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Pereira: Pay Up Or Lighthouse Program Must Find Another Landlord

June 3rd, 2017 · 20 Comments · Education, News and Events

School board member Maria Pereira writes in a commentary, “In these 24 years, the Lighthouse Program has not paid the Bridgeport Board of Education (BBOE) a single dollar in rental fees, heating, cooling, WPCA, food, custodial, hand soap, paper towel, toilet tissue.” The following commentary also appeared in the CT Post.

Would you be able to live in someone else’s home for 24 years without paying one dollar in rent, utilities, food, etc.? No, you wouldn’t.

The Lighthouse After School Program was piloted in ten Bridgeport Public Schools (BPS) in 1993.

Today, it operates in 23 schools for 36 weeks per year. In addition, a full-day summer camp operates in 18 schools, with most air-conditioned for six weeks each summer.

In these 24 years, the Lighthouse Program has not paid the Bridgeport Board of Education (BBOE) a single dollar in rental fees, heating, cooling, WPCA, food, custodial, hand soap, paper towel, toilet tissue, etc. That’s right, not one dollar.

Lighthouse is a city program funded through federal, state, municipal funds and parent fees. It is not a BBOE program, yet we are burdened with significant costs associated with operation of this program. In fact, the director collects almost $900,000 annually in parent fees, yet this revenue is not shown in a single line item in the city’s budget.

As the most underfunded school district in Connecticut, we are not in a position to divert scarce financial resources from our core mission of educating our 21,199 students to fund an after-school program not under our purview. Of 169 school districts in Connecticut, no municipality contributes less to its public schools than Bridgeport, a fact Mayor Ganim and our 20 City Council members should be deeply ashamed of.

Mayor Ganim ran in part on a platform that he would fund our BPS should he be given his “second chance.”

Although he promised to “stop raising taxes” if reelected, both he and the City Council voted for the largest tax increase in Bridgeport’s history, increasing the mil rate by almost 30 percent. Despite this huge increase, Mayor Ganim still flat-funded Bridgeport Public Schools.

Although the BBOE made it clear we needed an additional $15 million this year just to maintain all programs and staff, both Mayor Ganim and our council appropriated zero additional dollars. We were forced to make deep, devastating cuts to an already starving and under resourced school system, including elimination of all kindergarten paraprofessionals.

In April, the BBOE went before the council and made it clear that we needed an additional $11.4 million next year just to maintain all current staff and programs, and to bring back kindergarten paraprofessionals. However, only an additional $3.4 million was being requested from the municipality with reliance on $8 million from the state of Connecticut.

The council appropriated an additional $386,000 for more than 21,000 students. Mayor Ganim and our council felt your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews were worth all of an additional $18.20 per child in education funding.

Do you believe this fulfills Mayor Ganim’s campaign promise to fund our schools?

Mayor after mayor and city council after city council have systematically failed to meet their financial obligation to our students for over three decades.

This brings me back to the Lighthouse Program. Based on the severe underfunding of our schools, the board decided it could no longer pay costs associated with this city program.

After a thorough cost analysis by our Facilities department, we discovered if we charged the Lighthouse Program every dollar we were entitled to they would owe us $3.5 million.

The BBOE voted to waive $3 million and assess the Lighthouse Program $500,000 to cover utilities, custodial, and rental costs. We thought that was pretty fair. Recently, we also discovered our Nutrition program has been losing $160,000 annually providing their after school snack.

The Director of the Lighthouse Program, who is a Democratic Town Chair loyalist as well as a close, dear, personal friend of Mayor Ganim, has refused to pay the $500,000, or even meet with the BBOE Finance committee to discuss options. This behavior can only be described as pure arrogance.

In March, the BBOE voted 6 to 3 that if the Lighthouse Program did not pay the full fee of $500,000 by May 15th they would have to vacate our schools by June 30th. This gave the director three months to find community centers, churches, etc. to relocate her summer camps, and five months to relocate their school year program. It should be known, none of the Lighthouse Programs in New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, etc., are operated in their public schools.

When the state of Connecticut, Mayor Ganim, and the council meet their full financial obligation to our schools and the academic success of our deserving students, we can discuss absorbing some of the costs associated with their program.

Until then, not one dollar should be diverted from our core mission of educating our children.

By the way, all 20 City Council members are up for re-election in the Democratic Primary on Sept. 12. Many incumbents will be challenged in this critical primary. Please remember the only way you can truly hold your elected officials accountable is on Election Day at the polls.

And, let’s make sure we are prepared to hold Mayor Ganim completely accountable for his many broken campaign promises in 2019.

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20 Comments so far ↓

  • Joel Gonzalez

    This is tantamount to the City of Bridgeport demanding that the BOE pay property taxes to the city.

    • Marshall Marcus

      No, there is no comparison. The City owns the schools, the BOE is a city agency that operates them. It is as if the BOE is a tenant, and tenants don’t pay property taxes. The city bills the BOE for services such as garbage and snow removal. The Lighthouse program is availing itself of the benefit of BOE paid expenses.Lighthouse also uses electricity, gas and water on the BOE dime. Lighthouse attendees are also fed out of the Nutrition budget of the BOE.
      One may argue that Bpt. children are benefiting from the program, BUT when the BOE budget is passed and funds allocated by the city and state, taxpayers expect that EVERY dollar should be spent to meet the educational needs of the students, NOT after school and summer childcare with incidental educational benefit.

      I was in a Bridgeport school yesterday and requested a black Expo marker to teach a lesson on the whiteboard in front of the class. The school secretary informed me that there are none left for this school year. If a teacher needs a black or red or green marker because the ones in use have dried up, it means reaching into his/her own pocket. Not a big item, but $500,000 in rent could pay for consumable items needed to finish the school year each June.

      • Joel Gonzalez

        Marshall Marcus, I could understand if the students served were residents from another town. At the end of the day, the ones who will lose out are students from the district. If the light house program shuts down, will Maria Pereira and the BOE start a program to serve the students with a program like the Light House program or better.

        “After a thorough cost analysis by our Facilities department, we discovered if we charged the Lighthouse Program every dollar we were entitled to they would owe us $3.5 million.”

        I challenge Maria Pereira to produce this “thorough cost analysis” to Lennie Grimaldi and If she doesn’t, I request that Lennie Grimaldi gets it under the FOI act.

        One more point Mr. Marcus. If the BOE has to pay the WPCA bill, why not City taxes. How much would the BOE save if we can pass legislation to exempt the BOE from paying for WPCA services?

        • Marshall Marcus

          Those using Lighthouse services are Bridgeport residents. In other cities in CT Lighthouse does not use public school buildings, supplies, utilities, etc. and the kids are served.
          I’m not against serving the kids, I’m against taking money appropriated for BPS operations to fund costs of another program.

          As for your final question. WPCA charges are a user fee. Use more water, pay a higher fee. Tax exempt organizations such as schools, churches, etc. don’t pay property taxes, so your comparison is off again. Can the City Council pass legislation to exempt the BOE from paying WPCA charges? Yes. Would it be constitutional? Probably not. Every tax exempt that pays would sue for the same privilege. Every one else who pays (such as the millions paid by those of us in Trumbull using the system) would have a cause of action for being made to subsidize the cost of treating BBOE wastewater and sewage.

  • Harvey Weintraub

    Didn’t I read somewhere the director of the lighthouse program is dating/engaged to Mario’s nephew or something?..If this is the case,no rent is necessary.This is the way it works now in Bpt…

    • Marshall Marcus

      I don’t know about the director, but there is at least one member of the City Council also drawing a paycheck from Lighthouse

    • Maria Pereira

      The Director of the Lighthouse is the former girlfriend/lover of Mayor Ganim in his first term.

      Joe Tiago, Deputy Director of Facilities dates Mario Testa’s niece.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    So, is the Lighthouse issue about Politics (Mario, Ganim, Tammy, etc). Maria Pereira can’t separate the Lighthouse issue from Ganim and Mario as she never fails to announce her political intentions against them in future elections. Maria Pereira needs to leave her politics out of her BOE responsibility and duty. I know that will never happen. Last year, the BOE entertained the idea of teachers union givebacks. Why wasn’t this attempted this year? The City of Bridgeport scalped NAGE members and took away our negotiated raises with allot of help from the BOE whom for some strange reason cut the funding for our union president’s position. Days after he orchestrated the vote in favor of the giveback, the BOE restore funding for our union president’s position and he got his job back.

  • Maria Pereira

    Joel Gonzalez, your repeated inaccurate statements only serves to demonstrate that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. This is something many OIB readers have become accustomed to.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      Again Maria Pereira:

      I challenge Maria Pereira to produce this “thorough cost analysis” to Lennie Grimaldi and If she doesn’t, I request that Lennie Grimaldi gets it under the FOI act.

      • Maria Pereira

        Why don’t you file a FOIA request? Alan Wallach and Bobby Hammond provided the analysis. It was distributed and discussed at length in several Finance Committee meetings.

        Our fees for facilities usage are codified in detail in board policy which is easily available online.

      • Maria Pereira

        Why don’t you file a FOIA request? Alan Wallach and Bobby Hammond provided the analysis. It was distributed and discussed at length in several Finance Committee meetings.

        Our fees for facilities usage are codified in detail in board policy which is easily available online.

      • Maria Pereira

        Your statement that you have consistently respected the views posted here by others is just ludicrous.

        A better poll would be do OIB readers think you should go pack to the Capitol steps and chop off your other index finger.

        You are not all there, Joel.

        • Joel Gonzalez

          Maria pereira, why go to the Capitol steps? On June 7, 2017, Lennie Grimaldi will be hosting the OIB 10th. anniversary. Finger food is on the menu. How about I chop-off the other index finger and feed it to you? I’d call that Piranha food.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      Hey Lennie, read Maria Pereira’s posting above. I think there’s only one way to settle this one. Maria constantly speaks for other on the BOE and many others. NOW she is speaking for “many OIB readers.” I’ve always respected other views and opinions including Maria Pereira’s. How about an OIB poll on Maria’s comment and opinion?

  • John Marshall Lee

    Joel, It’s hardball time and time to look at the lineup of dollars. For several years I have pointed to the Lighthouse program and asked why the City Council is presented with only a PART of that program budget but ALL of their youth activities. Still asking this year and now Maria is too. You see, there is no other person at Lighthouse drawing a six figure income and, perhaps, sharing the management “burden”? Ms. Marella received more than $100,000 annually from this program, though when she left, what reorganization made that salary unnecessary? Before that time, there was a young good looking guy from New Jersey, Finch’s education czar perhaps? Didn’t he draw a salary of $100,000 or more? Does anyone see the detail of the Lighthouse budget who votes on City funds going to the program? My initial sore point was that City Council only looked at the City revenues of about $1.5 to 1.8 Million that flow from the taxpayer….and the taxpayer was never made aware of the parent and family fees of $850,000 that should show up on the revenue page of the City monthly financial report, but do not. What is an answer for this significant exception? Fees by businesses paid to the City or by me to the Town Clerk or City Clerk over their counter show up as revenue items. They do not go into any “internal service fund” that is addressed in the budget of CAFR from my observation post. Why not? They get spent, on the youth programs, don’t they? Or is this a variation of youthful “splash pads” build for young kids in the hot days of summer for relief? Perhaps those dollars go into a “slush fund” for adults to provide relief in the dark for the administration?

    And lest anyone forget, there is State money in the range of $2-2.5 Million that has been coming in for this same City department. But City Departments do not show such revenues, or where they are spent, etc. Why not? The School System site keeps track of where grant dollars enter the BOE system, how many people are hired and at what sites the work is done. Why does the City do such a poor job of OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE, and TRANSPARENT governance when it comes to money in general, and Lighthouse in particular?
    (Notice that I have raised all of these issues, today, again as I have in the past, and without referring to the potential for dishonest governance when human relations ‘outside the office’ are maintained and supported, year after year to the disadvantage of the “faceless” taxpaying public.)

    Where is the shame? Where is there any embarrassment at being paid to do a critical mission with public money and instead participating in dishonest financial activity and reporting? Only in Bridgeport? But that is not a good answer.

    Contrast and compare, if you will.
    Look at the books of a local respected not for profit with a similar youth mission, the Wakeman-Burroughs program with summer and after school programs of many year duration. Compare the participation numbers over multiple years. Compare the expenses that are reported by each program. Contrast the ease with which Lighthouse through the taxpayer in Bridgeport, the taxpayer in CT and family fees raises more than 65% more funds than the contributions plus fees used by the non-profit THAT INCLUDE THE EXPENSE OF REAL ESTATE FOR THEIR PROGRAM ACTIVITIES YEAR IN AND YEAR OUT. Does board oversight produce good programs, providing safe and secure space, in an efficient manner? What does Mayor Ganim need to do to show his management skills in this regard? Time will tell.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      Thank you JML, I catch your drift. There’s a big difference in the way you handle discussions and financial matters and the way Maria Pereira goes about it. You do your best to answer questions without attacking the messenger. I remember when I was on the council and I started to ask questions and ask for more documents.
      When Rick Torres tried the same thing many years after I, Lisa P, and Bob Walsh. we where pretty much shut down. The reason or ruling of the city attorney was explained by an interpretation of the charter–Only when a majority or the entire body of the council requested more information and documents, the city would provide the materials requested. There must be Charter Revision and amending of state statues in order to prevent and avoid the many decisions or actions of the past. For example, Ganim was allowed by Statue to appoint the BOE members. Hennessy was allowed to secretly switch party and cause the mess we saw in the BOE. They council wants to pass a resolution calling for residency reporting of city and elected officials. Why not a resolution or state law requiring the immediate reporting of elected BOE or city officials who switch party? There are many people lining up to run for City Council but, they don’t have a platform or ideas of things they would change. Heck, I’ve explained and stated some of the things I’d try to change and why. You would think that those who are elected and read about these ideas would pick them up and make the change they always allude to. Let’s take Maria Pereira for example. She mentioned the WPCA bill as one of the expenses the BOE covers for the Lighthouse program. I suggested the BOE looks into finding a way to have the WPCA cost exempted for all schools. You can read her response and reaction–It flew right over her head.

      When I was on the council, we started the process of awarding CDBG funds. I noticed that non-profit applying for funds, didn’t provide their books or some access to them. I’m surpred to read that the Wakemen-Burroughs has allowed you to view their books. During my 6 term, they refused such request. Budget Chairman Pat Crossin (R.I.P.) transferred fund from the West End Development Corporation to the Burroughs. Can you get those books today? Time will tell.

    • Marshall Marcus

      “the taxpayer was never made aware of the parent and family fees of $850,000 that should show up on the revenue page of the City monthly financial report, but do not.”

      I have in my hands the January 2017 ‘Lighthouse News’ that is distributed to participants/parents. On page 2 it discusses costs and fees that are collected. They range from a minimum of $5 per child per week to a maximum of $20. There are also fees of $2 per day for 6 PM pickup and Late Fees of $5 per 15 minute increment of late pickup…to be paid in cash only.

      These Fees are NOT transmitted to the City who funds the [program, instead “Fees collected will be used for special programs such as Chess, Ballroom Dancing, Karate, Choir, Music, Art and general operations.”

      What is so special about music and art that they aren’t funded already in the programming budget.

      These funds are subject to all kinds of use that may not be in accordance with the budget as submitted and approved when the City Council funds Lighthouse.
      As for the late fees that must be paid in cash before a child may return????????? Who is accounting for that loose money?

      This money handling and spending decision system does meet GAAP.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    “Joel, It’s hardball time and time to look at the lineup of dollars.”

    This is part of your problem. Hardball time? General lee needs to change his fighting strategy and game. It’s hand grenade time and as “General Lee”, you must take this message to your troop and allies. FIRE IN THE HOLE!

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