Gardner Laments Pols Favoring City At Expense Of Schools

Board of Education member Howard Gardner in a commentary that also appeared in the CT Post asserts “As long as the administration and political bosses can pressure and influence members of the board, the 21,000 children of this district will always get the short end of the stick.”

“It is the city’s best and final offer,” argued Bridgeport Board of Education Chair Joe Larcheveque.

As I sat and listened to his comments, I asked myself whose interest is he defending?

He literally sounded as if he was sitting across the table from the rest of the board and speaking on behalf of Mayor Joe Ganim and his administration. Such was the state of affairs at the June 28 special Board of Education meeting.

A surprise agenda item at this meeting was the ongoing conflict between the board and the city regarding operating costs the board believes the City should assume. These costs include crossing guards–safety of public streets should be the city’s sole responsibility–school refuse collection (the city picks up refuse at many condominiums at no charge) and snow removal. The district would redirect funds for these items to the classroom.

The school district faced a $15M budget gap at the start of the 2016-2017 school year. In an effort to close this gap, it painfully cut 42 kindergarten para-professionals and all middle school counselors–critically needed to educate our children.

Another key element of the gap reduction was an infusion of $500,000 charged to the city-run Lighthouse program. This program uses 23 schools during the school year, and 16 during the summer.

For a few weeks prior to the June 28 meeting, the board and city were in the throes of negotiating costs trade-offs. On the table were the following items: the cost of refuse collection, snow removal, crossing guards and the $500,000 charge for Lighthouse. In addition, the board had a major negotiation advantage that included a $2.2 million police training grant, a grant the city could not move forward on without the cooperation of the board. This was a significant advantage.

Larcheveque and four members of the board squandered this “leverage” by voting to accept a lopsided deal that, notwithstanding the removal of the cost of crossing guards, left the school district bearing the cost of refuse collection and snow removal.

The cost of crossing guards should not have been up for negotiation. It is clearly the city’s obligation. This action also forfeited the $500,000 for Lighthouse. Knowing that we are facing an $11.2 million deficit for the upcoming school year, the board’s action can only be described as scandalous. Sadly, we have seen similar behavior from this and past boards.

Over the course of the last four years, voters witnessed Mayor Finch and now Mayor Ganim use their influence over members of the board to vote actions that clearly favor the city at the expense of the schools. These members also voted to enter financial agreements that unfairly benefited the city. The outcome of the June 28, 2017 meeting is the latest in a series of coups on this board.

As long as the administration and political bosses can pressure and influence members of the board, the 21,000 children of this district will always get the short end of the stick. As chief negotiator for the city, Larcheveque argued that this is the city’s best and final offer. His position was not unlike someone offering me $250 for my 18-karat gold Rolex by stating, “This is my best and final offer.”

I have to ask, where are the voices of protest? Where is the public outcry? Come this September and November, will voters remember that there are two distinct categories of board candidates? As my good friend, John M. Lee is fond of saying, “Time will tell.”



  1. Howard,
    There is a battle on. If you are a serious follower of education matters in the City, especially following the money flows, you know that the BOE has had to face stark reality and cut into muscle (Kindergarten paras who assist the least prepared who enter public schools to give them a chance to enter first grade with reading skills, for example).
    No such reality check has been faced on the City side where Budget and Appropriations members annually pursue a PIZZA and POSTURING process that fails to cut into the most obvious expense categories (in Legislature) from which nothing has been spent in years or where there have been surpluses. Monitoring is not followed because “data and metrics” if asked for, have not been delivered so as to make them effective watchdogs over broader expanse.
    When Finch stepped out of the Mayor’s office, a significant undercurrent of rumors about how his administration had left the City swirled. But where did any followup occur? Ganim2 only referenced his $20 Million difficulty that proved not so difficult after all. No outrage from City Council President on how OPED bond sourced funds could be removed by a City employee to payoff a 10 year debt obligation of the Port Authority….not a City Department? And since the City does keep books on the Port Authority for a number of years, why have there been no financial reports for that entity since December 2008? How can they reliably function? How can Tom Gill and others (2 vacancies) vote to transfer property for value with no fiscal reporting? Why has it taken so long for OPM to become clean on InPlant Printing whose mission for years was to serve the other departments, but meanwhile, knowingly has included public patrons, at reduces prices or for free were served, subsidized by City taxpayers? Finance office still has found no authorization for this revision of the Mission provided in the City Budget Book annually for years.
    There is obviously more to all of this activity. Taxpayers are beginning to wake up and ask for better. It is about OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE, TRANSPARENT and HONEST, isn’t it? Question those who operate in the dark about the data, metrics, and results. Ignore personalities. We left high school many years ago, and the money must be spent to increase the number of males graduating currently and have our diploma mean something to their adult life and future. What say you? Time will tell.

  2. I have no idea why no other reader has seen fit to provide thoughts or observations on BOE Finance chair Gardner’s comments. The subject is the way the City under Ganim2 has failed in his campaign promise to “fully fund” schools. Instead he rarely comments on any education matter unless it is about buildings and has flat funded City contribution to the system at about $63 Million annually from local taxpayers.

    Gardner and others, while examining the expenses of operating the current BOE system looked at almost every item and found items supplied by the City that were charged to the BOE. The BOE argued in the case of crossing guards that their safety activity occurred outside of school boundaries and therefore were police matter to be paid from the City budget. Where expenses might prove higher with City refuse removal or snow plowing they tried to compare before choosing. Where they were extending charity to outside programs like the City Lighthouse program that serves by their own count about 2,800 youth during the school year and during summer in the form of space,supplies, etc. they looked for reimbursement. Very thrifty and strategic in working towards the Mission of educating 21,000 students.(If the Lighthouse program receives, $1.7 Million from the City directly, $850,000
    from family registrations and fees, and $2 Million or more annually from the State, why is there no component for Space rental in their budget? Who receives a report on the Lighthouse (fee pool with $850,000 or annual flow) and to whom, at what level, expenses, for what categories, are spent? Why is no parent asking for such a report? Why is this such a secret through multiple administrations? City OPM says they treat this like a grant….but the actual fees are more like newly established Print Shop fees, or those paid to Building Department or Town Clerk for servicing paper? Why is this such a problem? Who is being protected? Time will tell.


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