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.”