Last week, we learned that the school budget that was included within Mayor Bill Finch’s proposed City Budget, was not, in fact, the official school budget.
Furthermore, the budget that the City Council held hearings on, was not, in fact, the official school budget.
We were even told that the budget that the City Council approved and has been posted on the City’s website was not, in fact, the official school budget.
According to Team Vallas, the Board of Education and the public are only now, two months after the start of the fiscal year, seeing the complete, official, education budget, for the first time.
That budget, aptly named the “2012-13 Operating Budget and Grants Budget,” was posted on the Bridgeport Board of Education website earlier today and will apparently, be a topic of discussion at tonight’s illegal Board of Education meeting.
Upon review of the “official” education budget, it remains apparent that the largest cut in the $225.2 million dollar budget are for funds allocated for those students who are receiving special education services.
Although there is no indication that number of students with disabilities has declined, Paul Vallas and his team have cut 14 Special Education teachers from Bridgeport’s school budget.
While the overall school budget is going up, this million dollar cut will reduce the number of teachers helping students who need special education services by 7 percent. The only explanation that Team Vallas has articulated is that the savings are a result of an “updated allocation formula for resources/inclusion classes.”
A second, and even larger cut, has been made in the allocation of funds for students whose special education needs are so great, that they have been placed in alternative schools or other learning environments.
Bridgeport’s “official” education budget cuts more than $2.6 million dollars, or almost 20%, of all the funds used to place students with the greatest needs.
This means that Team Vallas is assuming that approximately 20%, or one out of every five students who have been placed in specialized setting, will be moved back into Bridgeport school system.
Such a change would require that Bridgeport revise each student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program), a process that is both complex, lengthy and requires full participation by all of the individuals and entities that are responsible for determining each child’s educational and social needs.
There is no indication that Team Vallas as begun such a massive rewrite of student’s IEPs or even that such a charade could be pulled off.
Not only does the “official” budget reduce the tuition for out-of-district placements by $2.6 million, but there appears to be no attempt to provide the additional resources that would be needed to care for those children, if they were moved back into the Bridgeport schools.
Meanwhile, the official budget contains numerous other changes that should raise concerns about the level of accuracy and honesty within the budget document.
For example, although the private account that was created to pay for Vallas’ salary has been drained and closed, the new budget assumes that the Fairfield County Foundation will, once again, donate $126,000 to help cover Vallas’ salary this year. There is, however, no mention that the business community will provide the other $300,000 that they donated toward Bridgeport’s “turnaround” this year.
Not surprisingly, there was not a reduction to every line item in the budget.
The single largest percentage increase in the budget?
Well, that honor goes to the costs for outside counsel and additional lawyers. The budget for additional legal assistance jumped 31 percent, bringing the total to over half a million dollars.
Last but not least, special notice should be given to the City’s pledge to increase funding for its schools.
When the year began, Mayor Finch spoke of a historic commitment to increase Bridgeport’s contribution to its schools by more than $10 million dollars.
By April, when the Mayor proposed his new budget, he said, “I am proposing a historic increase in education in the FY 2012-13 budget. The City will provide the Board of Education with a $7 million increase, coupled with an expected $3.5 million from Governor Malloy. This is a $10.5 million increase in funding for the Board of Education for FY 2012-13. I believe this increase is necessary to reform our schools, and create an education system that can fairly educate the children of Bridgeport in this highly competitive world.”
The City Council then slashed Mayor Finch’s request by $2 million.
In the end, the City’s “new commitment” to their schools was down to $5 million.
And of that amount, $3,649,575 is actually the legally required increased due to the state’s Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) law, a system that forces towns to maintain a basic minimum level of funding.
All the hoopla aside, Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport City Council’s “major commitment to education” amounted to less than $1.3 million in new funding, an “historic” increase of .6 percent.
Hopefully those who are attending tonight’s last meeting of Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education will hear more about this “official” Bridgeport schools budget and can pass along their news to wait, what? readers.