Monday, December 12, 2005

Education and the Strong Mayor

As I'm sure most of you saw, Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez last week appointed himself to the city's school board, and was then elected its chairman. There were at first cries of "power grab!" from the usual quarters, but dissent within the city itself has been relatively low. Perhaps the idea that the mayor is trying something, anything different to turn Hartford's schools around makes a difference.

Perez found support yesterday for his move from another strong mayor, John DeStefano of New Haven, in the form of a letter to the editors at the Courant:

I'm writing in response to Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez appointing himself to the board of education and subsequently being elected chairman [editorial, Dec. 7, "Mr. Mayor, Or Is It Chairman?"]. Although The Courant argues that Mayor Perez is stretching himself too thin, I applaud Mayor Perez for his bold leadership.

Mayor Perez understands that a city cannot succeed without great public schools, the type that attract and retain children from all backgrounds and prepare them to compete in today's global economy. What's more, Mayor Perez is not afraid to take accountability for accomplishing this.

As mayor of New Haven, I not only appoint the board of education, I am also a voting member. This benefits our children in three substantial ways. First, the board is made up of professional educators and parents instead of politicians. Second, the mayor's office and the board of education are better able to work as a team. And perhaps most important, voters know exactly who to hold responsible for what happens in their public schools.

DeStefano then goes on to tout the results of this arrangement: lower dropout rates, new school construction and a higher percentage of students reading at grade level.

In essence, both Perez and DeStefano seem to believe that a strong hand is required to turn around dangerously awful school systems like Hartford's, and that a board that is entirely elected by the voters and separate from the mayor's office can't do it. They may, in fact, be right. School board members are sometimes notorious for trying to advance their own political agendas and careers instead of focusing on the schools, and the relationship between school board and town council or mayor's office is usually contentious at best. It also always struck me as madness that the school board in the town where I was a teacher was made up mainly of people who had never worked in a school before.

Yet this arrangement allows voters and parents to believe that they have control over their schools, and so it persists. Perhaps it ought not to. Parents and well-meaning civilians are the last people who should meddle with something as complicated and fragile as a school system.

In reality, the average parent or citizen has very little control over the schools anyway, no matter who they elect to the board. Most don't know which board members are doing what on the board, so it's hard to hold anyone responsible for his or her actions. Therefore, the only issue here is whether school service would be adversely impacted by removing an elected board and replacing it with one that is either entirely or partially appointed.

DeStefano is making the case that his system has helped his city's schools improve. Hartford voters approved charter changes that move their city towards this system, in the hopes of that their schools, too, will improve.

I say it's more than worth a try.


Blue in CD2 said...

Full Disclosure -

Three New Haven schools were among just 8 in the State "to be identified as needing improvement under the federal school reform law known as the No Child Left Behind Act."

Hartford had 3, and Bridgeport had the remaining 2.

Article here -,0,3340331,print.story?coll=hc-headlines-local

Blue in CD2 said...

One more gem I missed from the same article -

"The independent review was conducted last spring, when all eight were in their fourth consecutive year on the government's warning list, meaning they were required to develop plans for a complete overhaul."

Im not positive but I think Destefano has been a member of the BoE in N.H. during his entire time as Mayor.

Continuation of Full Disclosure -

A quick trip over to the Stamford BoE website informs me that Malloy is a non-voting member.

Genghis Conn said...

It is very possible for urban schools to make significant progress and still fall short of NCLB's inflexible goals.

When things are as broken as they are in our cities' school districts, it takes an awful lot of time to pick up the pieces.

The report does make mention of improvements at several of the schools in question.

DeStefano's numbers do check out, Blue in CD2. New Haven schools have made progress, especially compared with Hartford and Bridgeport schools. Things aren't great, no question, but they at least appear to be getting better.

turfgrrl said...

An elected school board has no accountability to the budget requirements of the entire city. I think these should be appointed positions, and let the buck stop where it should, with the CEO of the city.

Anonymous said...

Perez is just interested in acquiring power....for his sake...he has no experience in schol board matters nor is he an educator or experienced in areas that would be germane in helping hartfords kids do better...he ought to leave it to the professionals...DeStefano should stop "pandering" to Perez for support for Governor and just accept the fact that Perez is for Malloy and move on...this makes DeStefano look bad also...

Blue in CD2 said...


But doesnt an elected school board have accountability to thier constituents who would ultimatly demand that they remain within the constraints of the budget?

It seems that accountabilty would disappear if these positions were appointed, not increase.

Although I do agree that the onus of situation should ultimatly fall to the CEO, I think you are removing all possible check/balances if you ask for appointed, not elected, officials.

Genghis Conn said...

I don't know, anonymous... it seems like an awful lot of work (with very little potential payoff--this is Hartford, after all) for a simple power grab.

Genghis Conn said...

The council and mayor (or board of selectmen) are elected to keep the budget in line. If one doesn't like the way the council is handling it, elect new people there.

Again, people usually have no idea who or what they're voting for when they vote for school board.

Anonymous said...

Ghengris...there is about 1/2 billion in school construction going on in hartford and alot of contracts to hand that "payoff" enough for you?

Genghis Conn said...

I don't buy it, anonymous. He'd control those contracts anyway, and there is no evidence Perez is corrupt. said...

A big problem with those who follow the sport of politics is that we ofter overlook when people do things for the right reasons. The difference between Perez and a lot of people is that being Mayor of Hartford is it for him. The guy wants to make the place he grew up in, one of the toughest places to grow up in the Country, a little better. He is not in it for the bigger office, he is in it for the City he loves.

Is it a risk to take the school board on top of everything else? Sure. I bet he is doing it because he knows that it all comes back to education. In our country's history , poverty has only been overcome by education...and right now it is failing those in the inner city.

I appauld someone willing to get off the bench and change it...Rather then accusing him of trying to dole out construction contrats (which are almost entirely filled at this point) We should recognize that this guy is trying to give Hartford's kids a chance for the future...and in the end, thats why people should go into politics in the first place.

Anonymous said...

What's the spin on this?

(New Haven-WTNH/AP, Dec. 12, 2005 5:10 PM) by News Channel 8's Michael Herzenberg

A federal jury awarded a city police officer millions of dollars.

The award stems from a case that made headlines in 2002 after the officer had a run-in with two local pastors and ultimately the chief of police at the time.

Officer Arpad Tolnay says his civil rights were violated when he was suspended and reassigned for seven months after he arrested supporters of Mayor John DeStefano.

Anonymous said...

As an aside - I got an email from Dan Malloy announcing union endorsements. Maybe the union foothold DeStefano has been touting isn't as expansive as he'd have us think? Probably still too early to tell, but if nothing else it looks like they won't all be breaking one way in their support. Should keep things interesting.

DeanFan84 said...

Two ministers charged over noise complaints

1,000 protestors rally over ministers' arrests

Cop suspended for alleged conduct

Cop sues chief over pastor incident

Why are the anonymous Malloy bloggers so lazy and stupid? Learn how to embed a link Anonymous, and if you want to bring something up, do a better job of it, please!

P.S. which union(s) came out for Malloy today?

Guy that never posts said...

Ill spin it. There have only been 18 perfect games in MLB history, I suppose DeStefano couldnt get every single union endorsement. I havent seen the list but my bet is that they are small locals

Anonymous said...

Mabe the Union that supplied the guys to do the work on his house.

Anonymous said...

That was an expensive judgment in New Haven.

You could buy Jodi Rell about a 120 years of tuition and fees at Yale with all that dough

Or , under public financing, both parties gubernatorial candidates would be paid for.

Anonymous said...


You would think all those little rich white boys on Malloys staff would have learned about embedding a link at prep school.

Conn-Tiki said...

Huh, I hadn't heard about that. It is quite surprising. By nature, I don't like the concentration of too much power in one person's hands; it usually leads to bad results. However, as you say, can it really hurt?

Chris MC said...

Parents and well-meaning civilians are the last people who should meddle with something as complicated and fragile as a school system."
Just a touch of elitism there yerseff, GC.

Thirty years in municipal politics in three states tells me that people know exactly what they are voting for when it comes to the BOE, and in the suburbs, budget referendum time. Witness the bloodbaths that took place all over the state again this past fall over school budgets.

What people don't generally know is that BOE's in this state are actually creatures of the state BOE, and that Municipal Execs have nothing to say about the Education budget. Capital projects are separate issues.

Apparently NH is an exception to the latter, but that is news to me - does New Haven have some kinda special arrangement under state law, (somebody from DeStefano's staff that can actually provide factual information, please)?

As to Eddie Perez, I believe his motives are pure. And he's been providing extraordinary leadership in Hartford, this is just the latest tranche. He was as always first rate on TV last Sunday on Monahan's program. Impressive guy.

DeanFan84 said...

Who would willingly want to take responsibility for Hartford's School Board? In the past, nobody.

Hats off to Eddie Perez if he wants to take that responsibility. There is no political upside to Mayor Perez' action. It must be from the heart.

And Eddie, as much as I love and respect you, why are you wearing the same DLC necktie that Obama said good riddance to!

God Bless Tookie Williams. And may Schwarzenegger be damned.

turfgrrl said...

Blue in CD2 said...

Although I do agree that the onus of situation should ultimatly fall to the CEO, I think you are removing all possible check/balances if you ask for appointed, not elected, officials.

Except that the school board should be a check & balance to the administration of te schools, not just a rubber stamp and check, which all too often is what results. Simple things like operating expenses should be integrated within the overall city budgets, if only to achieve purchasing scale that would result in lower costs.

KerryGuy said...

Good for Mayor Eddie. I think his heart is in the right place on taking over the BoE. He wants the school system to improve. His problem is not that he wants to be King, but rather that he doesn't trust anyone beyond his small core group of advisors. So if something is going to get done, he is going to be the one to do it. I just hope he doesn't burn out trying to do it all alone.

Anonymous said...

This Malloy vs. Destefano Union Stuff is turning into old hat. Don't you guys remember the Curry/Jepsen battle where Curry had unions/delegates locked up (supposedly) and Jepsen had the fundraising locked up (supposedly) and then Jepsen jumped out because of his deal to be Chair of the Party? Doesn't the early days of this primary (Malloy/Destefano) seem familiar to you guys???