On a night the public was invited to speak about Mayor Joe Ganim’s $542 million proposed budget, most delivered passionate appeals for additional education spending including the city’s new school chief Aresta Johnson who told the City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee “We want (school children) to have the same things other children have whether Hartford or Westport.”
About 60 members of the public attended the public hearing Tuesday night reserved for discussion on the general budget but most addressed the council on education even though a public hearing on the education side of the spending plan is slated for next Tuesday, 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers.
Johnson implored the council to add millions more in education funding to Ganim’s budget that calls for no tax increase but falls well short of what she asserts is necessary to achieve even the basics. She declared the education portion of the budget, as presented, is “a path to destruction for our children,” adding “it’s about the vibrancy of the community.” Johnson said the budget must cover critical positions such as social workers and child psychiatrists.
Later, Johnson said, Ganim hasn’t even taken the time to meet with her about his flat-funded school budget.
Ashli Giles-Perkins who graduated from Central High School about six years ago said “We’re suffering because we’re not investing in education … We’re asking for things that seem common sense.”
Education parent JoAnn Kennedy told the budget committee, “Children aren’t political people … You’re gonna have to answer to God almighty for decisions you make.”
One of the first speakers Niels Hellman, a financial analyst, wondered whether the growth of the budget over the past several years is keeping pace with the things residents want. He cited the largest percentage increases within police, fire, benefits and City Attorney’s Office, but education spending growth has lagged behind, adding budgets are “gypping the area that’s most important to residents.”
Board of Education member Maria Pereira said “No municipality contributes less to public schools than Bridgeport.” Her colleague on the school board Howard Gardner said the “mayor is pulling the plug on life support.”
City resident Paul Butcher who identified himself as an accountant protested the voluminous budget document as “incomprehensible drivel,” drawing the largest laugh of the evening.
The public hearing, as these things go, did not generate a large crowd, but wider than the two lonely city residents that occupied the council chambers for a likewise public hearing one year ago.
The council’s budget committee, co-chaired by Scott Burns and Denese Taylor-Moye, will cram a number of meetings in the coming weeks before making changes, voting on the budget and sending it to the full City Council for a vote. It then goes back to the mayor for possible veto action and then setting of the mil rate in June for the budget year starting July 1.
City finance officials are crossing fingers that what’s mostly proposed in the budget will materialize as they await the passing of the state budget that sends hundreds of millions to the city.