Members of the public took turns calling New Haven’s Board of Education members hypocrites, incompetents, failures, unethical sleazes — and perhaps lowest of all, politicians — as tempers inside Beecher School matched the temperatures outside.
That happened Monday night at the public comment — or perhaps more accurately, the public berating — portion of the regular bimonthly meeting of the school board.
Outside it was 86 degrees, inside, hotter, as board members mostly silently endured a particularly scorching edition of what has become a ritual public stoning.
During the pile-on, board member Carlos Torre diligently took notes on the criticism, Mayor Toni Harp checked her mobile phone and member Che Dawson silently signaled when the speaker’s three minutes were up.
“Y’All Been Out of Order!”
As the board opened the public comment portion of the meeting, Rev. Boise Kimber, who this spring failed to convince the board to let him open an all-boys’ charter school, led off the assault. He proposed that board members file disclosure forms, listing their family members and business conflicts of interest, and he dinged them for how they’ve handled hiring a new superintendent.
“Now, if you all think we will allow you all just to pick the person, and this community has nothing to do with it, then you’ve got a problem,” Kimber, minister of Newhallville’s First Calvary Baptist Church, said to whoops from the audience.
Then Kimber took a dig at board member Ed Joyner, a critic of his failed charter-school quest, for planning to speak at a community forum in Bridgeport on Wednesday about how to boost achievement for young black males. Kimber noted a quotation from Joyner in a Connecticut Post article on the subject: “I want to tell them this is a community wide responsibility, not just school. It requires work from educators, parents, community leaders and public institutions. Young men of color face barriers above and beyond most other groups. That is historical.” To Kimber, that sounded like an argument in favor of the boys’ charter school he’d wanted to open until Joyner and others raised questions about it.
Despite Dawson letting his iPhone timer ring, interrupting the reverend to say his time was up and then having his mic cut, Kimber kept talking. “Don’t cut my mic off on me. I can still talk: I’m a Baptist preacher.”
“Rev. Kimber, you cannot hijack this meeting,” Joyner, who was acting as president for the meeting, told him.
“I’m not hijacking it! You all have hijacked it!” he yelled back. “I will begin calling your names out, by not doing the job that you were chosen to do. You are very hypocritical for what you did to an all-boys’ school in this city.”
“You’re out of order,” muttered board member Frank Redente.
Kimber, who often speaks beyond the three-minute public time limit at board meetings, roared back, “Y’all been out of order since you’ve been up there!”
Dudes, Where Are My Tires?
After Kimber exited stage right, a litany of complaints about attendance reports, special education and school safety followed.
A social worker at Celentano School and parent, Nikkina Osei-Holden, blamed the school board for not taking a more proactive approach to school safety. Last Thursday, she said, she had left the school building to find her car resting on bricks, its tires stolen.
Maria Harris, the parent of a child with autism, criticized the district’s special education program. “Y’all do nothing at all, and your special education department sucks,” she said. “I’m so sick of it now. You guys are not doing the right things: violations. I’m beyond pissed off.”
Her voice rose as she continued, “Y’all waste so much money, it’s ridiculous. Stop giving increases to liaisons that don’t do nothing for the kids!” Harris now yelled. “Y’all should be ashamed of yourself. Nobody has accountability in this district, nobody from the top to the bottom. And y’all sitting up here rolling your eyes and sucking your teeth, setting examples.” The audience applauded as Harris walked back to her seat, shouting that the board is filled with politicians and lawyers, not educators.
Chrystal Augustine, another speaker, asked pointedly, “What is the purpose of the Board of Ed and your primary roles and functions? I really don’t want someone to direct me to an article or something that’s already pre-written. But someone that’s experienced on the board, explain that to me.”
She added that the board members should strive to be more ethical. “I think that you probably should have a code of conduct, and sometimes I don’t really see that,” she said, earning another round of applause.
At the end of the sign-up sheet, Hazel Pappas (pictured), who regularly speaks at meetings, offered a plea for civility.
“Let’s learn things before we’re ready to berate people,” the grandmother said. “We, as parents, need to make sure that we are doing the right thing to help the people that’s educating our children. Let’s not put all the blame on somebody else.
“If the adults are acting crazy, what do we think the kids are going to do? They’re going to be making it hard on teachers and everybody else, because they’ll be saying, ‘Oh, my mother will get them.’ Let’s not do that. Let’s work together!” Audience members around her murmured their assent.
One more audience member, H. Carl Moerschbacher, hadn’t put his name on the list. He raised his hand, requesting a turn to speak about the district’s security procedures, in the wake of an incident in which every student at Celentano had their backpack searched before entering the school.
Oh no, Dawson said. No more today.