Tuesday night citizen fiscal watchdog John Marshall Lee asked the City Council to allocate the recent unanticipated and therefore not yet budgeted State Municipal Revenue Sharing to the BOE to reinstate the laid-off paraprofessionals. “… think instead of a five-year-old girl or boy standing here in their third week of school in Bridgeport without the same advantages they likely would enjoy were they living in neighboring towns. You have the opportunity to give them a fair and strong start to their educational career. Will you act on it so reading, writing, math and respect are received by them in full measure this year? In justice, can you do otherwise?”
Lee’s full commentary:
Bridgeport City Council members,
You have listened to me for over six months about these two red boots. The one marked BS stands for the underwater net worth of the City. Our liabilities still exceed our assets. That needs more attention.
The other red boot marked OB stands for the operating budget that ended FY2016 with a negative balance in the millions of dollars. Tonight this boot enters the third month of a year in surplus for a change and I plead for you to seize that opportunity.
I want you to hear a plea you have the power to answer. It comes from the educational front lines here in Bridgeport elementary schools. It is about providing justice and a fair start to any five-year-old youngster, who may have been born to a family here in Bridgeport where English is not the primary language spoken at home and thus vocabulary words common to your homes are not often spoken in their presence. The family may have been unaware of pre-kindergarten opportunities or how to afford like 1/3 of those entering kindergarten three weeks ago were. The children may be away from patterns of home and family for the first time in their short lives and we might say they are young and unsocialized. How do they settle down for learning? And they may know no alphabet symbols or sounds. How are they to read at the end of this first school year to a certain level as they proceed to first grade?
Well when they are afforded the opportunity of expert assessment early on, and the Kindergarten teacher is supported by a paraprofessional who daily reinforces the lessons, as well as a literacy interventionist who brings expertise and talent to the team, it can and does happen. However, this year for reasons that faced the Board of Education, all those paraprofessionals were cut. Their union did not hold a vote to allow them to signal a willingness to furlough. And the BEA union did not allow teachers to share their own willingness to assist in this work either. So dollars were cut. And people were cut.
Paras who served as a warm and caring continuum of love from home and providers of alphabet instruction through skill development and reading direction are not present in the schools this year. It is noticeable. Socialization and other responsibilities so well practiced in recent years are missing this year, so far.
But that is not the end of the story. You have a special chance to be a hero for justice. State money in excess of what you budgeted in the spring has already flowed into the City in August in the Municipal Revenue Sharing of Regional Sales Taxes. You approved $9.8 Million and Ken Flatto raised that projection by $6 Million to $15.8 Million in July. Actually over $12 Million was received in August by the City. The money is here and it has not been earmarked in B&A discussion earlier this month. (B&A is busy looking at the Mayor’s Capital Funding proposal some of which is on your Agenda for decision tonight, though not the $18 Million additional borrowing sought to benefit downtown.)
For all the BOE activity in the news, their Committees meet and Finance has prioritized a way to address any funding opportunities that may arise. That is where you are tonight.
When you hear Howard Gardner later this session, think instead of a five-year-old girl or boy standing here in their third week of school in Bridgeport without the same advantages they likely would enjoy were they living in neighboring towns. You have the opportunity to give them a fair and strong start to their educational career. Will you act on it so reading, writing, math and respect are received by them in full measure this year? In justice, can you do otherwise? Time will tell.
John Marshall Lee
September 20, 2016