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Business Leadership Highlights Findings In School System Management Review

December 8th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Analysis and Comment, Education

Remember that business community “management review” of the school system? “Over the period of the project, $775,000 has been spent to complete the review, and we have successfully identified about $13 million in operational efficiencies within the school system,” according to a commentary authored by leadership of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, including Paul Timpanelli, the president. Years before control of the school system became a burning issue, how the school system spent what it had was debated on OIB. Commentary below that appeared in the CT Post:

A recent Connecticut Post lead editorial rightfully lauded the fact that the city school budget is now fully available online, line-by-line, for all to see. Anyone who has the time and the inclination can now fully review the manner in which the school system plans to invest public resources in the education of the city’s children. It’s long overdue and about time, and thanks must go out to the superintendent, the school board and the mayor’s administration for this significant step forward.

In addition to this needed step toward a more transparent and accountable system of school financing, much else has been going on to assure the efficient use of public investment to improve public education. The Bridgeport Regional Business Council, for example, in partnership with the school board, the mayor and the state, has now completed a long-overdue project to further enhance accountability, transparency and operational efficiency within the school system.

About six years ago, the Business Council leadership was asked by the then-school superintendent to support his annual budget request. The superintendent was seeking more money–as is annually the case–to fund ever-growing needs to educate the city’s school children. Although the Business Council wanted to be supportive, it concluded that at that time we could not be because there were too many questions by the entire community about whether or not the current budget and the historic budget was being invested in the school efficiently and wisely.

Most stakeholders were of the opinion, rightly or wrongly, that monies were not being invested efficiently. This was the cause, most felt, for the annual conflict that would inevitably take place regarding the school budget. Decision makers would always be questioning the current budget, and whether or not current investments were achieving desired results. Questions were asked, but usually budget decision makers did not like the answers, or, simply, didn’t get answers.

The project proposal that was approved by the school board and managed by the Business Council was to undertake a partial management review of the school system. We proposed a four-phase effort that began with the separation of the school system’s finances and the city’s finances, which would enhance control and accountability. The subsequent phases were then focused on identifying opportunities to improve the operations side of the budget so that savings could be reinvested back into the classrooms.

As of this week, the project that we undertook together is now completed. Over the period of the project, $775,000 has been spent to complete the review, and we have successfully identified about $13 million in operational efficiencies within the school system. The cost of the work was split evenly between the Business Council, the state, the school system and the city. The value of the investment is clear. We spent $775,000 to identify $13 million of expenditures that could potentially be put into programs of the school system that could directly benefit students. That’s a 16 to 1 return on investment. As important, we believe that it has now been demonstrated that the Bridgeport school system has made great progress in operating much more efficiently and the school board is not spending irresponsibly.

We believe that this conclusion is now even more apparent and true since the new superintendent and school board are now operating with a balanced budget and making solid management decisions based upon the availability of meaningful financial data. Our hats are off to all for the progress now being made to put the financial house of the school system in good order. We are proud of the small role that we have played and we now look forward to further partnering with the school system leadership as well as the entire community to move forward an education reform agenda in unison that has as its only goal the ultimate success of Bridgeport’s school population.

Bridgeport’s student population must be prepared to succeed. That success cannot be achieved unless all of us that have a stake in Bridgeport’s future come together around a transformation agenda that puts their interests first. The business community stands ready to participate.

Michael Niedermeier, Blum Shapiro, Business Council Chair

Tom Santa, Santa Energy, Business Council First Vice-Chair

Paul Timpanelli, Business Council President

Kelly Wade-Bettucci, AT & T, Business Council Government Relations Committee

Armando Goncalves, People’s United Bank, Business Council

Kathy Saint, Schwerdtle Stamp Co., Business Council Education Committee

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Ron Mackey

    Please!!! How much money did they throw away in backing Mayor Finch’s takeover of the Bridgeport Board Of Education? Now their “spin machine” is out there trying clean up after their loss.

  • Bridgeporteur

    This is “Mission Creep” on the part of the BRBC. What are they doing involved, all these out-of-towners at that, with Bridgeport Education, not that it does not need fixing. Is it BRBC has just thrown in the towel on the Economic Development mission by throwing up their hands and blaming our City’s poor education system? Three years later and $750,000 spent and how have these “visionaries” helped the business climate in BPT? Restaurants and businesses are closing down right and left downtown. Downtown North, the Harbor, Steelpointe, Remington Arms, GE, the Magic Johnson site, the former Joe Celli site, Pleasure Beach, the Bryant Electric site, etc., what has this study done to move these sites? Maybe the money could have been made available to keep some small businesses afloat or simply use this subsidy to provide free parking for Downtown.

  • Up On Bridgeport

    What a “Circle Jerk” of a letter by a bunch of non-pivotal people. You are supposed to be a Regional Business Council. Based on your timelines and lack of results how has this been working out for Bridgeport? I have an idea! Let’s do another study to study the study that was never implemented. These guys spent too much time in study hall.

  • Black Rockin

    Timpanelli probably had the right idea when he decided to move his residence out of Bridgeport to the ‘burbs.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    “As of this week, the project that we undertook together is now completed. Over the period of the project, $775,000 has been spent to complete the review, and we have successfully identified about $13 million in operational efficiencies within the school system.”

    This is a confession from the BRBC–for the past 5 years, the BRBC have been instructing the elected BOE leadership and Paul Vallas as to what and where to cut the BOE budget.

    What I find strange but not surprising is the BRBC claims or declares: “As of this week, the project that we undertook together is now completed.” They just completed the project this past week, but they don’t say the project or the recommendations were implemented by the BOE. However, they do imply it was:
    “As important, we believe that it has now been demonstrated that the Bridgeport school system has made great progress in operating much more efficiently and the school board is not spending irresponsibly.

    “We believe that this conclusion is now even more apparent and true since the new superintendent and school board are now operating with a balanced budget and making solid management decisions based upon the availability of meaningful financial data. Our hats are off to all for the progress now being made to put the financial house of the school system in good order.”

    Obviously, what the BRBC is telling us is the “meaningful financial data” used by Vallas and the BOE came from a project that was incomplete at the time. Notice the BRBC doesn’t provide an accounting of the $775,000 or say anything of what the project findings and recommendations were. It would be meaningless as it is obvious they’ve already been implemented.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      Then again, where was the $13 million in savings? How can it be a savings if it’s spent somewhere or on something else? Why did Finch and the BOE shake down the State for $4 million? 16/1 return on investment? What was the percentage of the savings compared to the overall BOE budget and what budget year should we use to get a high percentage number to make it look as good as possible?

  • Mojo

    *** If this is on the up & up and leads towards transparency in general, then it’s good news and all those involved deserve “big ups!” I wonder why it took so long to get earlier feedback on this review. This review needs to be looked at with a fine tooth comb by savvy people like JML to really understand exactly the findings of this review. *** TIME WILL TELL, NO? ***

  • John Marshall Lee

    Echoing Mojo, “big ups” for recent BOE fiscal reporting courtesy of BOE and Superintendent Paul Vallas. The BRBC letter, that CT Post carried as Commentary in Sunday paper, is offered by Executive Director Paul Timpanelli and five of his Board members.

    The City school budget and more is now on line, available for regular public review. It uses the same MUNIS system for basic financial revenues and expenses as the City but additional reporting on Grants info, people resources and especially VARIANCES is available to the public to see where problems are developing, opportunities are being fully worked, and what progress is being made (or retarded, for instance, if promised fiscal action does not happen). Educational governance reform and educational practices reform require money, not necessarily more money always, but well regarded planning and implementation, for sure. Show me the money!

    The long-awaited school system audit is complete according to the BRBC. The two-year project has taken six years for a variety of reasons (and not because utility lines had to go underground, thank goodness). But the audit was broken into separate steps, in sequential order, and around the third phase the Gibson Report arrived with millions of potential savings in return for the time and money that came from the City, State and business community, around $775,000.

    Whether all the efficiencies based on older data could have or will be achieved is no longer under study. However, activity on some of the fronts has been implemented, will be studied and can be resourced in the process of monitoring BOE activities and use of resources in the future. Check on the BRBC site for historical info, I will guess.

    My limited gripe about the BRBC letter is the praise they give to the mayor’s administration for its part in the online display of financial and other important data. What did the City have to do with that? No data on that. The City might use the new Education Liaison in the Mayor’s office to discover what is praiseworthy about the Bridgeport Public Schools fiscal reporting, and carry the info back to the City side Finance Department, Grants section and OPM as a messenger! They use the same MUNIS system, but don’t seem to be able to live up to the measly monthly reporting duties of the City Charter. They need to come up to speed with real OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT reporting.

    Michael Niedermeier, CPA, Business Council Chair and partner in Blum Shapiro, can really help voters and taxpayers in this City besides signing the Commentary letter. His firm has performed the State-required annual external audit for several years. This type of specialized activity appears to cost taxpayers $250,000 to $300,000 annually. It consists of audit practices after the close of a fiscal year, usually after August and studying, reviewing and crunching numbers to write the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for delivery at year end. It is accompanied by special Federal and State audit documents regarding funds received from those entities. And there is a Management Report also included that may comment on issues or concerns to receive attention and response by the City.

    Mike, can you secure a copy of all of the annual Management Letters supplied by your firm in recent years and the City responses, please? When I asked for same, I was told that some had been lost. When I suggested the City contact your firm and ask for copies, City Finance dropped the subject. I am sure with your pursuits of efficiencies and effectiveness in the schools, that a simple matter of providing taxpayer-funded City reports and responses will be easy for you. I thank you in advance. Copies of this to City Clerk office, OIB site, or info directly to me are alternatives that work. Time will tell.

  • yahooy

    Who, EXACTLY, was the recipient of the $775,000 spent on this operational audit? Maybe it was just an ‘operational review’ so it wouldn’t matter if the firm conducting the ‘operational review’ was connected in any way to the BRBC.

    • John Marshall Lee

      yahooy,
      Go to the Bridgeport Regional Business Council web site. Click education on the overhead toolbar and see the letter that will allow you to link to the Houston, TX firm that did the first report discovering the system difficulties, provides the second report from a local accounting and management services organization, and the well-known third report, the Gibson report showing efficiencies.

      I missed whatever document has caused the BRBC to close the “audit process,” but it may have been the speed of my research. Go for it yahooy and let us all know the answers to all of your questions. Time will tell.

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