Lamont’s scuttled visit to Bassick debated
BRIDGEPORT — On a campaign swing through the Park City last week and before attending a Democratic fundraiser at Testo’s Restaurant, some wanted then-gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont to visit Bassick High School.
The 89-year-old school, after all, is looking for the state to foot nearly 80 percent of a $115 million upgrade.
Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson reportedly agreed to a request made by State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a member of the legislature’s bonding committee who has been leading the charge in getting the state to fund the Bassick project.
Then a day later, Johnson changed her mind.
“I opted to reschedule the visit until after the election,” Johnson said.
The board has a policy that bars employees from engaging in political activities on school premises during school hours.
Johnson’s about face didn’t sit well with Dennis Bradley, a school board member who on Tuesday won the 23rd State Senate seat.
Late in the evening on Nov. 1 — the day of Lamont’s visit to the city — Bradley sent an email to Johnson and the rest of the board asking for a discussion and possible action at the board’s Nov. 13 business meeting on “why Johnson canceled/denied State Representative Stafstrom a tour of Bassick High School last minute when the democratic nominee for Governor, LT. Governor, Mayor and others were scheduled for a tour.”
By the following Tuesday, Lamont was the governor-elect.
On Wednesday, Bradley was still pushing for a board discussion.
“That better be on the agenda. As per our bylaws,” Bradley wrote in an email to the board.
Board Chair John Weldon assured him it would be.
Weldon’s reassurance was sought after three other board members — Ben Walker, Maria Pereira and Joe Sokolovic — wrote that it should be Bradley and Stafstrom who are admonished for suggesting the use of public schools and students as props to further a political agenda.
On Thursday, Bradley said the proposed visit by Lamont and others was aimed at helping win money for a new Bassick.
“In short it’s not politics it’s doing the right thing,” Bradley said. “That’s her job.”
“Now ... we made enemies,” Bradley added.
In his email, Walker characterized the proposed visit a political side show that would have occurred during school hours and that Johnson had his full support.
“It is inappropriate for anyone, including a sitting member of the General Assembly, to commandeer the use of school property in search of partisan political advantage,” Walter wrote. “No superintendent should be subjected to political pressure of this sort.”
During her recent evaluation, Bradley told Johnson that although the board often plays politics, she shouldn’t.
“Don’t pick a side,” Bradley said. “Be your own side.”
Stafstrom said he was unaware of the board policy and that his expectation was that any major candidate that had requested to tour would have been given equal access. He said Thursday, that Lamont would be re-invited as his schedule allows.
Lamont’s camp, on Thursday, said they unaware of the controversy and not bothered by it.