Mayor Bill Finch asks – Wait, What? Connecticut’s School Funding Laws Apply to Us?

Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing Formula:

“Three requirements apply to towns receiving state ECS grants. The first is that they spend their entire ECS grant for education. The second is that they not use an increase in their ECS grant in any year to supplant local funding for education (the nonsupplant requirement). The third is the MBR. The MBR requires towns to budget at least a minimum amount for education in each fiscal year.” (Office of Legislative Research)

According to a recent story in the CT Post, when Mayor Finch met with the Connecticut Post’s editorial board he “criticized the state’s minimum budget requirement” saying;

“Why is there an MBR? The assumption is the only way you can get my kids to have a better education is just keep pouring more money on it…Doesn’t really matter how you spend it, it’s just got to go up every year. It can never go down. That’s the craziest thing I ever heard.”

Recall Connecticut’s Education Funding Formula is approximately $2 billion under-funded and the Minimum Budget Requirement is designed to ensure that towns provide at least a minimum level of funding for local education.  At last check, Bridgeport funded the smallest percentage in the state.

Meanwhile, although “Superintendent of Schools,” Paul Vallas, has failed to fulfill the legal requirement of getting the local Board of Education to review and adopt a school budget in a timely fashion, Vallas recently provided the Bridgeport Board of Education with a $231.8 million school budget that included a $4.2 million increase in ECS funding from the state and a $3.2 million increase from the City of Bridgeport.

The $3.2 million increase is what is required under Connecticut’s Minimum Budget Requirement law.

When the concept of Alliance Districts was created in Malloy’s “education reform” bill last year, the Minimum Budget Requirement law was modified to require that an Alliance District municipality must allocate what they appropriated the previous year AND, in no case, can their contribution fail to “meet minimum local education funding percentages of 20% for FY 13, 21% for FY 14, 22% for FY 15, 23% for FY 16, and 24% for FY 17.” (PA 12-1, June 12 Special Session, §§ 287 & 288)

As confirmed by the State Department of Education, that means Mayor Bill Finch must provide an additional $3.2 million in next year’s budget.

So how did Finch respond?

See the recent blog post of CT Post reporter Brian Lockhart who wrote;

“Following his meeting with East Side community leaders Wednesday night I attempted to ask Finch to explain his administration’s position on the $3.2 million.

As usual his spokesman (and former Connecticut Post employee) Elaine Ficarra was at his side.

Finch is perfectly able to field a reporter’s questions, and he should be well-versed on this school funding issue because it’s been around for about a year.

But the mayor’s staff prefer the questions be posed to Ficarra and the answers come through her as well. It’s message-management 101.

I asked the mayor to explain his rationale for not providing the extra $3.2 million to the Board of Education.

“Well, we’re formulating an answer for you. We’ll probably get it to you tomorrow (Thursday),” Finch said.

I pressed, since it’s what I get paid to do.

“Okay,” I said. “But tell me – just give me your initial understanding…”

At which point Ficarra – as she gets paid to do – interrupted, “No, I think he gave you the answer. He gave you the answer, Brian. That’s it. He gave you the answer. C’mon.”

So would they get me a comment Thursday?

“It looks like, yeah,” Finch said.

“We’ll get back to you,”  Ficarra said.

I wasn’t reassured.

“Well, I need something tomorrow (Thursday),” I said.

“That’s good. That’s your schedule. We’ll get back to you,” Ficarra said, adding: “No. No. No. You’re not going to put him on the spot over here, Brian, to talk about it, okay?”

At which point the mayor chimed in, “Actually, we’ll get back to you when we want to.”

After our exchange I emailed Ficarra later Wednesday with my specific questions about the $3.2 million, why the mayor kept it out of his budget, whether the administration was negotiating with state officials on the matter, and what happens if any talks fail?

On Thursday Finch’s answer arrived via Ficarra in a very short email: “We are incredibly focused on this issue and we are working diligently to resolve it. In the end, we hope to be as effective as we were in 2012 in working with the state to close the Board of Education’s multimillion dollar deficit.”

  • Apartheid First

    Ah, PR! The Spokesperson. This is now an essential function in the corporatized edu-sphere. It looks like Finch did exactly as Adamowski did (in Hartford): hire a spokesperson from the staff of the daily paper in the city you are ruining. Pay this spokesperson double what he/she made at the newspaper. So David Medina–still invaluable in Hartford–and Elaine Ficarra make lots more money and never have to meet deadlines (except for getting back to Jonathan Pelto “the morning after”). Just don’t hold your breath!
    Some totalitarian dictatorships of years past might well have lingered a bit longer if they had gone the PR/spokesperson route rather than the agit-prop and the censorship road. It is well-nigh impossible to get an answer from Stefan Pryor (even Court Marshalls apparently have trouble!) or Steven Adamowski. This obfuscation is a lot easier than censoring and gagging. Oh, what they could have taught a dictator or two!

  • Apartheid First

    Oh, and just to get on topic here: pretty soon Finch can wave away the ECS monies–there are plenty of fundraisers and foundations led by people like Megan Lowney and Nate Snow just waiting to equalize children’s education in Bridgeport.