Democratic mayoral candidate Howard Gardner, a member of the Board of Education, asserts the city’s pulling a dipsy doodle when it comes to financially meeting the state-mandated Minimum Budget Requirement. This commentary also appears in the CT Post. From Gardner:
Someone recently shared this saying with me, “In God we trust, everybody else must have data.” When it comes to the Finch Administration and their detailing of the city’s financial operation, we trust neither them nor their data. Like all things through the rose-colored glasses the administration has been handing out, there are improvements all around us; including the city finally meeting the state mandated Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) in cash; NOT!
As was the case during my first year on the board, the City Administration has substituted in-kind services in lieu of cash to fund the MBR, and calling it a cash contribution through accounting maneuvering and verbal subterfuge. In a recent meeting with the superintendent, members of her staff and a few members of the board (which I was not privy to), Messrs. (mayoral chief of staff) Adam Wood and (budget director) Thomas Sherwood were the ambassadors of good tidings but were taken aback by the school administrators’ initial pushback. One has to assume the order subsequently came down–“everyone will play nice.”
My late dad, a brilliant automotive mechanic, instilled in me a mindset that looks beyond the obvious of how things work, and to get to the whys–i.e., the underlying principles of what we observe and know. To understand the flaw behind the basic math of the Finch Administration’s proposal, we have to appreciate what was in the minds of the state legislators as they crafted the State Statutes governing the MBR.
With the premise that a school district has three main and consistent sources for funding (State, City and Federal governments); and understanding that we provide education for our children at an ever-increasing cost (higher staff salary, energy, inflation, etc.), it was the intent of the MBR legislation to expand the state’s contribution and mandate corresponding increase in contribution from under-performing cities each year. Imagine if you will a pie representing the total school budget. This pie has a wedge representing the city’s contribution. It is the intent of state statute that the pie grows every year by incremental dollars from the state and incremental dollars from the city. Last school year, instead of contributing the required approximately $3.3 million in cash, the city substituted $2 million in “in-kind services” for cash, and could not come up with the remaining $1.2 million. The state was forced to cover this cost.
In this current school year we see a repeat of the required $3.3 million cash contribution (only $500K came from the city, the state provided $700K). The city once again included the same $2 million of in-kind services which is already part of the base (the pie) and labeling it as incremental contribution. This is bad math; this is voodoo economics.
In discussions regarding next year’s MBR, the administration would like to have the public believe that it plans to fund the MBR 100% in cash. This is an egregious deception agreed to by the Finch-controlled school board and school administration. We will only get an incremental $1.5 million if the Finch administration keeps its word (track record, not good). Any shortfall between $1.5 million and the actual MBR amount, as determined by the State later this summer, will have to be made up from other areas of the school board’s budget. That is, from the non-incremental base. This means moving money from other areas to cover portions of the $2 million in-kind services, and thus taking money from other areas of the school budget.
So then, here is the bottom line: in the past three years when it should have contributed incremental cash to our school system that totals $9.9 million, the Finch Administration has only forked over $2.0 million.
What could we have done with the lost $7.9 million? By the superintendent’s own projections; we could have hired 216 Academic Interventionists, reduced student/teacher ratio in primary class rooms, hired 8 nurses, implemented 24 high school redesigned courses (course creation) and invested in instructional equipment and supplies. How great an impact we could have had in closing our achievement gap, Mr. Mayor!
There is good argument that those so called “in-kind services” with the exception of worker’s compensation cost approximately $1 million (which should only be credited in the first year it was added to the base), should not be borne by the school district. School crossing guards are protecting our students on public streets. Snow removal on school grounds, which are the properties of the city, should be paid for by the city. These two arrangements are based on common practices of other major cities in this state.
While I and fellow board member, Sauda Baraka have been characterized as anti-Finch, nothing could be further from the truth. Mrs. Baraka has a passion to do what is right for our children. Her passion leaves me spellbound every time I hear her advocate for our children. We are both profoundly pro-student/parent. Now if our position results in us being the antithesis of actions by the mayor and his administration that hinders our students in any way, one can argue that the logical conclusion holds true: we are anti-Finch, yet that is not the premise from which we started.