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Finch Announces Agreement With State To Resolve Education Funding

November 26th, 2013 · 28 Comments · City Budget, Education, News and Events

UPDATE: Linda Conner Lambeck, CT Post here

Mayor Bill Finch on Sunday issued a news release informing that the State Department of Education and the city have reached a resolution for the city to comply with the mandated Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR). News release from Finch follows that also includes a joint letter to the city from State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and state budget director Benjamin Barnes who served as chief financial officer of Bridgeport schools before Governor Dan Malloy appointed him secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.

The State Department of Education and the City of Bridgeport have agreed on Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) terms. The resolution of the MBR is as follows:

* The state recognized the level of effort made in $1.2 million worth of tangible, in-kind services to the Bridgeport Board of Education and is crediting that amount toward the FY2013-14 MBR compliance amount;

* The City also will make an additional $1.1 million contribution to the Board of Education in the form of a reduction in the Board’s required contribution for Worker’s Compensation indemnity payments for non-certified staff; and,

* The State will make an additional $1.2 million contribution to the City by the end of the fiscal year for the purpose of further supporting the Bridgeport Public Schools.

The full text of the letter received by the City of Bridgeport from the State Department of Education and the Office of Policy and Management follows:

Dear Mayor Finch:

Thank you for your ongoing engagement with us regarding the City’s contribution to the Bridgeport Public Schools and the Minimum Budget Requirement. We all share a deep commitment to your community and its schools, and are hopeful that our discussions have led us to a positive way forward.

These discussions are especially timely today. In recent years, the State has made extraordinary financial contributions to the Bridgeport Public Schools, which we hope have helped to provide the educational resources that teachers and students need to succeed and, at the same time, have helped to move the district in the direction of budgetary stability. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the division and controversy that have continued to plague the Bridgeport public schools.

We are committed to putting these divisive issues behind us so that the newly elected Board of Education can rededicate itself to the challenges ahead on behalf of Bridgeport’s young people. I know that you share that commitment.

It is clear that the City’s funding for the Board of Education will continue to be a challenge in light of Bridgeport’s fiscal condition. We have identified a way forward that will, we sincerely hope, allow the City to satisfy its obligations, and allow the Board to operate its budget in balance for the 2013-14 school year. It is not ideal, and it will require all parties–the City, the Board, and the State–to make some contribution. But it can be sufficient to allow all parties to turn their attention from past conflicts to our aspirations for the future.

In summary, our tentative plan is to make up for the $3.3 million in MBR shortfall as follows:

1. The City has demonstrated tangible in-kind contributions in the Board’s favor over the last two years which have provided significant budget relief to the Board. The City reasonably expected that those contributions would count toward FY 14 MBR compliance. As a result, the state will credit these contributions against the MBR and adjust the MBR requirement downward by $1.2 million, once necessary documentation is satisfactorily provided to the SDE.

2. The City will make a further contribution to the Board this year in the form of a $1.1 million reduction in the Board’s required contribution for Worker’s Compensation indemnity payments for non-certified staff. This will allow the Board to redeploy existing funds budgeted for that purpose to other areas. The City will provide such detailed assurances as needed by the Board that the City will make up the claims liability, and that this contribution will not impact the Board’s future contributions to the Internal Services Fund or otherwise deplete current or future resources of the school system.

3. The state remains committed to providing assistance to fiscally challenged communities so that they can maintain support for their schools. As part of this effort, the State Department of Education will provide the City with $1.2 million by the end of the fiscal year for the purpose of further supporting the Bridgeport Public Schools. All of these monies must be appropriated by the City to the Board for that purpose prior to the end of the fiscal year. This assistance will be contingent upon the successful completion of all other components by the City of the plan laid out in this letter.

4. Finally, the City, will commit to recommending and diligently working to enact a City budget for FY 15 that complies with the MBR and all local spending requirements, and to working with the Board to develop a long-term strategy for City support of the public schools.

Again, we are hopeful that this plan, and the new resources and partnership that it represents, will serve Bridgeport’s students and help the newly-elected Board to be successful.

Kind regards,

Stefan Pryor
Commissioner,
State Department of Education

Benjamin Barnes
Secretary
Office of Policy and Management

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28 Comments so far ↓

  • Phil Smith

    When was the last time you saw a major budget announcement made in a press release issued on a Sunday, when no one is around to answer questions about it? That speaks volumes.

    I think there are two salient facts about this agreement that need to be pointed out.

    First, the city’s financial contribution will come “In the form of a $1.1 million reduction in the Board’s required contribution for Worker’s Compensation indemnity payments.” In other words, those payments will be underfunded by $1.1 million. That may have long-range cost implications for the city.

    Second, this is a one-year deal that does nothing to address costs beyond the current fiscal year. Where will that money come from?

    I particularly liked the fourth paragraph of the agreement, in which the city essentially agrees to obey the law in the future. History suggests we should take that promise with a proverbial grain of salt.

  • John Marshall Lee

    I have not read the Mayor’s long letter in depth in order to factually respond, but I want each of you to remember on the evening of April 1, 2013, John Olson asked the Mayor at the City Council meeting if he was going to share news about the budget. The Mayor was not prepared to provide anything of substance that evening, it is fair to state.

    The following day it was clear in seeing the current year budget (2013-14) the $3.2 Million MBR was not met. And so the issue of underfunding became part of what was ignored by the CC during their tax-cutting deliberations. The way the necessary funds would be found was not a part of their “diligence” and approval process by May. And their “oversight” has not included pursuit of the same since then.

    Maybe Mayor Finch’s Finance Office should be located in Hartford. For all of what is shared about public-safety pension obligations, funding of education budgets by our “accountable” Mayor, and truthful and verifiable reports on declining City finances, it seems the State may be the only party with the clout to force disclosures to be studied by Bridgeport taxpayers. External audit is due soon. Prepare to pay attention to the CAFR especially to the way “Worker Compensation” funding is handled historically! What’s a million here deferred or there postponed among taxpayer friends? Time will tell.

    • Bob Walsh

      Per JML.
      I have not had the time to read a long letter but I will write my own just the same. Don’t bog down a blog by getting the facts straight to begin with.

      • John Marshall Lee

        It’s Bob Walsh “time,” friends:
        Don’t worry me with all the facts, just concentrate the personal attacks!!!

        Ad hominem comments is the ‘discussion’ method for the rising BOE coalition that sees itself as the only game in town supporting “the kids in the classroom,” I guess. They have not had the time to fully read, reflect and consider, either, or they would be discussing rather than dissing! Time will tell.

  • gailj2

    I am contacting my Council Member Tom McCarthy right now. And I hope the newly elected BOE members have seen this “tap dance.” This on top of the BOE paying for Vallas’s defense is hard to take. And the City Council Education Committee not doing its due diligence during the year is, to put it mildly, disappointing.

  • John Marshall Lee

    gailj2,
    Do you know how many times the Education Committee met over the past two years, despite their schedule? What do you think “due diligence” might mean to them, regarding BOE, public schools, and quality instructional time for the youth? How does a Superintendent or any other department head get defended in their work if the City does not take up the cause? (It is rumored the BEA, with 80% of its members residing outside Bridgeport, and CEA provided some $120,000 to support anti-Vallas efforts in the last election … kind of sets a tone, and makes one wonder why they were worried about “out-of-town money” one year ago when we worked on the NO to the Charter question). And if the suit were decided in favor of the City department head, isn’t that a righteous and just expense? Of course, perhaps we might get a look at all of the legal expenses across all City departments and causes to really become informed, NO?
    Finally, if and when Tom McCarthy comments on these questions or the ones you are asking, would you tune in again and share the answers, please? Time will tell.

    • Bob Walsh

      More Vallas nonsense from JML. Paul Vallas did not have a thing to do with the interdistrict schools. These were approved and put in place long before Paul Vallas ever came to Bridgeport. For Paul Vallas or JML to claim credit for this is utter foolishness.
      And if JML wants to continue with this silliness, in the true spirit of transparency John can tell us all what the financial consequences could be if the city does not meet the out-of-district enrollment figures they committed to.

      • John Marshall Lee

        Bob,
        Did any school open this year that was not contemplated previously as interdistrict? Bob, what are the consequences of the City practicing Charter violations? What are the consequences of the Council continuing ignorance of the operation of their own ordinances? What are the consequences of past members of the Council after stepping down failing to call systematic public attention to the declining financial strength of the City and communication of the evidence of that situation?
        Bob, who is the cop on the beat? The State of CT, the FBI, the voter at the polls when they get out of their comfortable bed? Time will tell.

  • Baffled in Bridgeport

    Finch gets bailed out again. What day is he or any of the hard-working, honest, brain trusts he employs actually going to do the work they are hired to do? Like balance the budget or contribute real dollars to the BOE budget? It’s always a shell game and so far Finch has gotten away with it. The notion Vallas balanced the budget is a joke. The city did its in-kind thing then assumed other costs–all of which could have happened under Ramos (unless you were conspiring to initiate a state takeover)–and Finch and Vallas claim credit for moving money from one line to another and creating magic. No wonder the state won’t increase the ECS–Bridgeport isn’t worthy or honest. What a joke–Bill Finch is to education what BP is to the Gulf.

    • John Marshall Lee

      Baffled,
      Not true! Vallas made changes according to a plan that was publicly shared. (Do you remember a Ramos plan at the time of his departure?)
      The Vallas plan runs for five years and we are in the second full year currently. In the first year Finch had the Council reach back into the Education budget for about $1 Million. In this second year the City ignored putting in the $3.2 Million when the Mayor presented the budget and has not commented publicly until now.
      Vallas has in fact balanced the budget and reported his results on the Public Schools site regularly since then. The SCHOOL BUDGET HAS BEEN TRANSPARENT showing where all operating funds are spent each month, 12 months of the year.

      If the City budget were equally transparent we would not be looking at our worsening City financial position. The Vallas “balance” was done by using State formula dollars, not traditional ECS formula dollars, that were available to special failing districts and other innovative programs like interdistrict schools. Why didn’t Ramos do that, or the former Board? I have no idea but it is not important except in a history class.
      The budget has been balanced (and a little more) by Vallas and his Chief Financial Officer Marlene Siegel and we ought to tip our hats to them for this responsible financial regime. Keep your eye on the education budget and the plan behind it going forward. Time will tell.

      • Bob Walsh

        John Marshall Lee says Paul Vallas balanced the school budget for 5 years even though it is now out of balance in year one or two.
        The only way a Vallas budget got balanced was with a state bailout two years in a row.
        John, please read what you are writing. Paul Vallas did nothing for the city Ramos could not have done with more state funding.

        • John Marshall Lee

          Bob,
          Paul Vallas presented a five-year plan and a plan for a balanced budget for that same five-year period. The budget was balanced when it finished on June 30 2012, and there was State money there, of course. (You can call it a bailout, if you wish to diminish the Vallas accomplishment, but there was more to the plan than the Hartford money. And doesn’t everybody agree more was due to the City, though not everyone agreed with Maria Pereira’s recent comment the State should give us the money, let Bridgeport spend it, and no limits, restrictions or goals to be met.
          So the first fiscal year close was balanced, and the June 30, 2013 was also balanced. Look it up, Bob. And Vallas and Siegel have found ways to use effective stewardship of funds so when something does not operate exactly as anticipated, there are reserves to keep from sinking the entire budget plan.
          I guess Ramos could have done a lot of things, Bob. Why didn’t he do them? Vallas had nothing to do with the City at that time, you know. But Finch was flat-funding and I don’t remember you raising your voice in objection at that time. And I do not remember you raising your voice on OIB about education matters and a plan to reform our low standing among State school districts.
          So please refer to the School budget material available on the City site. Lots of info that was not there before that made for citizen frustration. But now that it is transparent, nobody uses it. Ironic, isn’t it? Time will tell.

          • Ron Mackey

            John Marshall Lee, based on what you stated, then Mayor Finch deserves as much credit as Vallas.

    • Ron Mackey

      Baffled in Bridgeport, I’m in agreement with you, there are those who want to love Vallas and everything he did but they forget Vallas and Mayor Finch were a team and they hate the moves Finch made but they can’t have it both ways.

      • John Marshall Lee

        Ron,
        There is a myth about and that is the concept of the Finch-Vallas team. You have probably heard there is no ‘I’ in team. But Finch and Vallas each have a big ‘I’ presence.

        The Finch ‘plan’ has never been fully expressed by the Mayor, but the public and taxpayers have been put through several phases of it, including his regular trips to Hartford for money and advice. He and his advisers were looking for a way to expand their control of all City money. Public School budgets were the pot of gold, especially with the large building program potential.
        A way to that would be a Mayor-appointed BOE.
        The road to that was a Charter amendment and that was easy if you control the appointments to the Charter Review group.
        Flashback to dysfunctional Ramos Board majority telling us they were history; State-appointed Board gets seated in Bridgeport; hires Vallas, but suit brings about ruling State-appointed is not right as other steps should have been pursued; special election changes BOE; and Charter changes go down to defeat.

        Meanwhile have you seen the Mayor other than shoveling photo ops with the new Superintendent? When you know as Mayor the schools need money, why do you claw back funds in 2012 and make no public statement in the succeeding year for ignoring MBR? How does this look like a team to you?
        What is going on is the emergence of a challenging political party, ready to establish a ‘political’ foothold with the public schools. They have found a partner in the leadership of the Bridgeport Education Association. That leadership can plan and execute such activity without putting those plans to an open vote of their membership. (Now whose opportunity to vote is being trampled upon?) And the target has been anything and everything the Superintendent has set in motion. And the alternative to the Vallas Plan and funding for it? Status quo? The deadly status quo that brought us to where we were two years ago. It seems so in my opinion. Remember the call at the barriers: “It’s about the kids” and that means quality instructional time in the classroom. How are the teacher negotiations going? Time will tell.

        • Ron Mackey

          John Marshall Lee, on this one I totally disagree with you. How do you think Vallas got the position in Bridgeport? Do you think he read about it in the trade newspapers or online? Vallas coming to run the Bridgeport school system is way over Bill Finch putting out a nationwide search. The US Secretary of Education Duncan is from Chicago Illinois, the President is from Chicago Illinois and isn’t it strange Paul Vallas is from the same place? There was a reason for Vallas being in Bridgeport and it was more than educating children.

          • John Marshall Lee

            So tell us your scoop on why Vallas is in Bridgeport? Not who brought him in, but why he is here? Why he offered value and hope to those who attracted him here? (There are Illinois connections all over the place, of course.) But name the reason for all. Put it out there. Is it a conspiracy theory you are sworn to keep secret? What do you believe, your opinion? What if you have the wrong theory and the Vallas plan and funding have been the high point of the past 24 months? Perhaps you will tell us? Or, at least … Time will tell.

          • Ron Mackey

            John Marshall Lee, let’s look at this conspiracy theory. Vallas and Finch are not a team, and Vallas didn’t agree with Finch’s take over of the BOE, Vallas had no contact or anything to do with Mayor Finch.

        • Bob Walsh

          John Marshall Lee wants to pay Bridgeport teachers less than every other school district in the state of CT under the claim Bridgeport cannot afford to pay the same. And yet somehow according to John and Paul Vallas they will be more qualified and Bridgeport students will miraculously become better educated because Paul Vallas says so.

          • Ron Mackey

            Bob, it seems JML just wants to give any and all credit to Vallas if it’s real or not but refuses to give any credit to Mayor Finch. Vallas and Finch are a team and it’s time to sent the other half of this team packing.

          • BOE SPY

            Bob, a couple of points (like the one on the top of my head). If BPT is the only place hiring then a teacher would have two options. Take the pay BPT offers or get nothing. Is teacher turnover in BPT a pay problem or a ‘these students are impossible’ problem? Private schools pay their teachers considerably less than public schools and have less of a benefit package. Yet private schools commonly outperform public schools. Every city worker in BPT and other cities has had a pay reduction every year for the last 3-4 years. Only two groups have escaped this. The mayor’s top muckety-mucks and the teachers. Neither has suffered a pay decrease in these tough economic, overtaxed times. Interestingly enough, a majority of both groups already make a good wage and do not live in BPT.
            Here are some interesting facts for you. BPT teachers start at ~$42K. The CT average starting pay is ~$40K (number 8 in the country). I.e. BPT teachers start +$2K above the state average. So somewhere in CT a fair number of towns must be paying less than BPT. Even though BPT cost of living is far less than surrounding towns but the teachers do not live in BPT but whose fault is that? Even though BPT beats the state average teacher starting salary by $2K/yr and CT has the #8 highest teachers starting salary in the country, BPT schools rank last in the state.
            BPT teachers’ pay 2011-2012 $42K: page 46
            www .nctq.org/docs/Bridgeport_Contract_2011-2014.pdf
            Greenwich teachers’ pay. 2011-2012 $51K Page 38 (But you have to live near Greenwich or drive for hours to get there.) So who brings home more?
            www .greenwichct.org/upload/medialibrary/36e/boeGEAcontract10-08.pdf
            BTW: Bridgeport students will become better educated when they start doing their work. Home-schooled kids do better than ours and their parents have no teaching cert. and get paid nothing.

  • Local Eyes

    Bad analogy. Baffled in Bridgeport seems confused. Education is beneficial to Bridgeport, oil spills are not beneficial to the Gulf.
    BiF is to blogging what kryptonite is to Superman.

  • Local Eyes

    Toxic is a strong word. You’ve made your point.

  • Mojo

    *** Promises, promises! ***

  • JMart

    We are still on course for another Bridgeport Banner School Year. 165 out of 165, ≤10% of kids doing grade-level work, 50-70% dropout rate.

  • Mojo

    *** Another IOU part of the MBR ’cause they’re not going to get the whole amount, no doubt! *** CITY GOVERNMENT MBR-MONTE TO SAVE FACE. ***

  • John Marshall Lee

    Mojo,
    I cannot seem to communicate a simple notion: Paul Vallas in his nearly two years in Bridgeport overcame a $12-18 Million school deficit, put in a plan to deal with multiple deficiencies in school resources, technology and curriculum, and has pursued options on several levels for students and parents. He gets no credit for this work from too many bloggers, whatever their other feelings and opinions, I believe. Why?
    Many people want to link Finch with Vallas and have done everything they can to tear him down for this and other alleged faults. Finch’s continuing lack of integrity about school finances is consistent on his part. Vallas has continued his work in spite of this lack of loyalty to the plan or himself.
    I am a Finch watchdog/questioner and have encouraged others to behave in similar fashion. Andy Fardy and I have worked three years on Budget Oversight Bridgeport, BOB. This year we have already multiplied our team several fold where our focus is on finances, not education specifically.

    However, education finances have taken on an aspect of normalcy, almost under the Vallas Plan and the calm, professional activity of Chief Finance Officer Marlene Siegel. And the facts and figures are OPEN to all on the Public Schools site. This is what drew me to support the Vallas educational initiatives when he came to town. He walked his talk and let us see what, where, how and why taxpayer funds were spent. (If people lament the fact results are not present already, what plan do they have in mind that would have changed results in a two-year period? Or is that an unfair question of a coalition that seems to have NO PLAN?)

    Mayor Finch continues to show he is less an education Mayor, just as he continues to reveal himself as an UNACCOUNTABLE municipal leader fiscally.
    The State has provided the district with more funds according to the Governor’s plan. There is accountability required. The Maria comment about receiving funds without strings, if supported by new members on the board, is likely to be a non-starter and lead to further oversight and supervision from the State. Of course, in politics there is often some entertainment before the ‘dance’ (next election) and we should stay tuned to see the drama, as well as the comedy, that sometimes replaces responsible adult discussion and dialog at public meetings. Time will tell.

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