Hartford Charter Revision Would Remove Mayor's Vote On School Board
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
July 22, 2013
HARTFORD — A proposal that would strip Mayor Pedro Segarra of his vote on the school board is among the charter revisions that city voters will decide on this fall.
The city council recently approved recommendations from Hartford's charter revision commission that include limiting the mayor's role on the board to a non-voting, ex-officio member.
Turning the registrar of voters into a nonpartisan, professional office — Hartford currently has three registrars representing different political parties — and expanding the powers and scope of the city's internal audit commission are also among the proposed changes.
The charter amendments are expected to appear on the ballot Nov. 5, when voters will elect four members to the nine-person school board. Last year, Segarra appointed the five other board members, including himself, to four-year terms.
John Kennelly, vice chairman of the charter revision group, said Monday that the commission "didn't think it was appropriate" for the mayor to have a vote on the education budget while also crafting and proposing the spending plan for municipal services. The 2013-14 city budget is $538.8 million.
Under the charter change, there would still be nine voting members on the board. Segarra would essentially become a 10th member who could offer his opinions on policy, school funding and the direction of Hartford's education reform without being able to cast a vote.
"The mayor should still have a voice," Kennelly said. "It shouldn't be the loudest voice."
City council President Shawn Wooden described the revision as "a modest modification to the current structure," and said Segarra's five board appointments still give him sufficient power under the city charter.
But Segarra opposes a change. While charter revision will be decided by the voters, he said, it is because education is such a priority that he should keep his vote on the board.
"I've been very clear: Mayors need to play, and can play, an important role in education, especially in those cities that have a large achievement gap," Segarra said last week. "That gap is so big and it's so important toward ... the future development of our city, that the mayor should be at the table.
"Not only be at the table, but also be a decision-maker and have a voice," Segarra said. "And the best voice is when you have a vote."
After Hartford's 2002 charter revision, the city shifted to a strong mayor form of government that made then-Mayor Eddie Perez the chief executive. It also gave him mayoral authority to appoint five members to the school board, and in 2005, Perez appointed himself the board's chairman.
At the time, Perez said the move was "not about being king,'' but being accountable for the schools' successes or failures. Perez then led the 2006 hiring of former Superintendent Steven Adamowski, who implemented the district's reform plan that includes the redesign of low-performing schools into specialized academies.
A charter revision commission that convened in 2009 wanted to restrict the mayor's participation on the board to a non-voting member. On a legal technicality, however, proposed charter amendments from that panel never went to city voters.
The latest commission, seeking checks and balances to mayoral power, discussed more extensive changes to the composition of the school board, such as returning to a majority-elected board, Kennelly said. But noting improvements to the high school graduation rate and test scores, he added, "if it isn't broken, don't try to fix it."
At Achieve Hartford!, the education reform advocacy group, Executive Director Paul Holzer emphasized Monday that Segarra would still have a five-member, majority voting bloc.
"The ultimate accountability in a system of mayoral control is when the mayor is on the board, because it prevents him from distancing himself from his appointees," Holzer said. However, if voters approve the charter revision, "a power shift may be more of a perception than a reality."
Last month, Segarra used his vote to deny a contract extension for Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, whose employment ends in mid-2014. The 7-0 board vote — the five Segarra appointees plus two elected members were against the extension — means Hartford will seek a new schools chief.
Segarra said he was "very concerned" that the pace of reform wasn't moving quickly enough.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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