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Another City School Debacle

Helen Ubinas

February 24, 2011

A lot of people walked away from the Hartford school superintendent debacle looking pretty pathetic.

But boiled down, it points to one sad truth: Mayor Pedro Segarra failed miserably as a leader.

Let me say that again. Failed.

It's not that his concerns weren't valid. Maybe, as he said during his press conference, the selection process could have been more transparent. Maybe a national search would have encouraged more competition and quieted conspiracy theorists.

Someone definitely needed to stop school spokesperson David Medina from lobbying for the favorite candidate before his idiocy tainted the process.

But it was Segarra's job to make those points in a timely way that would have been productive and useful. Instead, he waited until the 11th hour to create a mess and worse, another embarrassment for a city that's had more than its share.

Consider how this unfolded: The school board members, cowardly as they were for bowing to Segarra's leadership by press conference, made a policy decision last fall to launch a national search only if no internal candidate was recommended. The selection process was in the works for months and two candidates were interviewed.

And yet it wasn't until three hours before schools chief Steven Adamowski's successor was to be officially named and feted at a reception Tuesday that Segarra tossed his well-publicized grenade.

Segarra defended his timing by saying he didn't know until recently how the search would conclude.

Really? That would make the CEO of our capital city one of the few who wasn't aware of the open secret that Assistant Superintendent Christina Kishimoto was the front-runner. A more likely explanation: Segarra's not being truthful about his belated discovery of the board's succession policy. The man's no dummy, so it's a fair bet he's driven here not by ignorance, but by politics.

The obvious question: what political interest was he serving by getting involved? Could be he didn't trust a board mostly appointed by his predecessor to make decisions that would affect his leadership. Could be as simple as him reacting to bad press.

But then, he isn't the only one who screwed up here.

Board Chairman David MacDonald said he canceled the appointment vote because he was concerned that such an important decision would be affected by the circus atmosphere that followed Segarra's public spanking. Oh, come on. If the board leadership really believed they made the right call, then they needed to own that decision and tell the mayor that his concerns were too little, too late.

Lots was made about the fix being in. Having a school spokesperson playing back-door politics didn't help ease suspicion that Adamowski was hand-picking his successor. But let's step back for a second.

Disagree all you want with the process or the choice, but there does seem to be some actual logic at play here. Adamowski's reform strategy of school choice, magnet programs and specialized academies is far from perfect. But on some levels, it's working. So I can understand why the board maybe wanted to stay the course and vote for some continuity.

How many times have we had some hot shot come into town wanting to blow everything up, put their stamp on the school system, pump up their resume before taking off and leaving parents and children holding the bag for their bright idea gone bust?

Look, board members might be right in seeking continuity and Segarra's concerns are well-taken. But this is exactly what happens when politics inevitably rears its head in Hartford.

Helen Ubiņas' column appears on Thursdays and Sundays. Read her blog, Notes From Hel, at courant.com/helen and follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NotesFromHeL.

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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