DeStefano administration proposes charter reforms

New Haven’s charter revision commission is moving forward after holding four meetings soliciting public testimony.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration made a presentation to the charter revision committee on Thursday night detailing its recommendations for the charter revision process. Representing DeStefano, the City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden and New Haven Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 argued for maintaining a Board of Education appointed entirely by the mayor, continuing education reform and keeping the charter simple.

“Less is more because of the charter dilemma: The charter both fosters and limits democracy,” Bolden said to the commission. “The less you put in the charter, the more power New Haven residents have to shape their future and the more power legislative and executive branches of government have to help people shape the future they want.”

Bolden explained that commission members should not add anything “more than what is necessary to govern” and argued that the commission should not incorporate the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which hears complaints against law enforcement, and the board of the public campaign finance Democracy Fund into the charter.

Another issue both Bolden and Harries addressed was Board of Education reform, with the two agreeing that the board should continue to be appointed by the mayor instead of partially or fully elected as some have suggested. Bolden said a single vote for mayor of New Haven would be better than adding an extra election process for the Board of Education that he said “guarantees neither accountability nor a quality public education.”

Bolden added that elections would raise questions of implementation, and that no supporter of a different Board of Education model — neither a fully or partially elected board — has described a detailed election process. Additionally, he said that the Board of Education could fail to represent minorities if the city were to elect its members.

Harries spoke after Bolden and addressed the city’s recommendations with regard to education, asking both the public and commission members to take 90 seconds to think about what New Haven Public Schools need.

In response to Harries’ request, Ward 8 Alderman Michael Smart, who is also the chair of the charter revision commission, advocated for more parental involvement. Commission member and Ward 20 Alderman Delphine Clyburn, meanwhile, said that the city should focus on improving not charter schools but neighborhood schools and the quality of their teachers.

Harries agreed with Bolden in recommending the continuation of an all-appointed board, with both he and Bolden citing higher graduation rates and higher standardized testing scores as evidence that the current system is working well.

David Cicarella, the president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, also said that there should be no consideration of changing from an appointed board when the board has done a “pretty good” job thus far.

Harries said that keeping an all-appointed board would avoid its politicization and prevent confusion about accountability and responsibility. Joining Harries, Cicarella and Bolden in their support for an all-appointed Board of Education was Mary Rosario, a member of the Citywide Parent Leadership Team, a group that meets monthly to discuss how to improve New Haven schools.

“Don’t fix something that’s not broken,” Rosario said. “I see kids coming back telling me, ‘Ms. Mary, I’m going to college,’ and that’s … a change that we can’t stop, especially now.”

Harries also discussed the efforts New Haven Public Schools have made in recent years to communicate with parents, students and other stakeholders, pointing to initiatives like Parent University and Citywide Parent Leadership. He also urged the commission to support the city in its School Change Initiative.

Bolden also addressed the term lengths of aldermen and the mayor in Thursday’s meeting, explaining that the city suggests four-year terms for elected public officials as opposed to the current two-year terms, as that would enable city officials to focus more on governing rather than campaigning every other year.

He suggested that the city keep current appointment powers, in which the mayor appoints more than 200 of city board and commission members, contingent upon approval from the Board of Aldermen.

The public will vote on recommendations made by the charter commission in the November election.

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