Key lawmaker says retroactive fix to Bridgeport school takeover unlikely

Following the Supreme Court’s rejection of the state’s takeover of Bridgeport’s Board of Education, the leader of the legislature’s education committee said the chances for a retroactive fix is unlikely.

“I have serious doubts whether I or other legislators will continue such language. The matter has been dealt with and it’s closed. The Supreme Court has ruled,” state Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said.

The Supreme Court ruled late Tuesday that the State Board of Education violated the law when it ousted the elected Bridgeport board last July. The decision was based largely on the fact that the board never received training before the takeover last July, as required.

“Most importantly, the state board does not have the authority to authorize reconstitution until it first requires the local board to undergo and complete training,” the majority opinion written by Justice Peter Zarella reads.

This decision comes as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed Fleischmann’s committee and General Assembly approve a bill that would retroactively change the training requirement, and thus retroactively making the takeover legal.

Andrew McDonald, Malloy’s chief counsel, said in a statement that the administration “intend[s] to discuss further legal and legislative options with the state and local officials in the very near future.”

But the lawyer for those elected Bridgeport members who were not happy with the takeover has said such a maneuver would surely land the state back in court.

McDonald has said a reversal of the state takeover would “maximize disruption” since a new superintendent has been hired and budget and contract decisions have been made. These decisions are vulnerable to legal challenges.

Fleischmann said it is “critically important” that the new board keep the nationally renown superintendent Paul Vallas.

Though there are concerns that a retroactive fix will just allow the uncertainties that the district has had to face the last eight months will just be prolonged.

“I don’t think we have the power or authority to retroactively fix this. They ruled… I would really need some strong persuading to be convinced that’s the right approach,” Fleischmann said. “We might want to consider our options going forward, but I’m not convinced there is anything wrong with the current law.”

McDonald said whatever the next move is, the administration’s intention is to “create a stable, productive and educationally sound environment for a chronically struggling school district.”

The ruling ordered the five ousted school board members to be put back in office and special elections must be held for the remaining four seats whose members’ terms have expired.

This decision comes days after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief counsel said such a reversal by the Supreme Court would be “unworkable and would maximize disruption” in Bridgeport schools. The administration is proposing the General Assembly change in state law so districts no longer have to undergo training before a state takeover.

Justice Richard N. Palmer was the lone dissenting vote, writing that the training requirement is meant to shield local districts from unwanted state takeovers. That was not the case in the Bridgeport case, as the majority of board members voted to have the state replace their board.

“The training provision is a shield, a measure meant to protect a locality against what it might perceive as an unwarranted state takeover. The training provision is not a sword, a measure meant to force a local board of education to retain control over the education of the district’s schoolchildren,” Palmer wrote in explaining why Bridgeport school board members should be allowed to waive the requirement.

Bridgeport is the only district the state board has disbanded under this law so far.