According to multiple sources close to the action, Mayor Bill Finch will ask the Bridgeport City Council to open up their agenda tonight so that they can vote to reduce the city’s contribution to this year’s school budget by $4.4 million.
With only about 100 days left in the fiscal year, the move would plunge the Bridgeport School budget into deficit and serve as a shocking reminder of how so many politicians renege on their most fundamental commitments and promises.
It was just a year ago that Mayor Bill Finch spoke of his commitment to increase Bridgeport’s funding for its schools. As the CT Post reported at the time, “The proposed $7 million increase to the schools would mark the first time since his election to office in 2007 that Finch has increased the city’s contribution to the school system.”
When proposing his City budget on April 3, 2012, Finch proclaimed, “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 followed his clarion call for action by slashing Finch’s request by $2 million, but the City still allocated an additional $5 million, on top of what the state was going to provide.
Now it was true that a major portion of the “new” money Finch was proposing a legally required increase resulting from Connecticut’s Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) law, but for a mayor who had flat funded schools for the past four years, any increase, no matter how small was of note.
When the Connecticut State Budget was finally adopted, Connecticut taxpayers were contributing $168,599,571 to Bridgeport’s schools via the State’s Educational Cost Sharing formula. This amount included an additional $4,404,227 that was provided as part of the state’s Alliance District funding program aimed at helping the state’s poorest towns.
With the $168.6 million from the state and the $55.3 million from the City, Bridgeport schools began this school year with a balanced budget. But a balanced budget was certainly an improvement over last year when the state had to “loan” Bridgeport $3.5 million to cover a school budget deficit at the end of the school year.
But late last week, Mayor Finch’s Administration quietly, even secretly, reversed course and began a process to reduce the City’s contribution to its schools by $4.4 million, claiming that the state’s additional resources were more than enough.
Despite Connecticut’s law requiring cities to maintain their funding efforts, the legal excuse the City seems to be relying on is brand new, one year language that was quietly added to last year’s State Budget that allows select cities to reduce their Minimum Budget Expenditures under very limited circumstances.
According to the State Department of Education, Connecticut’s minimum expenditure law requires that Bridgeport spend no less than $219.5 million this year. The additional $4.4 million in state funds were added to the ECS formula and therefore, for this year, and this year alone, the City believes it can actually cut, not increase its local contribution. While the Council adopted and the Mayor signed a budget that allocated more than $55 million last April, the city apparently now believes that it can get away with allocating only $50.9 million, and it wants the difference back.
The Mayor wants that money despite the fact that the Bridgeport School budget was built on the basis of the $55 million amount and that for the past nine months, the schools having been functioning with a budget that included that $55 million.
After all the rhetoric about how Finch valued the great Paul Vallas, calling him a celebrity and telling the media that Vallas was smarter than the members of the Board of Education so they shouldn’t challenge any of his positions, Finch will be directly undermining the work Vallas and the Board have been engaged in, while forcing a budget deficit and budget cuts in the education budget with only a few months left in the fiscal year.
With no public hearing, no input from voters and no input from the Board of Education, the Mayor and City Council would be changing the rules and yanking back $4.4 million from the school budget. And let’s not forget, this is the same Mayor Finch that already deducted $141,000 from the City’s contribution to the Board of Education to pay for the Mayor’s aide Joshua Thompson who was listing himself as Bridgeport’s Deputy Mayor for Education.
The net effect is that Connecticut’s taxpayer were forced to bail out Bridgeport last year with a $3.5 million loan to balance their local education budget, a loan they don’t have to actually pay back.
And this year, state taxpayers are paying for another $4.4 million help improve Bridgeport’s schools.
But thanks to a strange loop-hole in the Minimum Budget Expenditure law, Bridgeport is trying to actually cut its level of support for its own schools.
And while state aid to Bridgeport’s schools is up, this will be the 5th consecutive year that Mayor Finch and the City of Bridgeport has “flat funded” its schools. Making matters worse, thanks to Finch’s recent announcement that there will be no new money next year, the man who was, just last year, talking about his “historic commitment” to Bridgeport’s schools will have presided over 6 years of no additional funding.
And this from a Mayor who told the taxpayers of Bridgeport that this year’s local property tax increase was being used to specifically improve funding for Bridgeport’s Public Schools. Where I come from, we call that a lie.
As most of Connecticut’s local property taxpayers are being asked to pay more to preserve their local schools, and Connecticut’s taxpayers are being asked to pay more to invest in Connecticut’s most troubled schools, leave it to Mayor Finch and the majority Democrats in Bridgeport to sneak in an end of the year cut to their own schools…even after the state and its taxpayer’s bailed them out of their school budget deficit last year.
It is hard to know what to say about such deceitful action.
Check back later and tomorrow for updates on this developing issue and for news about what happens at tonight’s Bridgeport City Council meeting.