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A Meeting Called For Answers Finds Few

Legislator's Effort To Ease 'Antagonism' Between Hartford School Board And Many City Politicians Fizzles

Vanessa De La Torre

March 03, 2011

State Rep. Marie Lopez Kirkley-Bey called the meeting to get some answers and maybe, she said, work on the "antagonism" that has simmered between the board of education and many of the city's politicians.

A day after the school board appointed its next school superintendent amid city in-fighting, Kirkley-Bey, a veteran lawmaker from the North End, summoned board members to the state Capitol Thursday.

Mayor Pedro Segarra, several city council members and a few members of Hartford's delegation arrived for the gathering in Room C-1, but perhaps there was some confusion: No one from the school board showed up except for Robert Cotto Jr., who learned about the meeting from an online blog post.

Representing the school system was Victor De La Paz, the deputy chief financial officer, who said he came to the Capitol believing the topic would be the schools' legislative priorities.

De La Paz would instead become the point person for grievances. And not about the superintendent search process, which Segarra and others said lacked transparency, but mainly the $2.7 million in bonuses given to teachers, principals and central office staff last year.

Segarra sent a stern letter to Superintendent Steven Adamowski last month questioning the bonuses and demanding an explanation. Adamowski defended them as "performance pay" in a letter dated Monday to the mayor.

On Thursday, De La Paz handed out copies of Adamowski's letter, but that did little to quiet complaints from Kirkley-Bey and council members that school officials have kept them out of the loop. Councilman Larry Deutsch said the bonus money was "siphoned" from classrooms. Councilman Luis Cotto charged that many of the board members suffered from "hubris."

"It's uncomfortable being here," De La Paz said, after more than an hour of listening to lobs tossed his way. "But I'm not here to apologize for anything. I want to be clear about that.

"Someone made a statement about 'what's happening in the school system,' " he continued. "What's happening in the school system is a graduation rate that went from 29 percent to 52 percent.

"What's happening in the school system is the highest growth of any urban district in the state of Connecticut," De La Paz said in reference to achievement. He also defended teachers' bonuses.

"We have nothing to apologize about."

State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, who represents the city's Parkville and Frog Hollow neighborhoods, seemed to take offense. The school system is rewarding bonuses to teachers who "are not doing their job," Gonzalez asserted.

"The education is down the drain."

Kirkley-Bey, a deputy speaker in the House, also took a hard line. "I don't care whether you apologize to me or not," she told De La Paz. "I've got so many people saying to me, 'What's going on in Hartford?' that it's terrible. I'm embarrassed."

As for the board and school system, "I can make sure that none of you ever get appointed again. I can make sure they take away ECS money transportation money," Kirkley-Bey said of the state funds that are a lifeblood for the city schools.

"And do it just to Hartford. So just remember that," she warned.

"Put it in your pipe and smoke it."

Kirkley-Bey then left the room. Gonzalez turned to a quiet state Sen. John Fonfara, a deputy majority leader and vice chairman of the education committee, and asked if he could take over.

"I don't want to run this meeting," Fonfara muttered, shaking his head.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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