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.