When the city fire marshal shows up, you know it’s a huge crowd. An estimated 500 people jammed Bridgeport City Council chambers Wednesday night vehemently shouting down Mayor Bill Finch’s first budget that calls for dramatic cuts to the library, school nurses and dental hygienists.
A half dozen city police officers also showed up for crowd control. Mayor Finch was not in attendance.
Police and fire officials, along with City Council President Tom McCarthy and Budget and Appropriations co-chair Bob Curwen, urged the crowd to spread out to maximize all corners of the council chambers. Some of the crowd was redirected to the second floor wings overlooking the council chambers.
Councilman Rich Paoletto told OIB that he had never seen a crowd as big or as raucous during his seven years on the council. “The amount of people speaks volumes,” Paoletto said. “People speaking on behalf of children was the resounding theme. I have never seen anger to this extent.”
Most of the hostility was directed at Finch who had pledged to cut taxes $600 as a candidate for mayor, but now has proposed to raise them by the same amount with more than 100 job eliminations.
Bridgeport Board of Education employees came out in force, as well as library workers, looking at pink slips. Many speakers, city employees, were enraged at Finch’s characterization calling their services to the city as non-essential.
Russo Calls For BOE Audit
Okay, now we’re cooking. Republican State Sen. Rob Russo is calling on the Bridgeport Board of Education to submit to a forensic audit and management study of the city school system. Russo authored a letter to City Council President Tom McCarthy that was introduced into record at the public hearing on the city budget Wednesday night at the city council chambers. Russo, who says the city school system will receive the highest proportional state funding in history, is trying to line up state money to perform the audit. See his letter below. Meanwhile, Mayor Bill Finch, in a statement, is criticizing the Board of Education for scare tactics. Finch press release will follow Russo’s letter.
April 9, 2007
The Honorable Thomas C. McCarthy, Council President
Bridgeport City Council
Office of Legislative Services
999 Broad Street
Bridgeport, CT 06604
To the Members of the City Council:
Upon reading today’s “Connecticut Post”, I want to take a moment to share my concerns regarding the Bridgeport Board of Education budget. I am concerned anytime I hear a school in my district is threatened with closing, but I am particularly alarmed in this instance considering the substantial increase in funding that the City of Bridgeport has received this year.
Connecticut’s children are my top priority as State Senator. However, I am conscious of the fact that as we increase school funding, we also need to increase accountability.
I do not understand how the Bridgeport Board of Education is facing a nightmare situation considering that total education funding is increasing this year by more than $10 million. The Governor, at the urging of the City Delegation, recently approved one of the largest increases in State Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding for Bridgeport in the history of the formula. Funding for Bridgeport schools increases $9.5 million in FY08 and is scheduled to increase another $7 million in FY09. On top of that, the City of Bridgeport has increased its contribution to education $1 million this year.
Historically the city has short-changed our schools and this increase does not even come close to contributing what we should, but it is forward progress. Given these substantial funding increases, how can the budget options facing the Board of Education be as dire as board members believe? Can the Board give its assurance that $164 million in education aide from the State of Connecticut is being spent efficiently?
Before the Board of Education starts threatening to close schools, scaring parents and teachers, they need to first articulate how the funding they claim they need to prevent a “nightmare” will be spent.
Of course, we will never know for sure until the Board of Education submits to a thorough and independent forensic audit and management study. I intend to make funding for this audit one of my top priorities. The people of Bridgeport have a right to know how their money is being spent, and considering more than 80% of our education funding is paid for by the state, the citizens of Connecticut have a right to know as well.
The Board of Education works hard to provide a quality education for each and every one of Bridgeport’s children and I admire their hard work. However, I am disappointed they felt the need to scare parents and teachers with the threat of school closings without a detailed explanation.
Robert D. Russo
State Senator, 22nd District
Bridgeport, Monroe, Trumbull
Finch criticizes Board of Education. Finch statement below:
Mayor Releases Statement on FY 2008-2009 Budget
Mayor Bill Finch released the following statement today regarding the Fiscal Year 2008-2009 Budget:
“I am proposing the first transparent budget in many years. This is a fiscally responsible budget that reflects regulatory requirements, core operations and those services essential to meeting the goals of my administration. Core operations such as Police and Fire Services, Education Funding and Public Health and Sanitation will always receive first priority in budgeting decisions as maintaining and securing the health and safety of our residents is central to the prosperity of our city.
“This budget includes difficult cuts affecting most departments in city government. It increases spending for the Board of Education significantly and builds capacity in our Office of Planning and Economic Development. Including debt payments for school construction and improvement which totaled $125 million last year alone, this Board of Education budget represents the biggest single increase to any department in city government.
“The reality is that not a single teacher should be laid off. Not a single school needs to be closed. The Board of Education and its administrators are playing political games with our City’s children and it’s wrong. As a public school parent myself I feel passionately about education and I call upon the Board of Education to act responsibly in these tough times. I am also fully committed to seeking a solution to keep our school-based health clinics in operation.
“As a public school parent, I am proud to have dedicated this money in our budget to our schools and education system. I will work tirelessly for the next four years to bring more accountability to Board of Education spending in Bridgeport.”
The recommended budget for FY 2008-2009 provides for health care growth and workers’ compensation growth in the Board of Education, unemployment compensation for Board of Education employees and $2.4 million for general use by the Board of Education. In addition, the budget allocates $125,000 for the City’s share of a comprehensive management audit of the Board of Education. This audit is an essential step in the separation and accountability of the Board of Education.