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Cottage 12 Bridgeport, CT 06604 203.856.4360 gailj2@optonIine.net
January 31. 2012 - BY FAX Ms. Cathleen Simpson, Chair Charter Revision Commission City of Bridgeport
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Charter Revision to Further Empower Mayoral Influence in Bridgeport Public Schools
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Please permit me to submit a briefwritten statement to the Charter Revisi~n ~ ~ Commission, as Iam out-of-state tonight when you have scheduled this Public Hearing.
Let me start with the adage: "Be careful what you wish for:
I am retired Connecticut-certified civics teacher, a member of the Bridgeport League of Women Voters, and a resident of The Watermark at 3030 ParkAvenue. My interest in the education of Bridgeport school-age children is motivated exclusively by my own belief in the value of public schools, as I have now (and never have had) any of our own children in Bridgeport schools. Nor have I taught or otherwise been employed by the City of Bridgeport or its school system.
I respect that our current Mayor Finch has sent his children to Bridgeport public schools. He is correct when he says that mayors get the blame when citizens lose confidence in schools within the city they lead. Mayoral control of schools can be good or bad, depending on who the mayor is. And remember a charter once changed is set in concrete often for a decade or SOl as this City's history of infrequent charter changes demonstrates. Right now it seems everyone inside Bridgeport and outside Bridgeport wants to "take over" Bridgeport's schools. There seems to be almost universal consensus that bold actions must be taken. Some already have happened like the state take over oftbe school board, appointment of a new privately-paid superintendent, a state supreme court decision hanging over these steps. So I ask: Is Charter change to mandate mayoral control of our schools a needed bold action or just a step that will add to the anxiety that parents of students are feeling right now? A step that might be good now and after a future election of anti-education mayor, a disaster?
Congratulations on your being selected to the Charter Revision-Committee. And, thank you for your time and commitment to improving the lives of the residents of Bridgeport. You are a very diverse group - diversity is only valuable if the group has the power to effect change. You have that power. No doubt you were selected because collectively you have special talents that will help you guide you through this important task. You probably bring skills like c~ building, team dynamics, conflict resolution, integrity, and an understanding of fairness and justice to the committee. ~.~ ~ • The way I look at it is there are . ~fYOU and 130,000 people that you represent on this committee. Each of you repre~soand gives voice to 1J,000 people - a daunting task. It is my prayer that you will not allow any personal or ~itical agendas influence your work and that you will bring forth revisions that truly serve the best interests of this community. Today and in future hearing you will hear from a variety of community groups and individuals who, for the most part, have an interest in promoting the city and not their personal agendas. I know that you will listen and discern each person and as you make decisions the charter you will thoughtfully consider what you hear. I am one of those who have an area of great concern that I hope you will consider and it is the Ethics Commission. My suggestion is as follows: 1) Codify the Ethics Commission by charter and not Ordinance 2) By charter ensure that the Ethics Commission can appoint legal counsel not related to city employed counsel and be totally independent of the City Attorney's Office. 3) Allow for the person filing a complaint to be present, if they choose, when the commission takes up the complaint to clarify or refute comments made by others before the commission. 4) Define by charter the position of Ethics Director. This does not need to be a full-time position but should include qualifications that require a significant separation of any political activity, educational and professional experiences and ensure that this position is free of any political interference. The appointment must be made outside of the local political establishment AND permanent so that a mayor or other political figures cannot remove them except with cause, cannot defund their department and cannot strip them of their powers by executive order or ordinance.
Mobilizing for Children
Board of Directors Frances Newby Chairwoman Jane F. Norgren Vice chair Peter H. Roberge Treasurer Stanley Bernard Rev. Brian Bodt Diane L. Brassell Marta Calderon Edith B. Cassidy Gina Dunston-Boone, MD. MaryE. Eady Robert Francis Linda Goldenberg Michael Gordon Marcy Hardt William J. Hass, PhD. Frances Haynes Margaret Hiller Brian J. Langdon Rev. Donald C. Luster Salvatore J. Mollica Cynthia Moore Nadine Nevins Janice Park Margie Powell Gina LeVonSimpson Linda S. Smith, MS Tanya Rhodes Smith Allyson Stollenwerck Preston C. Tisdale, Esq. Elizabeth Torres Helen B. Wasserman Scott K. Wilderman Katherine S. Yacavone Mary Pat C. Healy Executive Director
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Charter Revision Commission Public Hearing Tuesday, January 31, 2012
My. name is Mary Pat Healy and I am Executive Director of the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition. Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight. The task in front of you is daunting and the decisions you will be making regarding the Charter will set the stage for the future of this city. We call on . leaders at all levels to carefully consider the ramifications of these decisions and ensure that accountability to Bridgeport citizens is at the forefront of all discussions. As you review the Charter, the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition urges you to be guided by the following principles during your deliberations: 1. Will the proposed revisions improve the quality of life for Bridgeport's children and their families? And, in what ways? 2. Are the revisions a product of community engagement, involvement, and input? Have you provided the citizens of Bridgeport with a meaningful outlet for communication regarding these revisions?
3. How will you ensure that the revisions reflect and embody the best practices of municipal governance? Specifically, we urge you to: • Schedule at least two additional public hearings, if not more, at locations throughout the city, post meeting minutes on the City's website, and to participate. The publicize the schedule and location of meetings with enough advance notice so that the public has meaningful opportunity opportunity Commission needs to ensure that the electorate is informed and has an to comment on and understand the enormity of these decisions. For this reason, additional public hearings should be scheduled as soon as possible. • Strengthen existing language in the Charter as it relates to ethics and conflicts of interest. Additionally, enforced. specific language should be added to ensure that the clauses regarding conflicts of interest are meaningfully
2470 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06605 • (203) 549-0075 • FAX (203) 549-0203 www.bcacct.org
Formally broaden representation a. b.
on the City's Commissions to ensure:
Meaningful representation by minority political parties Meaningful representation demographics of Bridgeport by those who reflect the racial and cultural
This will bring forth a variety of different views and make possible a robust and healthy debate before final decisions are made. • Perform the proper due diligence on the benefits/challenges of mayoral control of a Board
of Education so that Bridgeport citizenry benefit from what other municipalities have learned in going down this same road. As I am sure you are aware, the data on mayoral control as it relates to closing the achievement gap is still inconclusive. Rigorous research needs to be done prior to making such a drastic change to our current educational governance structure. I close by saying: Communication is key to achieving success in this process. You have a serious responsibility to the community as a member of the Charter Revision Commission. The more the public is educated, the better their advocacy will be. And, of course, the more communication among various constituencies, the better our chances of making the right decisions for families and Bridgeport's future. Thank you.
REMARKS OF MARIA PEREIRA TO THE BRIDGEPORT CHARTER REVISION COMMISSION JANUARY 31, 2012
GOOD EVENING, MADAM CHAIR AND MEMBERS OF THE CHARTER REVISION COMMISSION. MY NAME IS MARIA PEREIRA AND I AM A RESIDENT AND TAXPAYER OF THE CITY OF BRIDGEPORT. I AM A GRADUATE OF BRIDGEPORT PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND HAVE A CHILD ENROLLED IN THE BRIDGEPORT SCHOOL SYSTEM. I AM ALSO AN ELECTED MEMBER OF THE BRIDGEPORT BOARD OF EDUCATION, AT LEAST UNTIL THE CONNECTICUT SUPREME COURT RULES OTHERWISE. ON JANUARY 3,2012, THE CITY COUNCIL VOTED UNANIMOUSLY TO CREATE A CHARTER REVISION COMMISSION. ACCORDING TO STATE STATUTE, THE CHARTER REVISION COMMISSION MUST HOLD A PUBLIC HEARING AT THE BEGINNING OF ANY SUBSTANTIVE WORK ON THE CHARTER. IT IS NO SECRETTHAT THE THIS COMMISSION HAS CHOSEN TO FOREGO A THOUGHTFUL 'PROCESS OF DELIBERATION AND CONSIDERATION TO CHANGES TO THE CHARTER. IN SUPPORT OF THIS STATEMENT, I POINT TO THE FACT THAT IN TWENTY EIGHT DAYS SINCE THE PASSING OF THIS RESOLUTION, 7 MEMBERS HAVE BEEN NOMINATED, INTERVIEWED AND APPROVED; THE ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING HAS BEEN HELD AND THE FIRST PUBLIC HEARING, MANDATED BY CONNECTICUT STATUTE HAS BEEN SCHEDULED AND IS IN PROCESS AS WE GATHER HERE TONIGHT. NO QUESTION THAT THE WHEELS OF THE BRIDGEPORT MACHINE CAN MOVE WITH GREATER SPEED THAN DELIBERATION WHEN THE ISSUE OF MAINTAINING POWER AND CONTROL IS THREATENED. I AM HERE TO RECOMMEND THAT AS YOU REVIEW THE CHARTER TO COMPLY WITH YOUR INSTRUCTIONS, THAT YOU CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING CHANGES TO SEVERAL CHAPTERS. BEFORE I SET FORTH MY PROPOSALS, I WANT TO MAKE IT CLEAR TO EACH OF YOU THAT I AM UNDER NO ILLUSION THAT YOU WILL MAKE THE BOLD AND NECESSARY CHANGES TO THE CHARTER THAT ETHICS, JUSTICE AND THE PROPER ADMINISTRATION OF A MUNICIPALITY REQUIRE. GIVEN THAT EACH OF YOU HAS BEEN HAND-PICKED BY A MAYOR WHO, TOGETHER WITH HIS BOND COUNSel, HIS CITY ATTORNEY AND MEMBERS OF THE MALLOY ADMINISTRATION,
ORCHESTRATED THE TAKEOVER OF THE ELECTEDBOARD OF EDUCATION, WHO STATED BEFORE THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION THAT uDEMOCRACY DOES NOT ALWAYS WORK, AND WHO ACTIVELY SEEKSTHE CONCENTRATION OF POWER AND CONTROL IN HIS OFFICE, IT WilL BE AN ENORMOUS CHAllENGE FOR YOU TO DO THE 'RIGHT THING', SINCE YOU ARE NOT FREEAGENTS, BUT RATHER MARIONETTES OF A MASTER PUPPETEER. I KNOW THAT NOTHING THAT I SAY WILL MAKE AN IOTA OF DIFFERENCE, BUT I AM GOING TO SAY IT ANYWAY. I REFERYOU TO CHAPTER 15 OF THE CHARTER: THE CHAPTER ON EDUCATION. AGAIN, I WANT TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT I KNOW THAT THE CHAIR IS THE WIFE OF ATTORNEY BOHANNON WHO REPRESENTEDTHE MAYOR'S POSITION AS A DEFENDANT IN THE CASE THAT I ALONG, WITH MY TWO ELECTEDCOLLEAGUES ON THE BOARD, FILED IN STATE COURT AND IS PRESENTLY PENDING IN THE SUPREME COURT. IN MY VIEW CHANGING CHAPTER 15 MANDATE OF AN ELECTEDBOE TO A BOARD APPOINTED BY THE MAYOR IS A SERIOUS MISTAKE AND AN INSULT TO EVERY RESIDENT AND TAXPAYER OF THE CITY OF BRIDGEPORT. I WITNESSED THE MAYOR IN HARTFORD TESTIFY THAT MANY OF BRIDGEPORT'S CITIZENS CANNOT VOTE ANYWAY DUE TO THERE CITIZENSHIP STATUS OR ACTS THEY PREVIOUSLY COMMITTED IN THEIR LIVES. I DISAGREE WITH HIS POSITION. IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY THE ULTIMATE POWER RESTSWITH THE PEOPLE, NOT WITH ANY MAYOR, BUSINESS COUNCIL OR ELITIST CLIQUE. AS PRESIDENT GERALD FORD REMINDED US AFTER WATERGATE, "HERE THE PEOPLE RULE." THE MAYOR CLAIMS, AS STATED IN THE CITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION, THAT HE IS SEEKING GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY FOR EDUCATION REFORM. IN A DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC, NOTHING ENSURESACCOUNTABILITY MORE THAN THE DIRECT VOTE OF THE PEOPLE FOR THEIR ELECTEDREPRESENTATIVES. IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY WE CONSENT TO BE GOVERNED, WE SHOULD NOT ELECTTO BE RULED. WHILE I BELIEVE THAT WE SHOULD KEEPAN ELECTEDBOARD OF EDUCATION, I BELIEVE THAT TERM LIMITS SHOULD BE MANDATED. NO-ONE SHOULD SERVE MORE THAN 2 FOUR (4) YEAR TERMS ON THE BOARD OF EDUCATION.
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I URGE YOU TO RETAIN FOR OUR CITIZENS THE SAME RIGHT TO ELECT THE MEMBERS OF OUR BOARD OF EDUCATION WHICH OUR SUBURBAN NEIGHBORS WOULD NEVER SURRENDER. I WOULD APPLY THIS 8 YEAR TERM LIMIT TO EVERY APPOINTED OR elECTED OFFICIAl. FURTHERMORE, THE CHARTER AS PRESENTlY ADOPTED REQUIRES THAT ALL BOARD AND COMMISSION MEMBERS BE RESIDENTS OF THE CITY OF BRIDGEPORT. PLEASE REFER TO CHAPTER TWO, SECTIONS 2 AND 13. I URGE YOU TO RETAIN THIS REQUIREMENT FOR All BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS, INCLUDING THE BOARD OF EDUCATION. ON OUR CITY COUNCIL THERE SHOULD BE A GUARANTEE OF MINORITY PARTY REPRESENTATION. THIS COULD BE ACCOMPLISHED BY PROVIDING FOR 5 AT-LARGE SEATS ONLY THREE OF WHICH COULD BE WON BY MEMBERS OF A SINGLE POLITICAL PARTY. FURTHERMORE THERE SHOULD BE AN ELECTED BOARD OF FINANCE TO OVERSEE THE FINANCES OF THIS CITY. YOU MAY, CONSISTENT WITH STATE LAW, PROHIBIT CITY EMPLOYEES FROM SITTING ON A BOARD OF FINANCE. THE ESTABLISHING OF A BOARD OF FINANCE WITH REAL FISCAL AUTHORITY WltL SERVE TO MITIGATE THE BLATANT CONFLICT OF INTEREST WHICH PERVADES OUR EMPLOYEE DOMINATED CITY COUNCIl. FURTHERMORE, IN THE VEIN HOPE THAT THE CITY COUNCIL COULD SOMEHOW BECOME AN INDEPENDENT LEGISLATURE I PROPOSE THAT THE PRESIDENT OF THE CITY COUNCIL AND NOT THE MAYOR SHOULD PRESIDE AT ALL MEETINGS. ADDITIONALLY, THERE SHOULD BE A PROVISION IN THE CHARTER PROHIBITING A CITY EMPLOYEE FROM SERVING AS COUNCIL PRESIDENT AND BEING NEXT IN LINE TO THE OFFICE OF MAYOR. THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION DURING MY COMMENTS THIS EVENING
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CITY ATTORNEY Currently the city charter reads:
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"The Law Department shall be the legal counsel to every board, commission, department and officer of the city and shall represent the city in the prosecution and defense of all civil actions. When the interests of the city require, the city attorney may engage any necessary outside counsel, experts or assistants; provided that funds are available for such purpose." The present city attorney's read ofthis paragraph makes him the most powerful individual in the city. The present city attorney has stated that this language allows him to ignore any and all ordinances related to the procurement process and to minority contracting. The present city attorney believes that he can go out and hire any consultant that he cares to. And this is not limited to litigation matters. He has hired financial consultants to help the city promote unpopular land use agreements. The present city attorney believes that he and only he can hire outside legal counsel for the City Council; for the City Ethics Commission. And the city attorney believes that if he does not hire counsel for other boards that are supposed to serve in a somewhat of an adversarial role then outside counsel cannot be hired. Any improvement in this language and in this mindset would truly be a welcomed relief
CITY COUNCIL & RECALL If this commission is seriously considering increasing the powers of the office of the mayor by allowing him to appoint a Board Of Education then you must be act equally responsible by enhancing the checks and balances in the city of Bridgeport. I urge you to make dramatic changes to the City Council. Among the changes I would like to see are: 1) Expand the size of the council to thirty members with three representatives from each district and no more than two from the same political party. 2) Include language banning city employees (and that would include BOE employees also) from serving on the council. 3) Either change the manner in which the council president is elected or change the manner of succession if the mayor's office becomes vacant. 4) Establish term limits of no more than 52-year terms or a total of 10 years and no more than 10 years in a fourteen year span. 5) Do not make serving on the council a paying position. 6) Establish a procedure for the recall of all citywide elected officials. Let me expand on these proposals. In order to ensure meaningful minority party representation without eliminating council districts, you should enlarge the council and establish minority party representation on a district by district basis. Given the overwhelming enrollment percentages that the Democratic Party enjoys in the city and the success that the party has had over the past couple of decades, you are almost guaranteeing a 2/3 majority which is sufficient to pass nearly any vote that comes before it. Furthermore history tells you that no incumbent council member should be in jeopardy of losing their seat. However, it will allow for more spirited debate of the issues and a vehicle by which the voters could every two years express their displeasure with the actions of the mayor. Since council member would not be serving lifetime terms and with that the hope of an appointment to a city job, there would be less on an allegiance to the sitting mayor. Although the city attorney will tell you that under current state statutes you cannot bar city employees from serving on the council that does not mean that you should bar the voters in the city the opportunity to establish such rules. The state statute that is currently in place can be changed over night. It was not established as the result from any legal ruling and the practice itself is not unconstitutional as the City Attorney might try to infer. The federal government through its own Hatch Act has a long standing policy prohibiting many federal employees from participating in partisan politics and even the state of Connecticut has more restrictions than it allows the cities and towns. You have
the opportunity to set in motion a real referendum on banning this practice and you should not pass upon it. Staying on the topic of city employees on the council, the past three council presidents have all been city employees. And even if you want to convince yourself that this is pure happenstance, it is a practice that allows the sitting mayor too much interference in the council business. This body should give serious consideration to making the council president a city wide elected position or create a deputy mayor that would be a city wide elected position and would succeed a sitting mayor if the position were to become vacant under the same circumstances that succession is treated in the current charter. Why should eleven council members get to decide you the next mayor might be? And in recent times we have seen once where a council president did replace a mayor and a second time where it almost occurred. The charter should also put an end to the practice of allowing the mayor to chair city council meetings. Not only have past and current mayors used this to engage in debate at the council level, which should not happen as chair but does, it also allows the mayor too much influence in restricting debate or otherwise moving forward his proposals than would be accomplished by an independent impartial chairperson. If the commission decides not to take on the issue of city employees serving on the council then it should at least impose term limits on council members. The practice of city employees serving on the council is incestuous enough with its potential conflicts of interest but allowing this relationship to continue indefinitely makes it more dangerous. Along these same lines do not allow for council members to be paid. Not only will this cause to further blur the line of when is someone serving as a employee and when is he a council representative, it will further encourage employees to become council members or council members to become employees. However, if a council member is to be paid, then clearly you can impose a rule prohibiting an individual from holding two jobs with the city. Give the residents of the city of Bridgeport the right to recall any city official elected city wide. We saw in the aftermath of the Ganim corruption verdict that even when found guilty of federal corruption chares it was only that act of losing one's right to vote that led to a disgraced mayor leaving office. If it were not for this piece of state legislation, Mayor Ganim or others could continue to collect a paycheck while awaiting sentencing or appeal. If the public has the right to elect a mayor then they should also have the right to unelect. Again the City Attorney will inform you that there is a state law that prohibits recall except for a few municipalities. But I will tell you if the city voters are given the opportunity to install a system of recall and they overwhelmingly approve it, the state will be quickly include Bridgeport in the list of exceptions. Guaranteed.
EXPIRED TERMS ON BOARDS AND COMMISSIONS I find it quite ironic that an administration which is totally incompetent and inept at filling appointments to boards and commissions would form a Charter Revision Commission with the primary purpose of creating another board that will need more members appointed. When I was on the council both the mayor and members of his administration vociferously complained about how difficult it was to find qualified and competent residents to volunteer to serve on city boards. And, assuming that members of this commission are qualified, competent and willing to serve, the mayor had no problem filling the commissioners for the purposes of charter revision but must also feel that he will have no problem finding qualified candidates for an appointed board of education. So is it really a matter of this administration not caring about whether boards and commissions are functioning without a full slate of duly appointed commissioners or is it something much more nefarious. Many cynics, myself included, believe that this administration along with the previous two purposely leave members serving expired terms. Then when a matter that is important to it comes before the board, a real or implied threat is used to leverage their reappointment into a positive vote. Simply request a current list of membership in all of the boards and commissions in the city. The number of vacancies and expired terms should shock you, especially when you see individuals serving years in expired terms. It should also disturb you that this administration really treats members of boards with utter disdain. Before you even consider establishing any board or commission with even one more appointment that needs to be made, establish a more functional means of dealing with this problem. The problem goes back to the administration of Mayor Moran. She had a difficult time finding the right people =to serve and as a result \-vasnot freaKingany app-6intments.--Boarasfailed-to attaih quorums an<ttne Dusiness of'~~~~the city was put at risk. At some point in time, either by ordinance or charter, there was a change to the rules to say that a commissioner will continue to serve an expired term until a replacement was approved. And whether this was a Machiavellian maneuver contemplated by the Ganim Administration from the onset or if this new rule morphed into a practice of veiled or real threats the rule needs to be changed and changed now. And absent of any other suggestions, I believe it should simply be if the mayor fails to submit within 90 days or the council fails to appoint or reject within another 30 days, the incumbent commissioner is automatically reappointed to a full term. And if the council rejects that appointment then the mayor would receive one more opportunity to appoint before the council must name a replacement. But it would be totally irresponsible if this commission were to approve an appointed Board Of Education without dealing first with the ongoing problem of expired terms.
BOARD OF EDUCATION As far as the Board of Education, if you were to take a good hard look at the school systems that excel in the state of Connecticut, you will find that the manner in which the board members are chosen has nothing to do with performance. In my opinion, I am sure that you would find that the level of funding the school receives is a much better predictor of performance than the manner in which the local boards are constituted. As a matter of fact the governor reportedly told a caucus of Bridgeport State Senators and Representatives that the city of Bridgeport must do more to provide financial support for its schools. Even when you simply compare it to the major urban centers in the state, Bridgeport shortchanges their own BOE more than the others. However, there is no denying that there are serious problems with the Bridgeport school system and some changes may be merited. If you do seriously consider altering the manner in which the board is constituted then I would suggest that the first step should be a hybrid. Leave the current elected board in place as constituted. Add three ex-officio members; the Mayor, the OPM Director and a representative of the Bridgeport Education Association. But this cannot include a "or designee" phrase. If the mayor wants to be on the board then he must be an active participant. He must be included in determining if a quorum is present and he cannot do so by proxy. And the same should be true for an OPM Director who serves ex-officio. Currently the Civil Service Commission includes an employee representative elected by all employees. I believe the same process should be in place to select a representative of the school board employees. If the mayor feels he needs a more hands on approach then surely the employees need a voice to be heard also. If this commission is leaning to eliminating an elected Board of Education then surely you should wait until there is a ruling from the Connecticut Supreme Court on the current state appointed board. If that vehicle is allowed to go forward then there is no need to rush to make change .. At least learn from this experiment before conducting your own. A charter change is permanent. It cannot be done and undone at a whim. Remember, Boards Of Education were historically separate bodies so as to ensure that no one was playing politics with our children's education. Giving the mayor complete control over selecting a BOE puts politics smack dab in the middle of it. Many people believe that this proposal has nothing to do with excellence in education. It is all about control of the BOE money; control of the BOE jobs. In politics money and jobs represent power. If this commission decides to dabble in educational reform then I urge you to go all of the way. Demand accountability. If you decide that an appointed board is the way to go craft the language that would require a significant infusion of city cash if test scores do not improve significantly. And if that does not happen or test scores continue to lag then include language to un-ring the bell and sunset the appointed BOE and revert back to an fully elected one within a specified period of time.