Connecticut’s taxpayers cover more than 80 percent of the costs associated with running Bridgeport’s Schools.
For more than twenty-five years, Connecticut’s primary funding mechanism has been called the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. Underfunded by about $2 billion dollars, the money is distributed to towns based on a variety of factors including the number of students living in poverty and the town’s ability to come up with their own funds via their local property taxes.
Every town gets some state aid; the poorest towns get the most.
There are three criteria that towns must meet to get their state aid;
First, the entire amount of the ECS state-grant MUST be spent on education
Second, any increase in the ECS grant CAN NOT be used to supplant local funding for education.
Third, the town must invest a minimum amount of its own money, a system that is called the ECS Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR).
As the CT Post is reporting, “Mayor Bill Finch’s administration is negotiating feverishly in Hartford to shrink a state-mandated $3.3 million spike in education spending that the mayor inexplicably left out of his proposed budget.”
The story goes on to read, “Since Finch did not include the money in his 2013-14 fiscal plan, Bridgeport officials are now trying to convince the state they should not be on the hook for the $3.3 million because of all the unreimbursed “in-kind” school expenses the city covers.”
Connecticut’s entire school funding system is based on the notion of shared expenses. Bridgeport is at the very top of the list of towns that benefit from the state system.
Although the ECS fails to allocate sufficient funds to cover what the state should be paying, rather than pay their share, Bridgeport officials claim that they should be allowed to duck their responsibility to pay their required share.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that Bridgeport appears to have any ally in Ben Barnes, Malloy’s Secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management.
Barnes worked for Malloy when Malloy was the Mayor of Stamford. When Malloy left the Mayor’s office in Stamford to run for governor, Barnes landed in an administrative position in Bridgeport. Soon after, he transferred over to become the chief financial officer for Bridgeport schools.
Barnes knows very well that Bridgeport’s schools are underfunded and he knows the requirements of the local Minimum Budget Requirement law.
However, instead of demanding the Bridgeport, like every other Connecticut city, meet its MBR Requirement, Barnes is quoted in the CT Post article as saying, “If a city takes over some $1 million activity for the (school) board, they get a credit, or vice versa…So we’ve agreed to look for some additional information from them. (And) we’ll provide them with some additional clarification of how we’re interpreting the statute.”
But Barnes knows that history and intent of the law and there was never the notion that a city’s “in-kind” support for its schools was meant to take the place of the city’s fundamental requirement to meet its Minimum Budget Requirement.
Last month, the school budget proposed by the Paul Vallas, Bridgeport’s “Superintendent of Schools,” counted on the additional $3.3 million the law requires Bridgeport to spend.
Now Vallas is changing his tune. According to the CT Post article, at a recent Bridgeport Board of Alderman meeting, Vallas said, “Do we need $3.3 million more? Yeah…Can we live without it? If we have to, we will find a way to do that.”
So here is the person heading up Bridgeport’s schools backing off his own budget proposal and the need for the state and the city to properly fund Bridgeport’s schools.
Meanwhile, the CT Post reports that, “Finch and his office have refused to discuss the matter publicly, instead issuing the same terse statements that the administration is focused on a resolution.”
This isn’t the first time the Bridgeport has attempted to duck their local funding requirement. A major Connecticut State Department of Education Audit in 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 raised extremely serious problems with Bridgeport’s unwillingness to fulfill its legal obligations when it comes to properly funding education.
Here we are, almost ten years later…
And we are left with the realization that the more things change, the more the stay the same.
Once again, Bridgeport officials want us to believe that Connecticut’s education funding laws applies to everyone but them.
For the full CT Post article go to: http://m.ctpost.com/connpost/db_43463/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=hcRAd05N&full=true#display