In a case that could pave the way for state education officials to replace local school boards in other low-performing districts as they did in Bridgeport, justices on the Connecticut Supreme Court were told Thursday there is no standard the state follows when determining whether to intervene in a troubled district or leave it alone.

“I assume that Bridgeport is not the only school in the state that is failing,” said Justice Peter T. Zarella. “Is it just everybody’s at risk and it’s an arbitrary decision?”


State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor leaving the Supreme Court

Mark F. Kohler, an assistant attorney general defending the State Board of Education’s decision, acknowledged there is no standard except that the district fail to meet federal testing benchmarks for two consecutive years. That would mean 34 districts are currently eligible for state intervention, which is about 20 percent of districts in the state.

SBE Chairman Allan Taylor said during an interview none of these other districts have approached him yet asking for state intervention.

Regardless, Kohler said the law is straightforward on the role of the SDE in this.

“They had the authority to act,” he said.

Bridgeport’s board was ousted in July in a split vote by the state board, following the request of Mayor Bill Finch and six of the local board members.

“Parents were told their votes don’t count,” said Norm Pattis, a lawyer for board members that did not support having their positions replaced with state-appointed members, some of whom don’t live in Bridgeport. “What’s a little fascism among friends as long as it serves the children”

A key dispute in the takeover of the state’s largest school district is whether the state can interfere in matters delegated as local responsibilities in the state constitution. Also at issue is whether local elected board members can turn over their seats to the SDE before taking training to “improve their operational efficiency and effectiveness as leaders of their districts’ improvement plans,” as required under state law. The state argues board members have the right to waive this requirement.


Lawyer Norm Pattis: ‘Parents were told their votes don’t count’

But plaintiffs’ lawyer Michelle Mount argued that the board members could not simply ignore state law. “They just decided to abdicate their duties. They should have resigned.”

Pattis summarized their actions a little more bluntly.

“Wam bam, thank you man. The voters of Bridgeport are too stupid,” he said.

If the court reverses the state takeover and reinstates the board, it’s not clear what the effect would be: Four of the nine members’ terms are set to expire at the end of the year and the election for their seat would have been in 11 days.

“What would happen? Would there be an election? Would there not be an election?” asked Chief Justice Chase T. Roberts. Lawyers for both sides had no answer.

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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