Will The Mayor Draw A Line In The Sand Over School Spending?

The Bridgeport City Council has four weeks to mess with Mayor Bill Finch’s proposed budget that calls for $7 million more for city schools and millions more in pension payments representing the largest tax increase since the mayor’s first budget in 2008. The council, however, has little history of defying Finch’s spending plan. Could this be the one? If so, how will the mayor respond?

The mayor’s action to reform public education this past year is historic. It has led to an appointed Board of Education (reversed by the Connecticut Supreme Court following a legal challenge), a nationally renowned education manager (Paul Vallas) to supervise schools, a proposed infusion of cash this year and even a recent declaration by the mayor that city schools are among the worst in New England. The mayor is now combining reality with rhetoric. He has decided to own education as the central reform measure of his mayoralty and it doesn’t appear, so far, he’s going to back down, scheduling a series of neighborhood meetings to pitch his budget proposal, bringing in mayors from around the state and country for like-minded public forums. Finch’s next public budget presentation will take place Wednesday, 6 p.m. at the Black Rock Branch Library, 2705 Fairfield Avenue.

What will Finch do if the council decides to cut back education spending? Perhaps he’d swallow a small haircut, but will he allow the council to cut back his education spending by millions? Is this a starting point for a middle ground after flat-funding city schools the prior three years? The mayor has strong veto power and the budget will go back to the mayor for action after the council votes on his spending plan.

All of this is expected to lead up to city voters deciding a ballot question in November: appointed or elected school board?

Finch’s critics wonder about the mayor’s new-found education religion. Is it simply to seize control of the school budget? The way it currently works is Finch proposes his budget to the City Council which decides how much money it wants to give city schools. After that they have no say. Mayoral appointment of school board members, depending on the structure, will increase his influence over education spending. The mayor, or any future mayor, could remove board members who don’t see things his way.

Critics also wonder how their mayor goes from no investment in city schools to a windfall. The mayor has an answer for that: what was the point of investing taxpayer dollars in a dysfunctional system? We now have the pieces in place to make it work.

Over the next several weeks the council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee, led by co-chairs Angel dePara and Bob Curwen, will host a series of budget sessions including tonight (Monday), 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 45 Lyon Terrace, in the Democratic Caucus Room inside council chambers.

City Council members and contact info here.

Agenda for Budget and Appropriations Committee

Approval of Committee Minutes: February 13, 2012

General discussion regarding the review of the Monthly Financial Report.

64-11 Proposed Five-Year Capital Plan (CP) for Fiscal Years 2013-2017.

69-11 Proposed Budget Modification to the FY 2011-2012 General Fund Budget: Increase Line Item 01827000 55540 BOE Tuition ($1,522,873) and Increase the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Revenue Line Item 01863000 44520 ($1,522,873).

70-11 Proposed General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013.



  1. I agree with the shithead. Why invest money in a dysfunctional program? It’s too bad Testa and Timpanelli have to be consulted about these money issues.

    The ‘nutrition services’ part of this spending has me puzzled. Russo got us an audit fund of $250,000. That money was placed in the hands of Paul Timpanelli. Why on earth would we allow an audit to be controlled by a guy who needs to be audited? The eggs are starting to smell like fish in this area.

    Hey Vallas … next time you and ‘Johnny the Nose’ and Don Calamari sit town to a power dinner, ask them how the Russo audit is going. OK?

  2. Go to the Mayor’s budget book, 2013, please. Go to page 17 where our “finance mavens” have alerted us to the City’s largest taxpayers in 1999 and in 2008. Hot news!!! Here we have an example of our “award-winning” crew of fiscal experts. That is what the Mayor said of “national awards for budget transparency” in his Budget 2012 Transmittal Letter. Let’s look at the detail, or at least some of it, together.

    What has happened to the October 2009? 2010? 2011 Net Grand Lists that should be on page 17? Wouldn’t the computer spit them out so we might see how the revenue required from the City taxpayer per the proposed 2013 budget might turn out in terms of a Mil rate??? It’s Math not Magic, right?

    Speaking of other things the Mayor references, let’s look at his comments on retirement plan funding: “there is also a $10.5 Million cost in this budget that the City is shouldering in legacy spending. While this is very difficult for middle-income taxpayers who are fitting (sic) (does Bill mean ‘footing,’ because the taxpayer cannot kick things into the future like his fiscal advisers have done and the City Council has approved in recent years) the bill, Bridgeport is …” Let’s look at some of the pension/retirement facts and figures:
    * Pension Plan A funding for police (page 147 – 52512) and fire (page 162-51512) show 2011 actual spending total of $5 Million, 2012 budgeted total of $4,520,000, 2013 total requested of $4,520,000 and 2013 proposed total $10,499,000. Who made the 2013 total request? Who made the 2013 total proposal? Aren’t these the same people? Why are they so different? What is going on here? More important are the full details of the secret agreement Mayor Finch has made for the past two years with the State of CT. Are these the results? Where is the actuarial report? It is great to talk about responsibility to retirement plans after shirking the burden for four years. (It is also great to talk about education in the same way and claim in defense the BOE leadership was deficient as leaders.) But in this case you as Mayor were and you are still responsible. Is it possible you raised the amount to this level so you could back away from the 7% tax increase? Clever to think that way, isn’t it?

    But speaking of cleverness, why not announce at the same time relative to public-safety retirement plans, the 2013 City budget assumes Fire and Police personnel, formerly or currently under Pension B City plans, will be covered under State of CT MERF plans. That change seems to bring with it a reduction in retirement funding of $2,326,000 that is good news and reduces the $10.5 Million number.
    Secondly look at other departments budget detail in the Appropriations Summary and you will frequently see MERF Pension Employer Contributions increasing at a much higher % than the Full Time Earned Pay %. Why is that? Something for the City Council to look at? You bet! Is cutting due here?

    One last thing for today, folks. Go to the Controller’s office where Dawn Norton is listed as Manager. See the Personnel Summary on page 42. First column listing FILL adds up to 8 people but the total shows 9, right? (Perhaps Ms. Norton did not review the math, the personnel summary, or the entire presentation?) The second column shows 2 vacant positions (with an increase of 12% in pay that led me to look at last year to see if these are real or “ghost” positions.
    Last year showed 10.5 filled (and the totals added up correctly) but had 4.0 vacant positions (including the same two Accounting Clerk II positions, however their compensation totaled only $78,092 rather than the $122,532 shown in the Mayor’s 2013 proposal as Budget FY 2012. Numbers not adding up for you? Confused yet? Well it seems the Mayor is actually cutting four people from this department for a 2013 $210,000 savings and I guess that is good if you can run a department with eight, nine, or even with two ghost positions. However, the totals for Budget FY 2012 of $770,397 for current year personnel costs does not agree with the Appropriation Summary just above on Page 42 that shows Comptrollers Personal Svcs of $820,949 for FY 2012 Budget. What is going on? If you handed such a homework assignment in for a college accounting class, what grade would it get? This Department Head also manages the Finance Department.

    You cannot make this stuff up, can you? If you turn back to page 41, You will read the narrative comment of the departmental Mission Statement.
    “The Mission of the Comptroller’s Office is to prepare and maintain all financial records of the City of Bridgeport.” So we have a budget before us where numbers do not add up, totals don’t balance, actual City reports used in the narrative employ statistics that are several years out of date, and the public is supposed to trust the presentation, the Mayor’s explanation, real examples of inflated “ghost positions,” City Council watchdog function? Maybe the entire group, fiscal administrators, City Council members, and Mayor Finch ought to take this entire mess, present it to the hand-picked Charter Revision Committee and see if there is not a larger elephant in the room than whether the BOE is appointed or elected. What say you? Have you looked at the City Budget 2013, read the Mayor’s letter and looked at the section devoted to your favorite City department? Let us know what you think? It matters. Time will tell.

  3. What people don’t understand about JML is he genuinely gives a shit. How he makes his money and spends his time is nobody’s damned business.
    Having worked with JML on many of these projects he is sincere and gives a damn about Bridgeport. We have spent many hours looking over the budgets for the past two years and we have given seminars all over the city to try and tell people they are getting screwed.
    What people don’t realize is when you reach a certain stage in your life you can do what the hell you want to do. JML has chosen to do good things for others like working at food banks and building playgrounds in Haiti. It’s nobodies business what he does. I myself chose to watchdog the budget with JML; other than that I don’t do much other than what I want to do which may include not doing a damned thing, retirement is great.
    If more people gave a damn maybe this idiot would not be in office and maybe the school system would not be as screwed up as it is.
    JML is a friend of mine and I support him 100%. To the rest of you, get off your asses and do something other than piss and moan.

  4. *** JML; a bit long-winded when it comes to “affairs of the city budget” but right on point with the line items smoke & mirrors game! Political promises promises, takes money sooner or later the longer Finch stays Mayor. Those who endorsed and voted for Finch, family and friends as well as those who decided to “not vote” at all should have no complaints one way or another, no? The remaining voters should continue to care, voice their opinions more and pay close attention to all city government spending in general. It’s an “us against them” city government mentality that continues to separate city residents from those who are supposed to be representing and looking out for the taxpayers’ best interest. Slowly, district by district with a unified effort to inform and educate city voters young and old is the only way to push towards some type of city government change! This upcoming city budget is just the tip of the iceberg concerning rising city taxes, education, support services, economic development and overall city spending. *** WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLETS? ***

  5. *** Line in the sand right now looks like $7 million for education and $2 million for in-kind services, no? *** GOT TO GET UNDER BEFORE YOU GET OVER! ***

  6. We are grateful to you, Fardy, and to JML. You both have a message and we appreciate your very hard work. Your postings [Fardy] are readable. JML’s are not. At least not by the people he needs to reach. He doesn’t get this message. He is a self-impressed pedant who writes for his own edification. The worst of all blowhards. It is frustrating this blowhard has a worthy message. If he could make this message comprehensible, he just might cause some of the brain-dead registered non-voters to get off their asses and get out and vote for what we really need in this town; a clean sweep of all of the Calamarians. You, perhaps, can explain this to him. The message is simple. WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW AND WHAT YOU FIND OUT. We do not need the volumes of parenthetical drivel so prevalent in JML’s postings. It isn’t funny anymore. There is no more clever repartee. You, JML, aren’t getting your message across so all the hard work you are doing is for naught. It is that plain and it is that simple.

    1. yahooy,
      Open the Budget Book 2013 to the Mayor’s letter. Read it. Think about it. Discuss with the public. Now go to the other pages I have referenced for those too busy to do their own research. I am giving you what I know, in the best way I know how, as a teacher would to “remedial finance students” who have missed a lot of material along the way. Not blaming you because City Hall tries to keep the financial facts out of your field of vision.

      You don’t raise issues with specific facts often, so if you want to borrow someone else’s knowledge, I have no problem with that. But if you want to do the “deeper drilling,” you have to be able to connect the facts, and that may take more words to do a thorough, competent job to my standards, not City standards. (See Controller Department budget entry 2013.)

      When the CT Post does an article exposing an issue, is it limited to sound bites? Or does it contain facts and analysis you call “parenthetical drivel?” Now will I hear you don’t care about the Post because you don’t “read that rag?” Your loss, I guess. The world does not meet our every expectation I have learned.

      So I’ll make you a deal. You don’t read my writing on principle and I will gladly ignore yours (or sneak a peek occasionally). Sorry for that parenthetical drivel!!! Who is the WE in WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW? Call me. Make an appointment. Yesterday I spent an hour with an elected official. Today with a member of the press corps. Tomorrow Andy and I will be on the radio. Friday, final edit on a second YouTube video. Busy week. You know my number if you really WANT TO FIND OUT.

      By the way, I think the message is coming across in places you would not have guessed. It is a long slog, takes time, but Bridgeporters have an unsinkable mentality at times and it is certainly called for here. Call it B.S. detection. Call it ‘common sense’ if you wish, but it can be uncommon. People are catching on to the truth of City operations that is in contrast to the rhetoric of the message from City Hall. Time will tell.

  7. You just don’t get it. I read every word. I understand what you are saying. I agree with what you are saying and support what you are saying. I spend a lot of time with the people who do the suffering in this town. These are the people who have to move from their family homes of 50, 60, 70 years even. These are people who have no place to send their children to school. These are people who are afraid to walk the streets at night. These are people who once were proud to live and work in a great community. They haven’t got the foggiest idea of what you are saying.

    If you say the same thing in a more brief manner you will reach a greater audience. Tone your rhetoric back quite a bit.

    1. Why don’t you get a group of them together some day. Let me know in advance. Fardy and I will show up with the PowerPoint. People who have been through that seem to get it, once exposed. They are able to ask their own questions and get an explanation to their satisfaction. We have pictures too, that help.
      You talk of people moving from family homes of 50, 60, 70 years. Can I assume most of these folks are of a different generation than the original houseowner? So what have they learned about Bridgeport over the years? And why are they not telling Andy they get it? And JML they don’t get it? Our offer still stands, assuming you are representing the WE of people who have to move. Where are folks moving to? I am around many who are suffering also. For the most part they are a hopeful group. When asked a question about why I was in the newspaper or on TV they seem to get it. Let’s have a class, yahooy. Time will tell.

  8. *** JML, let’s ask some of our local university’s finance major students for their independent view on Bpt’s overall city budget review. Would be quite interesting and nonpolitical coming from a student’s view, no? *** INDEPENDENT VIEW ***

  9. JML,
    Your writings are incomprehensible by the average person who follows on this blog. You are, therefore, doing absolutely no good. Your message, albeit a good one, a needed one, is lost.

    It is too bad. One with your passion could have done a lot of good.


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