Alban Murtishi photo
The education of all Hartford students and the choice one of the candidates made to send his children to a private school in a neighboring town came into sharp focus over the past few weeks in Hartford’s competitive Democratic mayoral primary.

Following a community forum in which both candidates discussed how they would handle Hartford’s education woes, a Facebook argument erupted between Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra’s chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, and Democratic challenger Luke Bronin.

The comments from Segarra’s staff, which have since been deleted, were critical of Bronin’s decision to enroll two of his three children at the Montessori School of Greater Hartford, a private school in West Hartford. In the Facebook post, Bronin explained that his 6-year-old daughter didn’t get into the magnet school his 4-year old son had been attending, so after a year of driving them to two different schools they decided to enroll them in the same school.

In his Facebook post, Bronin attacked the Segarra campaign for going after his children.

“I hope going forward that the Segarra campaign will start sticking to the issues, and to reality. Mayor Segarra doesn’t have kids. I don’t fault him for that. But it is disappointing — and sad — that his campaign is choosing to make an issue of a very personal decision about parenting. Mayor, enough about my family,” Bronin wrote in a Facebook post on his campaign page.

Segarra’s campaign clarified that the comments of the staff members do not represent the opinions of the campaign.

“Mr. Bronin said our campaign was behind these attacks, when we remained out of the situation,” Jenna Grande, communications director for Segarra’s campaign, said. “Only myself and Mike Bland (campaign manager) issue official statements on behalf of the Mayor and campaign. We do not believe in involving children into political matters.”

This exchange followed a community forum held at the Hartford Public Library, during which both candidates were asked about where they attended school as children and how that experience would influence their education policy.

Segarra said he attended public schools in Puerto Rico.

“Unlike my opponent, I didn’t go to school with Jeb Bush’s kids,” Segarra said. “I went to a school that allowed me to understand the public school challenges we face here in Hartford.”

Bronin immediately defended his private school background by going a generation further and discussing his father, who grew up with a single mother and put himself through medical school.

Audience members followed up with multiple questions gauging each candidate’s preference for charter and neighborhood schools.

Despite refusing to return donations from individuals with ties to charter schools, and losing the Hartford Federation of Teachers’ endorsement as a result, Bronin denounced the educational inequities created by charter school lotteries, and touted the support he received from three members of Hartford’s Board of Education.

“I would never believe that charter schools are the solution to the systemic problems with our city’s education system. I believe it is that mayor’s job to strengthen our core public school system,” Bronin said. “. . . And I was very proud, yesterday, to get the endorsement of the three elected Democrats on the city’s board of education, who said that they believe we urgently need a change in leadership in city hall, who is focused on strengthening our neighborhood schools.”

Bronin and the board members released nearly identical statements on the inequality resulting from charter school lotteries:

“As the three elected Democrats on the Board of Education, we urgently need a partner in the Mayor’s Office who is engaged on education issues, who values transparency, and who is committed — like us — to the principle that you shouldn’t have to win a lottery to get a good education in Hartford,” the three board members said in a statement Wednesday.

Bronin added: “For me, the clear priority when it comes to education is strengthening our neighborhood schools and doing everything possible to ensure that you don’t have to win a lottery to get a good education.”

Segarra, who was forced to petition his way onto the primary ballot after not getting the endorsement of the Democratic Town Committee, said the endorsement by the school board members was a hurried response to the rescission of the teachers’ union endorsement. The teacher’s union rescinded its support of Bronin after he refused to return $1,000 in contributions from the chairman and vice chairman of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a group that supports charter schools.

Bronin also received a donation from Alex Johnston, who used to head the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now and is a former member of the New Haven Board of Education, and a donation from Andrea Johnson, the president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers.

“My opponent indicates that he doesn’t think that charter schools are that all important, but the reality is that he received money from charter school leaders,” Segarra said.

Bronin countered: “Mayor, the teacher’s union didn’t endorse you. In fact, they made one thing clear multiple times, which is that under no circumstances, even when they decided not to endorse me, that they wouldn’t endorse you, And you also got $1,000 from an officer in that same organization.”

While Segarra did not denounce or support charter schools, he did say that, in lieu of proper state funding for Hartford schools, charter schools will remain an important option for some students to succeed.

“I would love for all of my students to go to Yale, but the odds are stacked against our children due to poverty. And the state has missed its mark in funding our schools,” Segarra said. “Eliminating the lottery? What will you replace it with?”