after year after year, knowing that it is performing at a rate that will not allow the vast majority of children … to compete." The governor aimed a well-deserved kick in the pants to the board of education that had been illegally supplanted with his approval. The governor said he didn’t want the state to take over failing school districts, but "Your school board basically threw up their hands and ran away."
The Supreme Court days earlier had ruled that the Malloy administration violated state law when it took over the board’s operations, purging the board without having first initiated the required retraining of the members it replaced before the takeover. Justice Peter Zarella, who authored the majority opinion, wrote that the State Board of Education “does not have the authority to authorize reconstitution until it first requires the local board to undergo and complete training.”
The court’s decision, the governor said, was “undoubtedly right," after which Mr. Malloy, almost reflexively, hustled any responsibility for illegal actions out the back door: “The prior education commissioner should have made sure that should have been done.” The present Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, began his term on October 1 2011, six months before the Malloy administration disbanded the Bridgeport Board of Education, time enough, one would suppose, to allow Mr. Pryor to consult with Mr. Malloy's General Counsel, Andrew J. McDonald, who having served in the state Senate from 2003 to 2011 is no stranger to proper legislative processes.
Following the Supreme Court’s nearly unanimous decision, Mayor of Bridgeport Bill Finch urged the governor and others to circumvent the court’s ruling through a bill that “fixed” the court’s objection by means of a questionable legislative maneuver. If the law could be changed retroactively so as to apply to board members already discharged, the governor need not be put to the trouble of complying with the court decision by a) re-installing the original dismissed board, b) retraining defective members of the board, and c) reconstituting the board as necessary after the legal proprieties have been observed.
The difficulty with the shortcut being tossed around by the governor and legislators is that Supreme Court justices, as a rule, do not appreciate questionable legislative circumventions of their most recent “undoubtedly right” rulings. The court did not rule substantively on the underlying constitutional question that lawyer Norm Pattis is likely to press if the decision of the court is effectively circumvented by political legerdemain: May a constitutionally authorized democratic process of election be subverted by the governor of the state?
The court’s recent ruling presages serious difficulties with the Malloy administration educational reform package. The Malloy reform package, which seems to promise a speedy resolution to the problem of incompetent teachers, also holds out to replaceable teachers a process that would require retraining and reevaluation before discharge. If teacher tenure may be regarded as the shut door in a unionized closed shop, the retraining of incompetent teachers is the lock on that door. The provision in Mr. Malloy’s reform package that would require retaining before dismissal would, like teacher tenure itself, inhibit for long periods of time a necessary corrective to the “tyranny” the governor inveighed against in his remarks to Ms. Pereira.