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.