Emphasizing school improvement and job creation Mayor Bill Finch issued his annual address to the Bridgeport business community Wednesday afternoon reasserting the need for mayoral control of the school budget and highlighting reforms initiated by new schools chief Paul Vallas. The mayor also offered his first public clue during his speech at the Holiday Inn that he will invest more money in the school system after flatlining the city’s contribution for three years.
“Along with creating more efficiency in the way we run our schools, I am also recommending that the City increase its investment in Superintendent Vallas’ reform plans,” the mayor announced. Finch will present his budget to the City Council April 2. Text of mayor’s speech below:
Ladies and gentlemen of Bridgeport’s business community, thank you for inviting me to address you this afternoon. This is a tradition, in which I am very proud to participate. However, this year’s address will be unlike any of the previous four that I’ve had the honor to present to you.
In past years, I’ve stood here and told you all about the City’s great accomplishments–and they have been considerable. I can certainly do that again this year. I can speak in great detail about all that Bridgeport has achieved during the last four years:
• Our population has grown for the first time in 60 years,
o Proof that people are choosing the sustainable lifestyle that we are promoting.
• Our efforts in sustainability have us on a path to being the cleanest, greenest city in the region.
o We are saving energy,
o Increasing recycling rates,
o Reducing our costs
o And promoting innovative green strategies.
• Our Downtown is alive and full of activity.
• Our finances have consistently earned positive bond ratings.
• Our City is spending less each year since I took office.
• Our Police Department has added 45 new officers.
• And, Our Fire Department has added 25 new firefighters and continues to lead the nation in the installation of life saving smoke alarms.
Clearly, we are making progress and moving Bridgeport forward.
But I’m not here today merely to address our successes.
I am here today to address our two greatest challenges:
• Improving our schools, and
• Growing our local economy to bring more jobs to Bridgeport.
We have done this before. Bridgeport has achieved greatness through education and job creation before, through industry, ingenuity and innovation.
We are the city of aviation pioneers, Gustave Whitehead and Igor Sikorsky.
We are the city of inventor Lewis Latimer, who worked with Thomas Edison on manufacturing the first light bulbs.
We are the city of the world’s greatest showman and our nation’s most famous mayor, P.T. Barnum.
In just 176 years of existence, our tiny 16 square-mile city has made a huge impact on the world. But the world we live in is changing, and changing quickly! In order to build a Bridgeport that can successfully compete in this changing world, we, too, must change.
We must do so together and we must start now!
We must learn from our proud past, and we must answer the two most important questions of the present:
• What are we going to do to improve our schools?
• How are we going to grow our local economy to bring more jobs to Bridgeport?
As everyone in this room knows, there are not enough jobs available, and our schools have often failed in preparing students for the jobs that ARE available.
I’m here today to ask you, what are we going to do about it? What can we do to assure a future of greatness for our city?
We are in this effort together. I need your involvement and your investment on these two fronts.
Success in education reform and job creation will produce, in the words of Governor Malloy, “an economic revival.”
Falling short on either front will keep Bridgeport from reasserting its greatness and keep us from responding to these new and changing times.
As the parent of four public school students (two current students and two graduates) in the lowest performing district in the state, I refuse to sit on the sidelines and allow our education system to continually fail our students. I cannot continue to allow our city to have the highest concentration of failing schools in the state.
And neither can you!
We have 14 of the 50 failing schools in the state located in our City. In 2011, only 22.5% of our third graders were reading at the state’s goal level.
The issue of public education has ignited debates for generations. Parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and government leaders alike, have asked the difficult questions and have searched for answers.
But the most important question of all is: What is best for the students?
Sadly, most of the debate on education surrounds the adults, not the students.
That is why I risked political capital last summer and supported the state Board of Education’s decision to appoint a new local Board. That decision was called into question then, and again more recently. I believed in that decision, which has given us more civility, more progress, more accountability and more focus on the students than we’ve ever seen before. I made that decision then and I stand by it now. I made that decision for one reason and one reason only: because I believe it was the right decision for the students of Bridgeport.
We now have a Board of Education that consists of seven members who are not motivated by political gain. They are motivated by what is best for our students.
That is why I am working with the new Board on all fronts to assure that this progress is not lost, and we don’t fall victim to what we have seen too often in education … taking one step forward and two steps back.
Our school system is at a critical crossroads. We must address our schools’ challenges head-on and begin to pursue a long-term solution to improving our schools.
Every decision we make–every decision we make–should be about our student’s future.
Nothing more, nothing less.
It is not about politics, it is about progress.
It is not about expediency, it is about excellence.
As a result of my decision last year, the City’s schools are now being run by a nationally renowned superintendent – Mr. Paul Vallas. Thank you Robert Trefry and the Board for bringing Paul Vallas to Bridgeport!
Superintendent Vallas and I are working closely together to improve academic performance by:
• Expanding school choice and open enrollment.
• Increasing the use of technology to support learning.
• Enhancing the quality of teaching by strengthening our curriculum and instructional models.
• Expanding early childhood education with an emphasis on “the cradle to the classroom” approach.
• And creating the “Good Schools Bridgeport Foundation”
o This foundation will secure public and private funding that would not traditionally be accessible to the district.
These are just a few of the classroom reforms in Superintendent Vallas’ bold and visionary plan. Additionally, we are also working together to:
• Modernize and beautify facilities
• Streamline the Board’s Central Office.
• Monitor the budget more effectively and have a stable plan ahead for the next five years.
• And stretch our tax dollars to deliver services more efficiently
For example: Previously, the City’s taxpayers were paying for two public works departments, one on the City side and one on the Board of Education side. Currently, we are in the process of merging these departments.
Under the leadership of Chief Joseph Gaudett, we are working on merging school security with the Bridgeport Police Department.
The Purchasing department and the Information Technology department are two other areas where the City and the Board of Education are looking to work together more efficiently.
The City of Bridgeport has also:
• Taken over budgetary costs for school crossing guards.
• Agreed to transfer the sale proceeds of 948 Main Street to the Board of Education
• And we have agreed to take over school solid waste and recycling.
o This move will increase school participation in recycling efforts and save us money.
Through these initiatives, we have already provided the Board of Education with an additional $2 million towards closing the current budget gap which was inherited from previous leadership.
Along with creating more efficiency in the way we run our schools, I am also recommending that the City increase its investment in Superintendent Vallas’ reform plan.
I firmly believe that we have an unprecedented opportunity to turn our schools around:
• Connecticut has a Governor who has made education reform a statewide priority.
• Our state also has an education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, who is focused on turning around low-performing schools.
• Bridgeport currently has an apolitical Board of Education that has stabilized our system, and has created a culture of civility that I hope to see continue beyond their days in office.
• Bridgeport also has a Superintendent of Schools with a track record of success in some of the nation’s largest cities.
• And we have an opportunity to make the Office of Mayor more accountable on the issue of education.
The City’s Charter as it is currently written, however, limits what any Mayor can do.
Reform is within our reach, but I believe that without an overhaul of our current system, we risk allowing real, sustained progress to slip away.
Here’s why: The current charter allows for two bodies of elected officials. One has spending authority without any taxation authority (BOE) while the other (the City) is responsible for half of the spending but all of the taxation. That has allowed adults to point fingers for political gain, while often forgetting the students.
We need a system where one person, the Mayor whoever that Mayor may be, is held accountable for the performance of our students–similar to the system that New Haven has had for nearly 100 years.
This is among the many reasons why I have just initiated a Charter Revision process. The City of Bridgeport needs a new vision for governance; a modern efficient charter will help us realize that vision.
A new charter would
• Give us greater accountability
• Modernize our business and government practices; and,
• Engage our citizens in what will be a prosperous future
The City’s charter has not been substantially changed in decades and decades. These documents were written before the Internet. Actually, much of it was written before the existence of the Interstate Highway system.
The time is now to overhaul the Charter.
Thank you to the members of the Charter Revision Commission. They are currently fact finding, bringing in national experts, and working very hard for the future of our city.
I urge Bridgeport residents and you, to support a more modern, constitutional form of a charter–a charter that will allow for Bridgeport to be nimble and respond to the demands of a rapidly changing world.
With your support and with the necessary changes to our Charter, Bridgeport can have better schools that will expect more from our students, more from our teachers, more from our parents, more from our administrators and more from our Mayor.
Bridgeport can also have a dynamic and relevant school system that ties education to job opportunities.
This is one area where your assistance is required.
What will you do to provide a Bridgeport student with work experience? You have the opportunity to make a difference in:
• A student’s life
• The future of your business and
• In our local economy, as well.
With the assistance of local businesses, young Bridgeport residents can add to the classroom experience with real-life work experience in healthcare, finance, technology, manufacturing and much more.
With your help, we can ensure that our high schools are providing real work preparation through work study job training electives and apprentice electives through our trade unions.
On your table is a card. Please, fill it out and hand it in to a representative from my office on your way out if you’d like to learn more about the work study initiative promoted by Superintendent Vallas and me.
Please, fill it out to learn how you can add youthful enthusiasm to your workforce, and improve the lives of Bridgeport students.
The opportunity to have a workforce that can compete in this global economy is right here in this room.
What will you do to seize this opportunity?
Improving our schools is a tall task, but it is only half of what it is required to rebuild Bridgeport’s greatness and create an economic revival.
Job creation is the other. And they really are two sides of the same coin.
New businesses are moving into Bridgeport at a steady pace, and this is only the beginning of our economic revival.
Ours is a true partnership, and I will continue working closely with, all of you to carry on the substantial progress that we have made together. Government and Business!
Last fall, Governor Malloy and I stood alongside LJ Blaiotta, CEO/President of Columbia Elevator as we cut the ribbon on their new manufacturing facilities on Horace Street in the City’s East Side. Thank you for moving your business to Bridgeport!
Earlier this year, along with many of you, I stood with Congressman Jim Himes, and Environment & Energy Commissioner Dan Esty as we celebrated the opening of Bridgeport Biodiesel with its partners Bill Malone and Debbie Russo.
Their plant is one of the first components of our planned Eco-Industrial Park, a major priority of my BGreen 2020 plan to create ‘green’ jobs, which the Brookings Institute tells us pay 13% higher than similar non-green jobs.
Later this year, the next phase of the Eco-Industrial Park will open–a mattress recycling plant which will extract the steel and other basic elements to be made into other products.
And this afternoon, I will join Steve Montello, the former owner of Saltwater Grill in Stamford, to cut the ribbon on their newest venture, Barnum Publick House located on Broad Street directly across from my office. This business left Stamford to open up in Bridgeport.
Along with the addition of new businesses, we are also proud of the establishments that are staples of our city like the Schwerdtle Stamp Company, which has called Bridgeport home since 1879. Thank you Kathy Saint, for keeping Schwerdtle in Bridgeport. Where it belongs!
Thank you Fletcher-Thompson for returning home to Bridgeport! Welcome back!
Thank you Joe Carbone, of The Workplace Inc., whose innovative “Platform to Success” program was featured on “60 Minutes,” for opening additional offices in Downtown on Fairfield Ave.
These are just a few examples of people who have invested their futures in Bridgeport.
They believe in Bridgeport.
They’re right, and they’re not alone.
There are many more investors who believe in our City and will be contributing to our economic revival.
That economic revival will take shape in the Downtown Village District, Steelpointe Harbor and the East Bridgeport Development Corridor.
Because of bold plans and innovative thinking that you and I have worked on together, the days of missed opportunities in Bridgeport are over.
Last summer our Office of Planning and Economic Development began its search for qualified developers for the Downtown Village District, a six-acre neighborhood, across six city blocks, commonly known as Downtown North.
Their search generated significant interest from a wide variety of developers and investors who share our vision for development.
That vision is laid out in the City’s Master Plan, which calls for:
• Preserving our historic buildings
• Building shops, restaurants and apartments
• Attracting the creative class
• And continuing to grow an exciting sense of place for our Downtown.
This represents the next chapter in the revitalization of our Downtown, and it also represents jobs and economic growth for our City.
With the help of Congressman Himes, the City secured an $11 million TIGER grant from the federal government for infrastructure work on Steelpointe Harbor. In the coming months, shovels will be in the ground and work on the peninsula will begin. This will lay the foundation for this game-changing development project.
Some of you may have heard me talk about the East Bridgeport Development Corridor–a swath of land that runs from the harbor’s mouth at Pleasure Beach along Seaview Avenue and over into Stratford. This transit-oriented development corridor encompasses the former General Electric plant on Boston Avenue, and extends to the former DuPont property (Remington Woods)–all together a vast tract of over 700 acres.
As we speak, the former GE and Remington Woods sites, two parcels critical to this corridor, are being cleaned at zero cost to taxpayers. The GE site alone represents more than 70 acres–what will be one of the largest clean parcels of land available for development in the city in more than decades.
Using more than $1 million in state bonding money, thanks to Governor Malloy, we will begin the demolition of the city-owned portion of the former Remgrit site. A feasibility study will soon be underway for the much needed P.T. Barnum Train Station, a second train station for Bridgeport, which would be constructed on that site.
We see a great future in the East Bridgeport Development corridor–this is where the City plans to:
• Capitalize on the growing healthcare sector,
• Build a sustainable, vibrant, walkable 21st Century community in Bridgeport’s East Side and East End
• And bring jobs and development to the region
As the prices of fuel skyrocket, thriving cities throughout the country are focusing on transit-oriented development just like what we are planning in the East Bridgeport Development Corridor.
Bridgeport is rebuilding and reforming. As we build, there will be no shortage of jobs. And as we reform there will be no shortage of trained residents.
There isn’t an inch of this great City that I haven’t walked through. There is not a group of residents I haven’t talked to. There isn’t a day that goes by, where I am not asked about education and jobs.
Education and jobs are not only MY priorities, they are OUR priorities.
We are a City of a proud past. To create a Bridgeport full of opportunity for our children and provide our students with the tools to compete in this ever-changing technical world, we must address our education system and we must bring jobs here.
Let’s reinvent the home of inventions like the sewing machine, the submarine and the helicopter, and inspire a new generation of world-class invention.
Let’s reinvigorate the entrepreneurial spirit of P.T. Barnum to reform our schools and bring jobs to our city.
Let’s rebuild Bridgeport’s greatness together.