Board of Education member Howard Gardner takes the wood to Bill Finch about the mayor’s commitment to city schools. In a commentary also published by the CT Post, Gardner condemns the “education mayor” for circumventing the state’s Minimum Budget Requirement to fund schools.
The Bridgeport Board of Education (BBOE) is burdened with a teaching/learning infrastructure that has been purposely and systematically neglected. The current level of financial support and lack of resources within this education system is tantamount to being on life support. By the State of Connecticut Department of Education’s own admission, the Bridgeport School System is under budgeted by approximately $45 million. At the same time the BBOE finds itself in mortal combat with a city that consistently underfunds education.
Every City and town is obligated to bear its share of the cost of educating the children in its jurisdiction; the majority of the cost being borne by the state government based on the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. This is law as delineated by the state’s general statues. There is a built-in growth percentage that is added to the overall education budget each year. This is the time of year in which cities and towns across the state determine and allocate their incremental funds toward the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR)–total education cost. With the looming deadline for the finalization of next year budgets for municipalities and education boards across the state, all cities and towns have agreed to meet their MBR as determined by the State Board of Education. That is, all cities and towns with one notable exception … yes, you guessed correctly–Bridgeport.
For the past three years Mayor Finch’s administration has done everything in its power to circumnavigate the stipulated MBR. Their maneuvering has ranged from substituting in-kind services in lieu of cash contribution, crying broke to the state and just flat-out refusing to make payments as in the 2013-2014 school year.
We are amazed at this reticence from a mayor who once referred to himself as the “Education” Mayor. I guess “Education” in this case doesn’t mean the traditional public school system, because it is bleatingly obvious that the Mayor has little or no commitment to this institution. This is not a gratuitous comment on the part of the writer of this op-ed. I have some history with the Mayor with regard to education reform.
Five years ago I was invited to join a newly formed education reform initiative comprised of Mayor Finch, then Superintendent John Ramos, then Board of Ed chair Barbara Bellinger, other community leaders, heads of local social service organizations, and business leaders. This organization was founded on the pretext of bolstering the performance of the Bridgeport Public School System, but operated under a hidden agenda shared only by a clandestine subgroup comprised of Meghan Lowney, Nate Snow and Robert Francis, and blessed by the Mayor. Suspecting that the purported agenda was not genuine, I resigned from Bridgeport Partner for Student Success (BPSS), a.k.a., Excel Bridgeport.
I walked away from BPSS over four years ago not having a complete grasp of the hidden agenda. However, subsequent chain of events have made its goals crystal clear–allow the Bridgeport Public School to be decimated, undermined; and then, point to the failure of the traditional public school system in Bridgeport. On that premise, they would build a case for alternative solutions–charter schools and corporation-based educational models. In hindsight one can deduce the various attempts to carry out this diabolical plot: the illegal takeover of an elected BBOE, the failed attempt at a charter change referendum and the hiring of Paul Vallas (public school destroyer extraordinaire).
For his efforts in balancing the BBOE’s budget, Mr. Vallas might have left here as a hero to some; however, his results came with heavy casualty to the district’s teaching/learning resources. This is the stark reality of Mr. Vallas’ legacy–the district has 72 less certified staff, including 27 in special education, than we had four years ago. Music, arts and other electives are non-existing at our high schools. The ratio of student to social workers and guidance counselor is so high that these professionals are overburdened to the point of paralysis. Many high school students do not have textbooks for core subjects. A $10 million expenditure on new curriculum material, purchased two years ago, remains in original packages unused. All this under the watch of a BBOE controlled by the Education Mayor, who this year refuses to provide the school district with $3.3 million MBR (monetary appropriation) as stipulated by the State of Connecticut General Statues. Failure by the city to meets its obligation potentially could forfeit the school district $16 million in cash over current and next two fiscal cycles should the state impose ECS penalties for the city not meeting the MBR.
This MBR shortfall compounds the financial woes of a district that spent $13,655 per child versus New Haven’s $16,805, and Hartford’s $17,928. Another way to understand this disparity: if the Bridgeport School district was given additional financial resources to bring it to full parity with New Haven and Hartford, the district would have an additional $66 million or $90 million more per year, respectively.
With this level of under-funding and given the fact that our district is operating with a shortage of 72 certified staff, it is amazing that the system functions at all. All hail, and hats off to the dedicated teachers and administrators who do so much with so little.
Under these conditions, how can the Mayor balk at providing the Minimum Budget Requirement? Is this the same Mayor who has committed to paying $477,000 rent for a proposed charter school for which the city has no financial obligation? This is the same Mayor who stated years ago during a BPSS meeting that he had the ability to bring money into the city for education, but would not do so while the wrong people were on the BBOE. How disingenuous. Great attitude–let the kids suffer because I don’t like the composition of the board.
Well somewhere between the charter change referendum defeat, a court ruling reversing the illegal takeover of the BBOE, the resounding defeat of party-backed board candidates and the timely departure of the luminary Paul Vallas, the “Education” mayor has been MIA. Has anybody seen the Education Mayor?