Conn. Parents Ask Courts to Block Schools' Takeover

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Michelle Black Smith-Tompkins told Acting Commissioner of Education George Coleman Wednesday that she can pinpoint the start of the decline of the city school system.

She was in the eighth grade and there were suddenly no books for everyone in her class. She had a mother who did something about it. Others weren't as lucky.

"It's 40 years of decline. It's not five, it's not 10 ... What I am asking you is to please be a standard-bearer and to make the standards plain, that children are not expendable," she said.

It was the last of six audiences Coleman has entertained since Saturday. This group of 200 parents, teachers and others crowded into the basement of the Mt. Aery Baptist Church to hear the commissioner tell them, as he has others, that he takes the job of selecting a new board seriously and that he has the luxury of being non-political. He said low test scores, not board discord, was the state's motivation for stepping in last week when the city board asked to be replaced. The state school board granted the request.

"Progress is not sufficient. The number of youngsters in Bridgeport who have met the standard is still disgustingly few," said Coleman. "We can not continue to perpetuate schools or policies that limit the opportunities for young people based upon their zip code."

He told them schools will open on time and with a new five-member panel that he will name and who share his goal of making sure kids in the city are well educated.

Some left impressed. Coleman won applause when he said he doesn't have confidence the system is geared toward making sure urban kids get a fair shake. Others remain unmoved. Barbara Pouchet, poised to run for the board in November before the state agreed to reconstitution, doesn't support the takeover and doesn't like that parents were the last group Coleman addressed.

Earlier Wednesday, it was learned a group of Bridgeport parents has asked a Superior Court judge to halt the replacement of the city's school board by state officials. On Monday, the parents amended an earlier injunction request, initially filed last month to try to stop the closing of the Dunbar School. The original injunction was filed on behalf of Shavonne Davis, the mother of a Dunbar student, and other parents. Davis was at Wednesday's meeting but didn't speak. Others did, lining up at two microphones to ask questions.

Mary Tracy told Coleman her son has had 34 kids in his class at Edison School. "I'm concerned," she said.

Loretta Williams asked if Coleman favored subjecting the district to the forensic audit. Coleman said the school board would have that authority.

"The three top issues in the district are the budget, the budget, the budget," said John Gomes, father of four and a candidate for mayor.

Claire Mastromonaco, a parent and teacher in the district, said class size needs to be a priority for the new board. "Teachers try hard, but the demands are great," she said.

Coleman expects the new board to address the issue but warned it won't be a "miracle" board.

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As for the injunction, attorney Josephine Miller, who is representing parents in the request, said the immediate threat of closing Dunbar School seems over, but it remains part of the budget plan officials say needs to be adopted when the new board is selected. The revised injunction request adds the state Board of Education and Coleman. She said a scheduled hearing date is July 21 in state Superior Court.

The city school board voted last month to hold off adopting a balanced budget until October. By waiting, Schools Superintendent John Ramos said Tuesday the district won't have a mechanism in place to close a school.

Miller said parents and guardians in the city have not been included in discussions or informed in a timely manner of educational decisions that may affect their children's constitutional right to an education. She said the board was acting beyond its statutory authority when it asked to be reconstituted and that the action of disbanding the board denied parents and taxpayers their legal right to vote for school board members of their choosing.

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