4:45 p.m. UPDATE: Well, it’s that time of year so it was bound to happen; the annual fight between the mayor and the Board of Education has begun in earnest.
When times are excruciatingly tough pols on both sides of the aisle must position themselves for the best side of the confrontation. As a result, we have dueling letters from Mayor Bill Finch and Max Medina, president of the Board of Education.
The BOE says it’s doing its part by asking for the smallest (two percent) increase in modern history to maintain services. If it receives additional cuts from Finch and the City Council, it could force closure to schools such as Black Rock, Hallen, Wilbur Cross, Roosevelt and Edison.
For his part, the mayor has fired back a cutting letter: how can you justify pay increases to administrators while threatening to close down schools?
The BOE is asking for an operating budget of roughly $220 million. About three quarters of that comes from the state, the remainder filled by a city-side appropriation. This is a crucial budget for the mayor–following a tax increase of roughly eight percent last year–in the worst fiscal condition (for most of us) in our lifetime. He’s trying to avoid another big tax hit, and the BOE is one of the few remaining places to cut to lessen the tax damage. The BOE asks, at what cost to the kids?
The mayor will submit his budget to the council in early April, so the back-and-forth will continue for a few more months.
See Finch’s letter to BOE members below, followed by Medina’s response to Finch:
Mayor Finch Responds to Board of Education’s School Closure Proposal
BRIDGEPORT, CT (March 9, 2009) – Mayor Bill Finch today sent the following letter to the Board of Education in response to the newspaper article calling for the closure of schools in the coming budget year. The Mayor also plans to meet with Board of Education members to discuss the City’s financial accounting information.The full text is as follows:
Dear Board of Education Member:
As Mayor, I want to respond to recent statements by some members of the Board of Education and staff alluding to potential school closures due to budget concerns.
This year, our Board of Education approved additional spending increases and yet another raise for already high-paid administrators at a time when most Bridgeport residents are struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments and keep their jobs.
I met with Board of Education staff and the Board President over six months ago to ask the Board of Education to work together with the City of Bridgeport to find and implement cost savings in the current year budget primarily through concessions from labor and other administrative cost-cutting. Since then, my administration has been meeting monthly with Board of Education staff and has identified and negotiated over $5.8 million in savings.
Since identifying and implementing these savings, we have done a detailed review of Board of Education spending which shows that the Board of Education will have a $5.8 million surplus in the current year budget.
This $5.8 million in savings includes negotiated zero percent pay increases and furloughs with AFSCME Council 1522, LIUNA, the building trades and the Supervisors’ Union and spending freezes.
After working together in a spirit of good faith for the last six months to negotiate these savings and deliver it to the hard-working residents and parents of Bridgeport, the Board of Education is now attempting to cloud the issue of these budget savings by threatening to close schools.
The public deserves a full and accurate accounting of the Board of Education’s spending in the current year budget. In addition to this year’s savings, we have negotiated zero-percent pay increases for next year’s budget with AFSCME, the building trades and the Supervisors’ Union. In addition, the Board of Education will be receiving an unprecedented amount of federal stimulus dollars to cover any future increases in spending. The additional federal stimulus dollars coming to the Bridgeport Board of Education this year total over $17 million dollars.
Our accounting is clear and to the point. We have negotiated $5.8 million savings in the Board of Education’s current year budget. My staff stands ready to work with the Board of Education to review our accounting information so that board members can make an informed decision about their current year and future budget. Please let me know at your earliest convenience when our budget staff can present their findings to you.
Max Medina responds to mayor
I acknowledge receipt of the undated letter distributed last night to BOE members by Mr. Wood.
It is regrettable that you and your administration have suddenly decided to attack the BOE by confusing issues and making inaccurate statements. I urge you to reconsider that approach since it will only make matters much more difficult for all of us. Your tactics compare very unfavorably with the approach of the Superintendent and his staff, all of whom have been quite respectful to you and your staff.
I realize you believe the BOE can give back to the City more than the $1,500,000 contingently approved last night. That is a subject worthy of further discussion and analysis–but without personal rancor and attacks. As a former state senator you should be well familiar with the fact that the State of Connecticut commissioned an independent study of the BOE’s operations and concluded the district is understaffed at the administrative level–not “top-heavy” as your political appointees are fond of alleging. As mayor, you should also be aware that the foregoing assessment is shared by the State Department of Education.
Moreover, it is just wrong of you to try to mislead the public by trying to unfairly confuse two different issues. The discussion about give-backs relates to FY ’08-’09. The BOE’s very preliminary contingency planning that includes the necessary inquiry of whether any schools must close (which no one on the BOE favors) relates to FY ’09-’10 ( a year as to which your administration thus far has given the BOE no assurances).
Lastly, your claim that the BOE can confidently expect federal stimulus dollars to “…cover any future increases in spending” is frankly, ludicrous and unsupported by any sound evidence. I attribute such sentiments less to you than to some of your political advisors who have been spoiling for a fight with the BOE since taking office. I get the politics of the equation–in today’s world it is too easy for municipal executives to exploit the financial crisis by making educators the “bad guys”. In that public relations battle educators always lose given the politicians’ access to the media and obsession with the public relations battle for the daily news cycle. They are the same advisors who have already etched on to your record/legacy a significant weakening of the school-based health centers, a program which was costing the City very little money and was universally respected.
The losers in the long run will be the children and the City’s long-term prospects because Bridgeport cannot be great again unless we as a community realize that education has been devalued in this city for too long. You were (and may be again) a Bridgeport parent so I know you’re personally familiar with the fact the Bridgeport has some amazing students and educators who are doing great work. Our challenge as a district is to deliver those same results equitably across the district to all children. I believe you can play a significant role in achieving that result and your well-known progressive instincts will want to take you there.
Let’s get back to the job of working together.
Quinnipiac News Release
March 10, 2009 – Connecticut’s Dodd Tied With Simmons, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Voters Say Loosen Pot Laws And Sell Liquor On Sunday
In an early look at the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Connecticut, Democratic incumbent Christopher Dodd gets just 42 percent to 43 percent for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, a possible Republican challenger, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.
Sen. Dodd leads State Sen. Sam Caligiuri 47 – 34 percent and tops CNBC-TV host Larry Kudlow 46 – 34 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.
In the Dodd-Simmons matchup, Democrats back Dodd 74 – 15 percent while Simmons leads 80 – 10 percent among Republicans and 49 – 32 percent among independent voters.
Connecticut voters approve 49 – 44 percent of the job Dodd is doing, compared to a negative 41 – 48 percent approval rating February 10. Dodd gets a split 46 – 45 percent favorability.
For Simmons, 53 percent do not know enough to form an opinion. Caligiuri and Kudlow are even more unknown, at 88 and 87 percent.
“These numbers have to worry Sen. Christopher Dodd. Former Congressman Simmons is not well known outside his district, yet he is running neck and neck with Dodd at this point,” said Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz, PhD.
“Simmons easily wins his former district. The good news for Dodd is that this is the first poll in a long time where Dodd’s job approval hasn’t dropped. It appears that Dodd’s slide may have ended.”
“Recently, there has been talk that CNBC host Larry Kudlow is considering running against Dodd.”
“While regular CNBC watchers are familiar with Larry Kudlow, Connecticut voters don’t know much about him,” Dr. Schwartz added. “Only about 1 in 10 voters know enough about him to offer an opinion. State Sen. Sam Caligiuri has similarly low recognition numbers.”
Connecticut voters give Gov. Jodi Rell a 75 – 19 percent approval rating. The 69 – 23 percent Democratic approval for the Republican Governor is higher than the overall approval rating for any governor in any state polled by Quinnipiac University so far this year. Voters also approve 61 – 28 percent of the way Gov. Rell is handling the state budget.
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal does even better, with an 81 – 10 percent approval rating, including 73 – 17 percent among Republicans.
Connecticut liquor stores should be allowed to sell alcohol on Sunday, voters say 54 – 44 percent. There is a substantial gender gap on this issue: Men support Sunday sales 62 – 37 percent while women split with 50 percent opposed and 48 percent supporting the measure.
Voters oppose 58 – 39 percent allowing the sale of wine and hard liquor in grocery stores. Here, men and women are in agreement.
Decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, where low-level users face a fine similar to a traffic ticket rather than a criminal charge, is a good idea, Connecticut voters say 58 – 37 percent. Republicans oppose a reduction in marijuana penalties 51 – 44 percent. Decriminalization wins 68 – 30 percent among Democrats and 58 – 35 percent among independent voters. Voters in every age group, even those over 65, approve.
“Although Connecticut is known as the land of steady habits, Nutmeggers appear willing, to change the law so that Connecticut package stores can sell alcohol on Sunday,” Schwartz said.
Connecticut does not need a tax increase to balance the budget, voters say 63 – 32 percent. Democrats say no new taxes 51 – 43 percent, joining Republicans at 79 – 19 percent and independent voters at 66 – 28 percent.
Voters oppose tolls on state highways 61 – 35 percent. Opposition crosses all party lines and ranges from 50 – 45 percent opposed in Litchfield County to 73 – 23 percent opposed in Fairfield County.
Lisa Honey Parziale, the former Democratic Registrar of Voters, apparently forgot to count her steaks last month coming out of Super Stop & Shop on Madison Avenue. The former City Council president was pinched for allegedly walking out of the store for not paying for 80 bucks or so of goods, including some steaks.
Now I’ve had my groin squeezed politically by Parziale so hard that it turned me into a soprano for a while, but I don’t think Honey is the kind of person that would walk out of a store with the goods. Lisa likes to get her pound of flesh in a different manner.
I can just imagine the conversation Honey had with the store clerk after being confronted. “Now, honey, this is all just an oversight. I love red meat, but not like this.”
You go get ’em, Honey. Don’t let them take advantage of you. I get the feeling this case is gonna get tossed.