Mayor Pedro Segarra's power extends well beyond city hall with his Election Night win.
A revised city charter under former Mayor Eddie Perez means that Segarra gets to appoint five members to the nine-person board of education — essentially controlling the education agenda for years to come.
Choosing the board's majority also comes at a time that reform advocates believe is crucial to preserving the schools' momentum in raising achievement. The school system is already in transition with Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, who calls the next five years "the second phase" of the city's reform efforts.
Achieve Hartford!, the advocacy group that works closely with the school system and is supported by the business community, considers Segarra's picks no less important than influencing "the city's future economic and civic well-being." The new four-year terms for appointees begin Feb. 1.
"Success in education will hinge on the mayor's and board of education's commitment to ongoing, effective reform," Paul Diego Holzer, the nonprofit's interim executive director, wrote to Segarra on Thursday. His letter outlined qualities that the group is looking for in the appointees.
Among the attributes are the ability to analyze data and the willingness to make long-term decisions that may be "unpopular in the face of short-term demands."
Kishimoto said Thursday that she discussed the appointments with Segarra about a month ago and would like him to return as many sitting board members as possible "so we have continuity." Perez selected many of those members.
"I do want some continuity in having a reform-based approach to improving our schools," Segarra said Friday. But he is accepting résumés and wants to pick from a pool of candidates that he plans to interview in December.
Segarra said he wants to make his decisions by Christmas and did not rule out appointing himself to the board, although he said becoming the chairman would be "too crazy."
"If I can come up with five solid candidates," Segarra said, "I think the only benefit to being on the board as a mayor is you can be in tune with all the major issues."
The five current appointees are Ada Miranda, the board's former chairwoman; vice chairwoman Pamela Richmond; secretary Sharon Patterson-Stallings; Israel Flores; and Chairman David MacDonald, a Democrat elected to the city council Tuesday who quarreled with Segarra over Kishimoto's appointment and contract earlier this year.
Flores, who travels frequently for his job, has been absent from board meetings over the past few months and is not expected to continue serving. MacDonald's seat also will be vacant.
"I'm hoping [Segarra] takes advantage of the two seats" and reappoints the other three, Kishimoto said.
The four board members who voters elected in 2009 are Robert Cotto Jr. and Elizabeth Brad Noel of the Working Families Party, and Democrats Lori Hudson and Luis Rodriguez-Davila. Their terms expire in 2013.
Under Perez, the school board expanded from seven to nine members in late 2005 because of a new city charter that gave the Hartford mayor unprecedented power in municipal government. Perez, impatient with the failing schools, appointed himself to the board and became its chairman, leading the superintendent search that brought Steven Adamowski to Hartford in 2006.
Perez relinquished his role as chairman to Miranda in 2009, then resigned from the board last year soon after his conviction on corruption charges.
Segarra had the opportunity to appoint himself as Perez's replacement on the board, but instead chose Patterson-Stallings, who previously served on the board as an elected member.
In February and March, Segarra clashed with the board after its plan to appoint Kishimoto as Adamowski's successor was interrupted by the mayor's eleventh-hour news conference calling for a national search. About a week later, the board appointees and Hudson voted for Kishimoto anyway.
Kishimoto and Segarra now say their relationship is a good one.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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