UPDATED: Secret Deal for Malloy Political ally turns Education Funding Formula into a joke

Note Correction about Bridgeport Board of Education Agenda Item:

Apparently without the approval of the State Board of Education or the approval of the Connecticut General Assembly, the Malloy administration is planning to provide Malloy ally, Mayor Bill Finch, with a special deal so that he doesn’t have to have the City Bridgeport meet the state law concerning their minimum budget expenditures for local education. The law is called the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR)

Municipal leaders and taxpayers across Connecticut are well aware of the fact that in order for a community to receive state education funds they must provide a minimum level of local funding.

In that way, communities must uphold their responsibility to provide resources for local public schools.

The requirement to meet the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) has forced local officials in some communities to raise property taxes on multiple occasions.

But according to late breaking news, Governor Malloy, his budget director and his Commissioner of Education have come up with a unknown mechanism to try and let Bridgeport off-the-hook for providing their schools with sufficient local funding.

What makes the whole situation even stranger is that details are being released by the Mayor of Bridgeport on a Sunday and not by Malloy, the Office of Policy and Management or the State Department of Education.

The Bridgeport Board of Education is scheduled to vote late tomorrow – Monday – November 25, 2013 on an agenda item entitled “Approval of Resolution and Letter Regarding Minimum Budget Requirement, 2013-14.”  The AGENDA ITEM IS NOT A MOTION to support Finch’s plan but exactly the opposite.  It is a motion requesting the City of Bridgeport ALLOCATE the required funds to balance the school budget and meet the Minimum Budget Requirement.  Finch’s move is actually meant to undermine the Board of Education’s expected action tomorrow.

Instead of waiting until tomorrow, the Bridgeport Mayor’s Office put out a Sunday press release outlining SOME of the details about the deal between Finch and the Malloy Administration.

But the information released to date fails to indicate how the plan could proceed without the approval of the State Board of Education or the General Assembly, the two entities with the authority to make education policy in the State.

According to a new headline the blog “Only in Bridgeport,” Finch Announces Agreement With State To Resolve Education Funding.”

The blog post adds,

“Mayor Bill Finch on Sunday issued a news release informing that the State Department of Education and the city have reached a resolution for the city to comply with the mandated Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR). News release from Finch follows that also includes a joint letter to the city from State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and state budget director Benjamin Barnes who worked as chief financial officer of Bridgeport schools before Governor Dan Malloy appointed him secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.

The State Department of Education and the City of Bridgeport have agreed on Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) terms. The resolution of the MBR is as follows:

*The state recognized the level of effort made in $1.2 million worth of tangible, in-kind services to the Bridgeport Board of Education and is crediting that amount toward the FY2013-14 MBR compliance amount;

*The City also will make an additional $1.1 million contribution to the Board of Education in the form of a reduction in the Board’s required contribution for Worker’s Compensation indemnity payments for non-certified staff; and,

*The State will make an additional $1.2 million contribution to the City by the end of the fiscal year for the purpose of further supporting the Bridgeport Public Schools.

The blog post also include the “full text of the letter received by the City of Bridgeport from the State Department of Education and the Office of Policy and Management follows”

The letter from Malloy’s Budget Director and Education Commissioner reads as follows:

Dear Mayor Finch:

Thank you for your ongoing engagement with us regarding the City’s contribution to the Bridgeport Public Schools and the Minimum Budget Requirement. We all share a deep commitment to your community and its schools, and are hopeful that our discussions have led us to a positive way forward.

These discussions are especially timely today. In recent years, the State has made extraordinary financial contributions to the Bridgeport Public Schools, which we hope have helped to provide the educational resources that teachers and students need to succeed and, at the same time, have helped to move the district in the direction of budgetary stability. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the division and controversy that have continued to plague the Bridgeport public schools.

We are committed to putting these divisive issues behind us so that the newly elected Board of Education can rededicate itself to the challenges ahead on behalf of Bridgeport’s young people. I know that you share that commitment.

It is clear that the City’s funding for the Board of Education will continue to be a challenge in light of Bridgeport’s fiscal condition. We have identified a way forward that will, we sincerely hope, allow the City to satisfy its obligations, and allow the Board to operate its budget in balance for the 2013-14 school year. It is not ideal, and it will require all parties – the City, the Board, and the State – to make some contribution. But it can be sufficient to allow all parties to turn their attention from past conflicts to our aspirations for the future.

In summary, our tentative plan is to make up for the $3.3 million in MBR shortfall as follows:

1. The City has demonstrated tangible in-kind contributions in the Board’s favor over the last two years which have provided significant budget relief to the Board. The City reasonably expected that those contributions would count toward FY 14 MBR compliance. As a result, the state will credit these contributions against the MBR and adjust the MBR requirement downward by $1.2 million, once necessary documentation is satisfactorily provided to the SDE.

2. The City will make a further contribution to the Board this year in the form of a $1.1 million reduction in the Board’s required contribution for Worker’s Compensation indemnity payments for non-certified staff. This will allow the Board to redeploy existing funds budgeted for that purpose to other areas. The City will provide such detailed assurances as needed by the Board that the City will make up the claims liability, and that this contribution will not impact the Board’s future contributions to the Internal Services Fund or otherwise deplete current or future resources of the school system.

3. The state remains committed to providing assistance to fiscally challenged communities so that they can maintain support for their schools. As part of this effort, the State Department of Education will provide the City with $1.2 million by the end of the fiscal year for the purpose of further supporting the Bridgeport Public Schools. All of these monies must be appropriated by the City to the Board for that purpose prior to the end of the fiscal year. This assistance will be contingent upon the successful completion of all other components by the City of the plan laid out in this letter.

4. Finally, the City, will commit to recommending and diligently working to enact a City budget for FY 15 that complies with the MBR and all local spending requirements, and to working with the Board to develop a long-term strategy for City support of the public schools.

Again, we are hopeful that this plan, and the new resources and partnership that it represents, will serve Bridgeport’s students and help the newly-elected Board to be successful.

Kind regards,

Stefan Pryor
Commissioner,
State Department of Education
 
 Benjamin Barnes
Secretary
Office of Policy and Management

 

Why Malloy, Stefan Pryor or Ben Barnes think such a deal wouldn’t need the approval of the State Board of Education or the Connecticut General Assembly is a mystery.

Furthermore, how Governor Malloy could give this tax break to his political ally, Mayor Bill Finch, and not make it available to property taxpayers in Connecticut’s other economically hard hit communities is also unclear.

  • LutherW

    We do have Robert Reich and the movie “Inequality For All”. He makes the point that businesses only invest when they need more products for someone to buy…and that does not depend on capitol, but how many people have money to spend.

  • Charlie Puffers

    WTF? If I lived in Winsted I would be FURIOUS!!!!!

  • Fredda Friend

    So Hartford and Bridgeport are having hurry up meetings prompted by the state a few days before Thanksgiving. What kind of turkeys do they think we are?

  • truthsayer

    Sounds like the pay off for “finding” those votes in Bridgeport that got Malloy elected.

    • Linda174

      Or greasing palms early for the next election…either way they take care of each other with little regard for the peasants.

  • Mary Gallucci

    Does anyone seriously think that the State Board of Education would vote against something that Pryor is promoting, even if it contravenes state law? This is the SBE that heard Steven Adamowski’s self-evaluation with its myriad lacunae–after the Commissioner had created a new position for the Special Master and signed the contract with him–so the vote of the SBE was moot. This is the same Commissioner who extracted waiver powers out of the CT legislature, so that he could allow Paul Vallas to remain as superintendent even if he pulled a school administrator’s credential out of a Cracker Jax box (the UConn “program” is hardly more legit, by the way).
    As numerous communities defy the MBR, or otherwise twist their budgets around in order to circumvent its spirit, I realize another one of Stefan Pryor’s goals in this state. As part of the school privatization movement, Pryor will make deals with districts that forward his agenda–thus he will dispense waivers and creative accountancy principles to nullify the MBR–and he will prevent districts from confronting the true issues of regressive taxation and inequitable educational funding.
    Steven Adamowski has instituted these financial fictions in order to mask true education funding. Why should it matter, you may ask, whether textbooks are funded by special referendum or kept in the budget–the books were purchased, right? But the fact that not only that year’s budget, but the following year’s, are now artificially depressed has dire consequences for school children. Not to mention that it is against the law to do this, as several court cases have determined. In a Supreme Court decision, the court ruled in 1963 (Board of Education of the Town of Ellington v. Town of Ellington, et.al., 151 Conn. 1, [1963]), that “the clear intendment of Section 10-222, when read in connection with Section 10-220, is that *all appropriations* for school purposes shall be made *to the board of education* to be expended by that board… the duty of the board of education is to maintain in the town a program of educational opportunity which meets the requirements of state law; the power of the board of education [is] to exercise sound and reasonable discretion in carrying out its duties…” In addition, the court found that when boards or town bodies placed funds “for school purposes [into] the general government budget” this “put them beyond the [BoE] to transfer or expend at its discretion, contravened General Statutes Section 10-222 and constituted an illegal restriction on an appropriation for strictly educational purposes.” (This information is culled from a report commissioned by the State of Connecticut to outline the distinct responsibilities among various boards, particularly boards of finance and boards of education.) I would suggest that Pryor’s naming of “in-kind” city contributions in lieu of BoE appropriations is removing money that rightfully belongs in the school budget. The worker’s comp. contribution sounds very fishy (visions of Madoff are dancing in my head… ) and infusions of state money, while clearly essential, are only setting Bridgeport up for more serious future problems.
    Look to Vallas’s former district in Philadelphia–bankruptcy, layoffs, school closings, chaos, and misery–for a glimpse of Bridgeport’s future.

    • Mary Gallucci

      Some resources: http://www.ctsprague.org/resources/handbook_for_connecticut_boards_of_finance_scan.pdf
      see especially pages 20-22
      And
      http://www.cga.ct.gov/2011/rpt/2011-R-0241.htm
      What is heartbreakingly ironic is that the MBR is considered sacrosanct for districts with low test scores and high poverty rates–so the very protections put in place by the legislature are being flouted by Stefan Pryor, at the risk of numerous school children.

    • blondie

      Amazing information Mary – thank you. Just wish it did not make me feel so nauseated. How much time, discussion, and individuals does it take to come up with egregious schemes – one after another?

      I can’t digest the proliferation of corruption these days. I know there is no conscience – that is clearly evident but the audacity is remarkable.

      What has happened to my beloved profession of teaching is beyond devastating. As my retired colleague once said, “The lowest regions of hell are reserved for those who harm children in any capacity.”

      I’ve not given up hope by any means and I will advocate in any way possible to my last breath, but knowing who to turn to in CT is so questionable these days. It used to be you went to the top leaders and high level elected officials to report corruption but they are the incubators.

      How can one be so corrupt and yet strive to weak more havoc? Is there some sort twisted pleasure in concocting and implementing such schemes?

      Every time I read this blog, I’m blown away by the revelations Jon exposes. Kudos on the exceptional work Jon but it’s beyond evident we have exceptional work to do as well.

    • Mary Gallucci
  • Roger

    What is so terribly tragic is that Bridgeport’s special ed department is demanding their teachers write a massive amount of paperwork, along with contacting parents to tell them that IEP amendments need to be made by next Wednesday so their children’s IEP’s with align with the Smarter Balanced test ~ which may not even be used by.

    The state isn’t returning Bridgeport’s phone calls, and the Easy IEP program hasn’t been updated to allow these IEP changes to be made.

    Many sped teachers will be working over Thanksgiving vacation for no reason (if they buy into this). But hey, maybe the state will notice this sacrifice and demonstrate benevolence!

    • Linda174

      That’s absurd, ridiculous and illegal. An IEP represents the student’s disability, areas of weakness and steps towards improvement.

      It is not a plan for passing a federally mandated test. If so, then it is not longer individualized or educational. It is now an NTTP…a national test taking plan.

      Teachers should refuse…education malpractice. Parents should protest…legally sanctioned child abuse. When will the federal control of our schools end?

      R e v o l u t i o n

      • Linda174

        Opt out….kids are not props for the testing industry:

        • Linda174

          Protest:

  • Mary Gallucci

    Wait a minute! I thought Paul Vallas balanced the budget? And closed a budget deficit? And raised test scores? And walked on water?
    Why would there be this difficulty in meeting the MBR? Don’t tell me Paul Vallas’s balancing was on the backs of children?
    Also, in rereading Pryor’s words, I get a distinct sense that the desire to put “divisive issues” behind and to pony up some needed money is really a way of–can it be?–giving a lot of money to an Achievement First school, perhaps. Or to Jumoke/FUSE or any of the other charters Pryor is trying to shoe-horn into Bridgeport while he can.
    I find it supremely suspicious that this letter is couched in the terms of care, concern, the state’s ongoing commitment, etc, etc. The city of Bridgeport does not need a Hallmark card to discover that the state “cares enough” to send them the very best resources. Something’s rotten in the State Department of Education.
    Something or someone is getting off the hook here. Despite my best efforts and naturally suspicious mind, I do not have the proper spy-decoder ring to figure this out. Money moving between city and school budgets; obligations to workers’ comp. funds; dumping a load of recalled sandwich meat or a toxic super-fund site on an unsuspecting daycare (called in-kind services; or maybe it’s old obsolete computers given to a school)… We are dealing with Stefan Pryor, after all, the man who, as VP and then President of the Lower Manhattan Development fund, got waivers and new legislation passed so that federal disaster aid that should have gone to the victims of 9/11 went instead to developers and the Bank of America.
    also, they clearly want to rush this through before the new Board of Education gets a look at the books.

    • Castles Burning

      Mary, I was wondering about the balanced budget as well.

      And, if I recall correctly, Finch has been “floating” this idea that he would not have to pay any money since this summer.

      I wish you did have a decoder ring, for this is clearly one of those long-ago hatched schemes/deals no doubt directed, as you suggest, towards privitization.

      I wish that those trying to make sense of the books also have some decoder ring because I anticipate that they will be hard to follow and that where the money has gone will not be clear.

      Jonathan, thanks for reporting.

    • brutus2011

      I know the feeling about not having the proper “spy-deocder ring!” Best comment snippet of the year!

  • Pingback: Bridgeport: Where “truth” is sometimes fiction - Wait What?()