Connecticut Post (Sunday)

Nine candidates vying for five seats

Bridgeport school board sees competitiv­e race

- By Cayla Bamberger

BRIDGEPORT — Five seats on the school board are up for grabs next week and could shake up the nine-member panel for the next few years.

Several of the candidates on the ballot have a background in education or grew up in Bridgeport schools. Many are newcomers to local politics and if elected would assume position as the board oversees the use of pandemicre­lief dollars, including $100.3 million from the most recent round of federal funding.

Incumbents John Weldon, the board chair, and Joseph Sokolovic, whose terms expire this year, will seek reelection on Tuesday.

Democrats, the majority party in Bridgeport, have nominated three candidates: Christine BaptistePe­rez, Erika Castillo and Michael Maccarone. Also on the ballot are Republican­s Weldon, Peter Perillo and Mary Gaits, who secured the GOP nomination last month. Sokolovic, Jose Lopez and Khalid Muhammad will run on the Working Families Party line.

That leaves some terms to expire, including those of Democrat Jessica Martinez, charged in May in an alleged campaign fund scheme, Republican Chris Taylor and and Sosimo Fabian, who filled a oneyear vacancy.

Each term lasts four years.


The Democratic slate includes candidates with expertise and master’s degrees in education, finance and DEI. All three have worked in K-12 or higher education. Castillo and Baptiste-Perez have degrees and certificat­es in diversity and inclusion, and Latino and inequaliti­es studies, respective­ly.

“My running mates and I don’t have background­s in politics,” said Castillo, “and we don’t really identify as politician­s. We are real people; real members of the community.”

Castillo, who attended Multicultu­ral Magnet School and Central Magnet High School, is the director of communicat­ions at King School in Stamford — a role that, she said, “has exposed me to innovative approaches to teaching and learning that I would love to see more of in the Bridgeport public school system.”

She said she would pay “close attention” to how COVID-relief funds are spent and increase access to social, emotional and mental health resources, mentorship and enrichment programs.

Baptiste-Perez, an attorney, emphasized mentoring opportunit­ies, and also family involvemen­t.

“I want to strengthen that relationsh­ip between parents and the school board,” she said, adding that learning so often begins in the home. BaptistePe­rez is the parent of a school-aged daughter, who attends a public charter school.

She also sees the public schools as a tool to support the city of Bridgeport.

“I believe that education is fundamenta­l,” she said. “It’s key to empowering the people that live in the city, as well as key to attracting the type of opportunit­ies that are necessary to build the city.”

Maccarone, who has a master’s degree in financial management from Fairfield University, is an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport with more than 30 years of experience as a finance administra­tor.

“I have a strong financial background that I can share with the board,” said Maccarone, “especially as it relates to budgeting and finance issues.”

Maccarone told Hearst Connecticu­t his priorities include recovering from the pandemic, supporting equity and access, and focusing more on special education.


The GOP candidates have run on a platform that pushes “collaborat­ion, most importantl­y,” Weldon told Hearst Connecticu­t last month.

Weldon, who has an MBA in management from the University of Bridgeport, has made a point of divvying up responsibi­lities within the school system: “Now, the roles are much more clearly defined between board, superinten­dent and staff,” he said.

“If it doesn’t directly impact frontline operations in a positive way, we shouldn’t be talking about it, otherwise it’s a distractio­n,” Weldon said. “We do pay people to do certain things; we don’t need to be doing duplicatin­g their efforts.”

Gaits and Perillo, both former Bridgeport public school teachers, have experience­s that they say could see the school district through pandemic recovery.

“You need people on the Board of Education who have classroom experience,” said Gaits, “who know what’s going on in the schools and how schools run in order to make practical decisions.”

Gaits earned a master’s degree in education from Sacred Heart, worked as a teacher and administra­tor in the district for 30 years, and attended many board meetings over that time. She’s also taught special education and English as a second language.

Perillo, who is Italian, learned English at age 6 in the public schools, graduated from Central High School, attended college at Sacred Heart and oversees a portfolio of hotels in the tri-state area.

“It would be great to make Bridgeport schools not only successful, but an actual model other schools want to emulate,” he said.

Working Families

Candidates on the Working Families Party ballot line are running on a platform of accountabi­lity, transparen­cy and integrity.

Sokolovic, presently chair of the board’s finance committee and dad of an eighth grader, is a vocal advocate for district funding and a strong proponent of openness to the public. He often votes against executive session at board meetings, and is also pushing for public comment to be expanded so that anyone in the district can speak on any subject.

He advocated for a new diversity, equity and inclusion committee, and for a more diverse teacher workforce that better represents the student body it serves. He wants the committee to explore some ideas for the latter, from giving tax incentives to teachers of color, to encouragin­g teachers to promote the profession to their students.

“Most studies will show students will learn better from people who look like them, and it also gives role models to our students,” he said.

Also on the slate, Muhammad said his candidacy can be traced back to his own time as a student.

“I went to public school and I didn’t always have the best experience,” he said.

The candidate recalled a teacher told him he would never go to college, a guidance counselor that never remembered his name though they met weekly, and almost not graduating due to a policy he wasn’t made aware of. He joined the military to pay for college, but said that should not be necessary to attend a four-year institutio­n.

“I might have had an academic scholarshi­p since high school with the proper preparatio­n,” he said.

Muhammad majored in finance and completed a year of an MBA program, and has experience in personal finance and small business accounting.

“I understand what I’m looking at when it comes to money,” he said, “and I’m diligent enough to stand strong enough to do the right thing.”

Lopez, who graduated from Central High School, spent three years as a student representa­tive on the school board and organized a citywide youth forum at City Hall. He became the first person in his family to graduate from college, and is working on a master’s degree in public administra­tion.

“I always told myself growing up that I was going to run for the board,” he said. “I feel like now is a more important time than ever, with the money coming in from ARP-ESSER (American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Relief) to take a look at what’s going on in our district, and to organize around student need.”

Lopez suggested understand­ing that need involves recognizin­g each school is “an individual ecosystem,” and districtwi­de decisions need to include school-based input.

“Seeing how politics can sway the decisions made for students, I think it’s my responsibi­lity to be at the table,” he said.

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