Finch: City Will Increase Investment In School Reform

Emphasizing school improvement and job creation Mayor Bill Finch issued his annual address to the Bridgeport business community Wednesday afternoon reasserting the need for mayoral control of the school budget and highlighting reforms initiated by new schools chief Paul Vallas. The mayor also offered his first public clue during his speech at the Holiday Inn that he will invest more money in the school system after flatlining the city’s contribution for three years.

“Along with creating more efficiency in the way we run our schools, I am also recommending that the City increase its investment in Superintendent Vallas’ reform plans,” the mayor announced. Finch will present his budget to the City Council April 2. Text of mayor’s speech below:

Ladies and gentlemen of Bridgeport’s business community, thank you for inviting me to address you this afternoon. This is a tradition, in which I am very proud to participate. However, this year’s address will be unlike any of the previous four that I’ve had the honor to present to you.

In past years, I’ve stood here and told you all about the City’s great accomplishments–and they have been considerable. I can certainly do that again this year. I can speak in great detail about all that Bridgeport has achieved during the last four years:

• Our population has grown for the first time in 60 years,
o Proof that people are choosing the sustainable lifestyle that we are promoting.

• Our efforts in sustainability have us on a path to being the cleanest, greenest city in the region.
o We are saving energy,
o Increasing recycling rates,
o Reducing our costs
o And promoting innovative green strategies.

• Our Downtown is alive and full of activity.

• Our finances have consistently earned positive bond ratings.

• Our City is spending less each year since I took office.

• Our Police Department has added 45 new officers.

• And, Our Fire Department has added 25 new firefighters and continues to lead the nation in the installation of life saving smoke alarms.

Clearly, we are making progress and moving Bridgeport forward.

But I’m not here today merely to address our successes.

I am here today to address our two greatest challenges:

• Improving our schools, and

• Growing our local economy to bring more jobs to Bridgeport.

We have done this before. Bridgeport has achieved greatness through education and job creation before, through industry, ingenuity and innovation.

We are the city of aviation pioneers, Gustave Whitehead and Igor Sikorsky.

We are the city of inventor Lewis Latimer, who worked with Thomas Edison on manufacturing the first light bulbs.

We are the city of the world’s greatest showman and our nation’s most famous mayor, P.T. Barnum.

In just 176 years of existence, our tiny 16 square-mile city has made a huge impact on the world. But the world we live in is changing, and changing quickly! In order to build a Bridgeport that can successfully compete in this changing world, we, too, must change.

We must do so together and we must start now!

We must learn from our proud past, and we must answer the two most important questions of the present:

• What are we going to do to improve our schools?

• How are we going to grow our local economy to bring more jobs to Bridgeport?

As everyone in this room knows, there are not enough jobs available, and our schools have often failed in preparing students for the jobs that ARE available.

I’m here today to ask you, what are we going to do about it? What can we do to assure a future of greatness for our city?

We are in this effort together. I need your involvement and your investment on these two fronts.

Success in education reform and job creation will produce, in the words of Governor Malloy, “an economic revival.”

Falling short on either front will keep Bridgeport from reasserting its greatness and keep us from responding to these new and changing times.

As the parent of four public school students (two current students and two graduates) in the lowest performing district in the state, I refuse to sit on the sidelines and allow our education system to continually fail our students. I cannot continue to allow our city to have the highest concentration of failing schools in the state.

And neither can you!

We have 14 of the 50 failing schools in the state located in our City. In 2011, only 22.5% of our third graders were reading at the state’s goal level.

The issue of public education has ignited debates for generations. Parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and government leaders alike, have asked the difficult questions and have searched for answers.

But the most important question of all is: What is best for the students?

Sadly, most of the debate on education surrounds the adults, not the students.

That is why I risked political capital last summer and supported the state Board of Education’s decision to appoint a new local Board. That decision was called into question then, and again more recently. I believed in that decision, which has given us more civility, more progress, more accountability and more focus on the students than we’ve ever seen before. I made that decision then and I stand by it now. I made that decision for one reason and one reason only: because I believe it was the right decision for the students of Bridgeport.

We now have a Board of Education that consists of seven members who are not motivated by political gain. They are motivated by what is best for our students.

That is why I am working with the new Board on all fronts to assure that this progress is not lost, and we don’t fall victim to what we have seen too often in education … taking one step forward and two steps back.

Our school system is at a critical crossroads. We must address our schools’ challenges head-on and begin to pursue a long-term solution to improving our schools.

Every decision we make–every decision we make–should be about our student’s future.

Nothing more, nothing less.

It is not about politics, it is about progress.

It is not about expediency, it is about excellence.

As a result of my decision last year, the City’s schools are now being run by a nationally renowned superintendent – Mr. Paul Vallas. Thank you Robert Trefry and the Board for bringing Paul Vallas to Bridgeport!

Superintendent Vallas and I are working closely together to improve academic performance by:

• Expanding school choice and open enrollment.

• Increasing the use of technology to support learning.

• Enhancing the quality of teaching by strengthening our curriculum and instructional models.

• Expanding early childhood education with an emphasis on “the cradle to the classroom” approach.

• And creating the “Good Schools Bridgeport Foundation”
o This foundation will secure public and private funding that would not traditionally be accessible to the district.

These are just a few of the classroom reforms in Superintendent Vallas’ bold and visionary plan. Additionally, we are also working together to:

• Modernize and beautify facilities

• Streamline the Board’s Central Office.

• Monitor the budget more effectively and have a stable plan ahead for the next five years.

• And stretch our tax dollars to deliver services more efficiently

For example: Previously, the City’s taxpayers were paying for two public works departments, one on the City side and one on the Board of Education side. Currently, we are in the process of merging these departments.

Under the leadership of Chief Joseph Gaudett, we are working on merging school security with the Bridgeport Police Department.

The Purchasing department and the Information Technology department are two other areas where the City and the Board of Education are looking to work together more efficiently.

The City of Bridgeport has also:

• Taken over budgetary costs for school crossing guards.

• Agreed to transfer the sale proceeds of 948 Main Street to the Board of Education

• And we have agreed to take over school solid waste and recycling.
o This move will increase school participation in recycling efforts and save us money.

Through these initiatives, we have already provided the Board of Education with an additional $2 million towards closing the current budget gap which was inherited from previous leadership.

Along with creating more efficiency in the way we run our schools, I am also recommending that the City increase its investment in Superintendent Vallas’ reform plan.

I firmly believe that we have an unprecedented opportunity to turn our schools around:

• Connecticut has a Governor who has made education reform a statewide priority.

• Our state also has an education commissioner, Stefan Pryor, who is focused on turning around low-performing schools.

• Bridgeport currently has an apolitical Board of Education that has stabilized our system, and has created a culture of civility that I hope to see continue beyond their days in office.

• Bridgeport also has a Superintendent of Schools with a track record of success in some of the nation’s largest cities.

• And we have an opportunity to make the Office of Mayor more accountable on the issue of education.

The City’s Charter as it is currently written, however, limits what any Mayor can do.

Reform is within our reach, but I believe that without an overhaul of our current system, we risk allowing real, sustained progress to slip away.

Here’s why: The current charter allows for two bodies of elected officials. One has spending authority without any taxation authority (BOE) while the other (the City) is responsible for half of the spending but all of the taxation. That has allowed adults to point fingers for political gain, while often forgetting the students.

We need a system where one person, the Mayor whoever that Mayor may be, is held accountable for the performance of our students–similar to the system that New Haven has had for nearly 100 years.

This is among the many reasons why I have just initiated a Charter Revision process. The City of Bridgeport needs a new vision for governance; a modern efficient charter will help us realize that vision.

A new charter would

• Give us greater accountability

• Modernize our business and government practices; and,

• Engage our citizens in what will be a prosperous future

The City’s charter has not been substantially changed in decades and decades. These documents were written before the Internet. Actually, much of it was written before the existence of the Interstate Highway system.

The time is now to overhaul the Charter.

Thank you to the members of the Charter Revision Commission. They are currently fact finding, bringing in national experts, and working very hard for the future of our city.

I urge Bridgeport residents and you, to support a more modern, constitutional form of a charter–a charter that will allow for Bridgeport to be nimble and respond to the demands of a rapidly changing world.

With your support and with the necessary changes to our Charter, Bridgeport can have better schools that will expect more from our students, more from our teachers, more from our parents, more from our administrators and more from our Mayor.

Bridgeport can also have a dynamic and relevant school system that ties education to job opportunities.

This is one area where your assistance is required.

What will you do to provide a Bridgeport student with work experience? You have the opportunity to make a difference in:

• A student’s life

• The future of your business and

• In our local economy, as well.

With the assistance of local businesses, young Bridgeport residents can add to the classroom experience with real-life work experience in healthcare, finance, technology, manufacturing and much more.

With your help, we can ensure that our high schools are providing real work preparation through work study job training electives and apprentice electives through our trade unions.

On your table is a card. Please, fill it out and hand it in to a representative from my office on your way out if you’d like to learn more about the work study initiative promoted by Superintendent Vallas and me.

Please, fill it out to learn how you can add youthful enthusiasm to your workforce, and improve the lives of Bridgeport students.

The opportunity to have a workforce that can compete in this global economy is right here in this room.

What will you do to seize this opportunity?

Improving our schools is a tall task, but it is only half of what it is required to rebuild Bridgeport’s greatness and create an economic revival.

Job creation is the other. And they really are two sides of the same coin.

New businesses are moving into Bridgeport at a steady pace, and this is only the beginning of our economic revival.

Ours is a true partnership, and I will continue working closely with, all of you to carry on the substantial progress that we have made together. Government and Business!

Last fall, Governor Malloy and I stood alongside LJ Blaiotta, CEO/President of Columbia Elevator as we cut the ribbon on their new manufacturing facilities on Horace Street in the City’s East Side. Thank you for moving your business to Bridgeport!

Earlier this year, along with many of you, I stood with Congressman Jim Himes, and Environment & Energy Commissioner Dan Esty as we celebrated the opening of Bridgeport Biodiesel with its partners Bill Malone and Debbie Russo.

Their plant is one of the first components of our planned Eco-Industrial Park, a major priority of my BGreen 2020 plan to create ‘green’ jobs, which the Brookings Institute tells us pay 13% higher than similar non-green jobs.

Later this year, the next phase of the Eco-Industrial Park will open–a mattress recycling plant which will extract the steel and other basic elements to be made into other products.

And this afternoon, I will join Steve Montello, the former owner of Saltwater Grill in Stamford, to cut the ribbon on their newest venture, Barnum Publick House located on Broad Street directly across from my office. This business left Stamford to open up in Bridgeport.

Along with the addition of new businesses, we are also proud of the establishments that are staples of our city like the Schwerdtle Stamp Company, which has called Bridgeport home since 1879. Thank you Kathy Saint, for keeping Schwerdtle in Bridgeport. Where it belongs!

Thank you Fletcher-Thompson for returning home to Bridgeport! Welcome back!

Thank you Joe Carbone, of The Workplace Inc., whose innovative “Platform to Success” program was featured on “60 Minutes,” for opening additional offices in Downtown on Fairfield Ave.

These are just a few examples of people who have invested their futures in Bridgeport.

They believe in Bridgeport.

They’re right, and they’re not alone.

There are many more investors who believe in our City and will be contributing to our economic revival.

That economic revival will take shape in the Downtown Village District, Steelpointe Harbor and the East Bridgeport Development Corridor.

Because of bold plans and innovative thinking that you and I have worked on together, the days of missed opportunities in Bridgeport are over.

Last summer our Office of Planning and Economic Development began its search for qualified developers for the Downtown Village District, a six-acre neighborhood, across six city blocks, commonly known as Downtown North.

Their search generated significant interest from a wide variety of developers and investors who share our vision for development.

That vision is laid out in the City’s Master Plan, which calls for:

• Preserving our historic buildings

• Building shops, restaurants and apartments

• Attracting the creative class

• And continuing to grow an exciting sense of place for our Downtown.

This represents the next chapter in the revitalization of our Downtown, and it also represents jobs and economic growth for our City.

With the help of Congressman Himes, the City secured an $11 million TIGER grant from the federal government for infrastructure work on Steelpointe Harbor. In the coming months, shovels will be in the ground and work on the peninsula will begin. This will lay the foundation for this game-changing development project.

Some of you may have heard me talk about the East Bridgeport Development Corridor–a swath of land that runs from the harbor’s mouth at Pleasure Beach along Seaview Avenue and over into Stratford. This transit-oriented development corridor encompasses the former General Electric plant on Boston Avenue, and extends to the former DuPont property (Remington Woods)–all together a vast tract of over 700 acres.

As we speak, the former GE and Remington Woods sites, two parcels critical to this corridor, are being cleaned at zero cost to taxpayers. The GE site alone represents more than 70 acres–what will be one of the largest clean parcels of land available for development in the city in more than decades.

Using more than $1 million in state bonding money, thanks to Governor Malloy, we will begin the demolition of the city-owned portion of the former Remgrit site. A feasibility study will soon be underway for the much needed P.T. Barnum Train Station, a second train station for Bridgeport, which would be constructed on that site.

We see a great future in the East Bridgeport Development corridor–this is where the City plans to:

• Capitalize on the growing healthcare sector,

• Build a sustainable, vibrant, walkable 21st Century community in Bridgeport’s East Side and East End

• And bring jobs and development to the region

As the prices of fuel skyrocket, thriving cities throughout the country are focusing on transit-oriented development just like what we are planning in the East Bridgeport Development Corridor.

Bridgeport is rebuilding and reforming. As we build, there will be no shortage of jobs. And as we reform there will be no shortage of trained residents.

There isn’t an inch of this great City that I haven’t walked through. There is not a group of residents I haven’t talked to. There isn’t a day that goes by, where I am not asked about education and jobs.

Education and jobs are not only MY priorities, they are OUR priorities.

We are a City of a proud past. To create a Bridgeport full of opportunity for our children and provide our students with the tools to compete in this ever-changing technical world, we must address our education system and we must bring jobs here.

Let’s reinvent the home of inventions like the sewing machine, the submarine and the helicopter, and inspire a new generation of world-class invention.

Let’s reinvigorate the entrepreneurial spirit of P.T. Barnum to reform our schools and bring jobs to our city.

Let’s rebuild Bridgeport’s greatness together.



  1. Pure and utter bullshit! This from a man who did not increase funding for the BOE in 4 years. This from a man who is the titular head of the Democratic party here in Bridgeport. People can blame Testa if they want but I know if Finch had specific candidates he wanted on the BOE they would have been there.
    This from a man who had two of his strongest allies in the gang of six that ran the BOE.
    It’s my right to have a say on who serves on the BOE, you took that right from me Mr. Finch. Do I know about the budget and the BOE budget? Yes I do and I along with BEACON2 have caught a lot of the schemes and hiding of money via ghost positions you and your administration have engaged in.
    BTW why is Timpanelli and company part of the new supt. financial review policy?
    I will fight you on an all-apponted BOE. Be ready.

  2. Beautiful words … which call for actions based on political courage, moral integrity, absence of hypocrisy, as well as a minder of public service … not self-service!
    Is this possible in the Finch/Wood administration?

  3. Keep those Finchettes off the BOE.

    I’ll VOTE NO! to a Charter Change.

    Down with the Finchettes!

    Hey Bill, keep my $650 Tax Rebate.

    It’s Time for a Tax Strike!!!

    The Jim & Tom Show every Wednesday from 9am to 10am.
    WDJZ 1530AM

  4. This was Mayor Finch’s version of of Republican Party President Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America”

    “It’s morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history. With interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon 6,500 young men and women will be married, and with inflation at less than half of what it was just four years ago, they can look forward with confidence to the future. It’s morning again in America, and under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?”

    I’ve said it before, Mayor Finch needs a new speech writer and he needs to stop trying to be a comedian with such a phony and funny speech.

  5. “We now have a Board of Education that consists of seven members who are not motivated by political gain. They are motivated by what is best for our students.”

    What is he talking about? OUR students? The majority of the board does not live in Bridgeport. The majority of the board does not have students in Bridgeport PUBLIC schools. So what actually does motivate these people? Change for change’s sake? Claiming to be willing to risk the future of our OUR children in some education laboratory that may not work just to strut their egos on the slim chance something does stick?

    Please Mr. Mayor, go back to selling snake oil.

  6. • And creating the “Good Schools Bridgeport Foundation”
    o This foundation will secure public and private funding that would not traditionally be accessible to the district.

    This could have be done by Dr. Salcedo and/or Dr. Ramos.
    So again, cut out the lies. This avenue was always available and it was always a School Board controlled by the Democratic machine in the city that choose the Superintendent.
    The truth be told, no one from the outside would give money to Bridgeport if Bridgeport wasn’t willing to take care of its own.

  7. One year ago during the evening for BOE budget hearing before the City Council, it became clear the then BOE could not form a budget to be presented, so the City presented a repeat listing of the 2010 BOE budget.
    The failure to create a budget was a BOE failure. That is a primary task as a BOE, an annual task. Another task is to have a tight set of goals in mind the contracted Superintendent must pursue, turning Board policy into Bridgeport education plan, process, and practice. That is the third task. Education policy appropriate to this urban City.

    The Mayor talks about civility, but he does not talk about responsibility by the people who were there, at least some of them with the permission or certification of the “political party process.” Some of them were appointed, also, but not necessarily by any highly regarded CERTIFYING procedure as in Dr. Wong’s Providence RI. At the end of the day, when you go out on the field and some of your teammates are unprepared to do what is necessary minimally: to make policy; write an annual report card for your captain on the field; and develop and approve a budget that puts money where it will get the most results for youth, there is a big problem. That is behind us it seems with Paul Vallas. And Paul is like Peyton Manning. I don’t think he is looking to Mayor Finch for signals or plays as to what to do. And if his accountability, openness in sharing plans, budgets, school capital spending, etc. and overall transparency is better than Bridgeport is on the City side currently, why do we wish to give the Mayor more power?
    In 2011 the CAFR shows the education system spent over $317 Million in total. Classroom instruction, administration, nutrition, buses, substitutes, security, utilities, consultants, maintenance, employee reimbursements, and much more are included. Revenue came from several sources. But what was the City contribution to covering the total? Anyone have an answer? City Council members who voted on the budget: anyone on the Council care to answer? Where did you find the data that breaks out that sum? Not in the limited budget data coming to you monthly (but not in June)! And more than one person talks about distrust between the Board and the City. That distrust has gone both ways. So if the police, public facilities, finance, IT and other departments take over school activities to the tune of $2 Million or more to reduce a $12 Million deficit for 2012, and continue such behavior into future years, where does the public discover the cost that is handed to the residential property taxpayer, who sees the Mayor as failing in fiscal accountability during his first four-year term? Time will tell.

  8. More BS.
    Here’s why: The current charter allows for two bodies of elected officials. One has spending authority without any taxation authority (BOE) while the other (the City) is responsible for half of the spending but all of the taxation. That has allowed adults to point fingers for political gain, while often forgetting the students.

    80 – 85% of the BOE budget is funded by non-city money. Talk about playing politics with the BOE, Finch is the master.

  9. Somebody dropped the ball on this one–the BOE was mandated to tell parents about our school Environmentally Green Policy by July 2011. I’ve been spraying bleach and (Consumer Reports approved) Method Cleaner all over the place.

    Maybe because they didn’t want to supply teachers with approved cleaners?

    Public Act No. 09-81 (partial text)
    “On or before July 1, 2011, each local and regional board of education shall implement a green cleaning program for the cleaning and maintenance of school buildings and facilities in its district. No person shall use a cleaning product inside a school unless such cleaning product meets guidelines or environmental standards set by a national or international environmental certification program approved by the Department of Administrative Services, in consultation with the Commissioner of Environmental Protection. Such cleaning product shall, to the maximum extent possible, minimize the potential harmful impact on human health and the environment.
    On or before October 1, 2010, each local and regional board of education shall provide the staff of each school and, upon request, the parents and guardians of each child enrolled in each school with a written statement of the school district’s green cleaning program. Each local or regional board of education shall make such notice, as well as the report submitted to the Department of Education pursuant to subsection (a) of section 10-220 of the general statutes, as amended by this act, available on its web site and the web site of each school under such board’s jurisdiction.”


  10. And because no one invested in the requirements to support Bridgeport’s computers infrastructure for CMT/MAS/MIST special ed testing, which is coordinated with the state CEN (Connecticut Education Network) the test glitched out today. The kids were waiting and waiting and waiting … and it was a replay of last year’s “MIST Emergency.”

    If Malloy’s bill goes through, 45% of my evaluation will be based on test score improvement.

    1. Sue,
      Please check your info first. Having worked in Bridgeport’s BOE for 28 years–15 specifically for Ed Tech … Bridgeport’s infrastructure has been well invested in. In fact our infrastructure is quite good. What isn’t good is our desktop computers.
      However, it was not our desktops or our infrastructure that took down CMT/MAS/MIST testing. Blame the state for that failure, not Bridgeport. If you remember correctly the state also crashed last year for CMT Testing.
      One thing the BOE CAN take pride in is the infrastructure Joe Hajtol has worked so hard on over the last several years.

      1. Guess you didn’t get the email:
        “Many districts experienced NO issues with MIST testing. If that was the case, there is no need for a follow-up with our department.

        “Some districts experienced a slowdown in MIST response time. Generally, this meant that students would wait an inordinately long time between items.”

        So … last year it was determined to be caused by a device failure in the CEN (Connecticut Education Network) environment, which controls internet access and filtering for the state. But each school needs the capability to run the MIST program–and it appears some did, and others didn’t. Guess it depends on their district.

  11. *** More political promises that in the long run lead right back to where we started from, no? Throwing more money into an endless pit has gotten the BOE nowhere fast! How about converting more city property into “neighborhood parks” since there’s very little economic development going on. City folk “without jobs” need somewhere to hang out, no? Wonder what was for desert during the “sleepy-time” speech? *** RED BULL PUDDING ***

  12. Accountability in our City would have several people posting what part of 2011 spending of $317 million on education of City youth was from Bridgeport taxpayers, from State educational cost sharing, from other State grants for operations, from the State for capital construction or renewal, from the Federal government for nutrition or other programs, etc.
    If Gary Peluchette knows, will he please post or contact me at 203-259-9642 during the day? Until the public gets to see this “big picture” we aren’t going to know what the change in direction the Vallas team ‘education improvement plan’ and the five-year budget to sustain that planning vision really means to the Bridgeport property taxpayer, the State income taxpayer and to those who pay Federal income taxes.
    “Accountable” Mayor Finch put the school system on a four-year budget diet!!! Money from the City was rationed while the City Council continued to vote unfunded positions and benefits and spent the money in ways they cannot explain because they do not receive a June monthly year-end revenue, expense and variance report as Charter dictates. No one gets that but the Mayor and his cabinet. And that passes for ACCOUNTABILITY in Bridgeport??? When the actual budget is disclosed at public meetings, will the sleeping giant wake? Time will tell.


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