Mass Insight contract “magically extended” on its last day. Cost to taxpayers: $800,000

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Mass Insight Contract “magically extended” on its last day.  Cost to taxpayers: $800,000

The cornerstone of Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative is the concept of “turnaround schools” and the creation of the “Commissioner’s Network.”  Both strategies are part of Malloy’s broader effort to allow private entities to run public schools.

The task of implementing those outrageous policies rests with Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and two members of his personal staff, Adam Goldfarb (Chief of Staff) and Morgan Barth (Director of the Office of School Turnaround).

Morgan Barth is the former Achievement First employee who illegally taught and worked in Achievement First schools for six years.

Last year, as part of their ongoing effort to undermine local control and privatize public education in Connecticut, Commissioner Pryor let go or re-assigned the extremely experienced team of State Department of Education experts who had been helping towns work through the challenges of educating students in Connecticut’s largest and poorest districts.

Pryor let go the four Leaders in Residence and three superintendents, each of whom had direct experience working with administrators and teachers in urban classrooms and school districts where the majority of students face the challenges of poverty, language barriers or special education needs.

Pryor also re-assigned the State Department of Education’s experts on bullying and improving school climates, multi-cultural education and bilingual and English language learning programs.

Instead of utilizing Connecticut experts, Pryor retained an out-of-state, politically-connected company called Mass Insight for nearly $1 million. 

To service the contract with Pryor, Mass Insight sent in a handful of inexperienced, out-of-state consultants.  In the first four months of the contract, Mass Insight replaced nearly every one of these out-of-state consultants with another inexperienced, out-of-state consultant.  In some cases the consultants lasted no more than a few weeks in the job. 

But as a group, Mass Insight’s consultants, with Morgan Barth at the helm, managed to alienate superintendents, principals and local boards of education in many of Connecticut’s thirty Alliance Districts.

The contract with Mass Insight was scheduled to end on January 31, 2014.

But with no public notice and no public participation, Stefan Pryor and the State Department of Education, along with the help of Malloy’s Budget Director and Attorney General George Jepsen’s Office quietly approved an $800,000 contract extension that is said to have gone into effect on JANUARY 31, 2014.

The last-minute $800,000 contract extension will allow Stefan Pryor, Morgan Barth and Mass Insight to continue to wreak havoc on Connecticut’s poorest public schools.

Hidden from public view, Stefan Pryor requested and obtained approval from Malloy’s Budget Chief and the Office of Policy and Management to extend Mass Insight’s contract and pay the out-of-state company the extra $800,000 on January 24, 2014.

According to documents related to the matter, the Mass Insight contract extension was finalized and sent to the company on January 30, 2014.

Under state law, as a check and balance on excessive agency actions, contract extensions of this nature require a sign off from the Office of the Attorney General.   

In this case, the Mass Insight contract was apparently forwarded to the Attorney General’s office on January 31, 2014. 

While it is unclear exactly when the Attorney General’s Office acted, it did approve the contract and Commissioner Pryor and the State Department of Education reported that they planned to have the contract amendment “fully executed by the end of business January 31, 2014.”

While it is beyond insulting to see the Malloy administration dump experienced Connecticut residents so it can out-source jobs to out-of-state consultants, it is even more absurd that Commissioner Pryor would seek to extend this contract and further undermine Connecticut’s poorest school districts. 

Governor Malloy’s fake Connecticut Budget “Surplus”

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If you’ve listened to Governor Malloy lately or checked out some of the media reports recently you’d think Connecticut was on the road to economic recovery, that the state had a budget surplus and it was “Morning in Connecticut.”

Putting aside the continued high unemployment rates, Governor Malloy’s failed economic development strategies and the growing amount of poverty in Connecticut, there is a much more immediate problem with Malloy’s claim that Connecticut’s fiscal health is back on track.

Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes recently released his monthly report to the State Comptroller on the status of Connecticut’s State Budget.  Barnes wrote, “This month’s estimate reflects a positive $273.3 million balance from operations, an increase of $137.4 million from last month’s letter.”

If taken at his word, it would appear that Connecticut has a $273.4 million budget surplus so far this year.

But when it comes to Malloy, Barnes and their budgeting strategies, things aren’t exactly as they appear.

Any reasonable person would assume that you determine the health of a state budget by comparing the level of tax revenues to the level of government expenditures.  If they are equal you have a balanced budget.  If expenses are greater than revenues you have a budget deficit and if revenues are greater than expenses you have a budget surplus.

But looking back at some of the gimmicks used by the Malloy administration this year corrupts the entire notion of what a balanced budget actually is…let alone what is should be called a budget surplus.

When examining how the Malloy administration put this year’s budget together one need only look at the following fiscal gimmicks.

And these are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way revenue and expenditures were defined to make it appear that Connecticut is on stronger fiscal footing.

Here are a just a few of the ways in which this year’s Connecticut State Budget was “balanced.”  This year’s state budget:

  • Diverts $190.8 million from last year’s surplus to pay costs this year to make this year’s budget look more balanced and diverts another $30 million to do the same thing in next year’s budget. 
  • Diverts $115,000 for the Stem Cell Research Fund (SCRF) to pay for regular costs at Department of Health. 
  • Although the budget provided the DCF-funded private residential treatment centers with $11.5 million in maintain services, budget takes those funds away. 
  • Rather than use the $20.2 million in surplus from collective bargaining costs in last year’s budget as required to increase the raining day fund or reduce debt, Malloy’s budget dumped the money into the General Fund and Transportation Fund make the budget look more balanced. 
  • Diverts $1.4 million from the Tobacco and Health Trust Fund (THTF) to pay for expenses at the UConn Health Center. 
  • Diverts $1.1 million from the Tobacco and Health Trust Fund (THTF) to pay for expenses at the Department of Public Health. 
  • Diverts $3.4 million from Tobacco and Health Trust Fund (THTF) to pay for expenses at the Department of Public Health and Department of Social Services. 
  • Diverts $1.3 million from Tobacco and Health Trust Fund (THTF) to pay for expenses at the Department of Developmental Services and the Public Health. 
  • Further underfunds the Teachers Retirement Retiree Health Services Program by $22 million by reducing the reducing the state’s share costs to 25% and municipal health subsidy to 25%. 
  • Diverts $2.2 from the Pre-Trial Alcohol Substance Abuse Program to fund expenses in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Regional Action Councils). 
  • Diverts $1 million from Pre-Trial Alcohol Substance Abuse Program to fund expenses in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Governor’s Partnership to Protect CT’s Workforce). 
  • Diverts $500,000 in UConn funding to pay for CT Center for Advanced Technology Inc. 
  • Diverts $875,000 from the Student Protection Account to pay for expenses at the Office of Higher Education.  The Student Protection Account is supposed to be used to refund tuition when for-trade schools go of business. 
  • Diverts $1 million from the Systems Benefit Account to Operation Fuel and allows up $100,000 of that money to be used for administrative costs. 
  • Diverts over $2 million from various accounts within the Office of Policy and Management and transfers these funds to the Litigation/Settlement account in FY 14 to fund ongoing “litigation expenses.” 
  • Diverts $10 million from last year’s Transportation “Pay-As-You-Go” account to expenses this year including Rail Operations ($4. 2 million); Personal Services ($1. 5 million), Transit Improvement Program ($200,000), and Pay-As-You-Go ($4. 1 million). 
  • Directs the Office of Policy and Management to cut $10 million to municipal aid but the cut would not be announced until next fiscal year. 
  • Diverts $2.8 million in Magnet School fun from last fiscal year to pay $2.3 million for this year’s Sheff programming, $330,000 for the Sound School $160,000 for the Neighborhood Youth Centers for the New Haven YMCA. (Remember Appropriations Chair Toni Harp was planning to run the mayor of New Haven this year.  She did…and won). 
  • Diverts any balance of the Probate Court Administration Fund in excess of 15% of the total expenditures authorized to the fund to the State’s General Fund. 

These are just a few of literally dozens and dozens of examples of budget gimmicks that were used to make this year’s budget look “balanced.”

So when you hear that Connecticut has a “budget surplus” just remember that the so-called “surplus” is built upon a fiscal house of cards that will eventually collapse and Connecticut’s taxpayers and those who need and deserve vital state services will be the ones asked to pay the real cost for this political folly.

The Malloy administration’s approach to financial planning in 2013

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“Aware that the city school board was prepared Monday to pass a resolution demanding the funds, Barnes said he felt the time was right to make the deal.”  – CT Post 11/26/13

You heard him right… “The time was right to make the deal.”

The deal being that the City of Bridgeport would get a giant pass on having to allocate the legally required minimum funding that Connecticut towns must make in order to get state education funds.

The deal being between Governor Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch – WITHOUT THE INVOLVEMENT OF THE BRIDGEPORT BOARD OF EDUCATION – the elected officials who are legally responsible for running Bridgeport’s School and who had already adopted a budget based on getting the additional $3.3 million that the City of Bridgeport won’t have to provide.

Just last year, when Bridgeport was facing a $3.5 million budget deficit in its school budget, Malloy, with the approval of the Connecticut General Assembly, gave Bridgeport a $3.5 million “forgivable loan.”

As a condition for getting the money, Bridgeport had to agree to allow Malloy’s Commissioner of Education to approve any replacement for Paul Vallas, who was serving as Bridgeport’s Acting Superintendent at the time.

Now one year later another deal pops up, this time allowing Bridgeport to renege on its legal responsibility to provide its local schools with the minimum budget allocation of local taxpayer funds.

In what will certainly go down as one of the more absurd political statements of the year, the Connecticut Post reported today that “Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, who helped broker a budget deal reached over the weekend, said he doesn’t want this to be an annual bailout program for Bridgeport, and is looking for assurances the city will finally fully fund its Minimum Budget Requirement going forward.”

According to the Connecticut Post article, Mayor Bill Finch and the City of Bridgeport’s local contribution for their schools should be $3.3 million higher than what it has actually allocated for this year.

Rather than require that Bridgeport fulfill its legal responsibility, as all other towns must do, Governor Malloy is proposing a deal to “rectify the problem” by allowing about $1.2 million worth of in-kind services to the school board, allow the city to shave $1.1 million off the school board’s workers’ compensation contribution and have the state make an additional $1.2 million contribution to the city by the end of the fiscal year.

While neither the Malloy administration nor Mayor Finch consulted with the Bridgeport Board of Education, their “deal” will actually create an immediate budget deficit in this year’s Bridgeport school budget, a budget deficit that require mid-year cuts to school programs.

As reported in the Connecticut Post, at last night’s Bridgeport Board of Education meeting, the Bridgeport Board of Education adopted a resolution, on a vote of 6 -1, to demand the city come into full compliance with the Minimum Budget Requirement law.

But the fact is that the Malloy/Finch deal with leave the Bridgeport Board of Education twisting slowly in the wind.

And as to the long-held notion that it is the Legislative Branch of Government that approves the state budget and only the Legislative Branch that can allocate additional funding for Bridgeport, Ben Barnes, who served as Bridgeport’s interim director of finance before he became Malloy’s Budget Chief, told the Connecticut Post that “he had some contact with the Legislature’s appropriations committee chairs over the matter, but believes the administration has broad authority within existing education reform dollars to make the additional payment to Bridgeport…“

Media requests from Wait,What? to the Governor’s Office, the Education Commissioner’s Office and the Office of Policy and Management asking for what statutory authority Barnes believes gives him the ability to give Bridgeport another $1.2 million in education funding without legislative approval have gone unanswered.

As if the Malloy/Finch deal wasn’t already difficult enough for the dozens of other Connecticut communities that are also suffering from inadequate funding to hear about, the Malloy administration managed to rub additional salt in the wound via a letter Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education sent to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

Pryor calls the Malloy/Finch deal less than ideal but adds that it is “sufficient to allow all parties to turn their attention from past conflicts to our aspirations for the future.”

Hello?

Commissioner Pryor?

Will allow all parties to turn their attention from past conflicts to our aspirations for the future?

By allocating state money without legislative approval, leaving the Bridgeport Board of Education with a new deficit for this school year and blowing off the financial problems faced by Connecticut’s other communities.

Yup, file this one under:  The Malloy administration’s approach to financial planning in 2013

You can read the full Connecticut Post article here:  http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/City-has-a-deal-but-board-not-satisfied-5011160.php

Hartford School Board vote reveals more about secret deal within Malloy administration

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As reported by the Hartford Courant, “The city board of education reversed itself Monday night and approved two proposed magnet schools for the 2014-15 year, nearly a week after voting to reject the plans that were negotiated as part of a settlement in the Sheff v. O’Neill case.”

The Hartford Board of Education also approved a proposal to proceed with selecting a Hartford neighborhood school to become a “lighthouse” school which would, in turn, attract additional state funds for the school.

As the Courant noted, “School board members voted Monday to pursue a “lighthouse” school model — essentially, a neighborhood school that would be entitled to special state funding for improvements… A lighthouse school in Hartford would receive at least $750,000 annually for improvements over a minimum of three years, school officials said Monday. Poland said the pledged funding from the state was crucial for the board’s reconsideration of the magnet school proposals.”

As originally proposed to the Hartford Board of Education last week, the “lighthouse” school was targeted to be the SAND Elementary School and was part of a package that would have allowed Capital Preparatory Magnet School Principal Steve Perry to set up his own company and the Board would then have transferred control of both Capital Prep and SAND to that private entity.

The funds mentioned in today’s Courant article would have transferred to Perry’s company along with nearly $15 million-a-year in state funding for the 1,000 students that would have been under his control.

The resolutions approved by the Hartford Board of Education removed any direct reference to Perry, but as late as yesterday morning, Perry was still lobbying hard for the proposal.

Yesterday morning Perry’s operation was handing out a flyer at Capital Prep entitled “SAND Kids Can’t Wait” that instructed parents to attend the meeting and demand the “$3 million and Capital Prep Light House School.”

The powers that be must have gotten to Perry in the afternoon because no demonstration or “demand” by the Perry supporters took place.

Instead of granting Perry direct control of the schools and the corresponding funds, the Hartford Board adopted a process in which Superintendent Christina Kishimoto will form a four-member lighthouse school selection committee.

Critics of Steve Perry will note, however, that there is nothing in the Board’s language that suggests Perry can’t be selected by Kishimoto and her committee as the “turnaround entity” and the announcement yesterday that the eventual “lighthouse” plan must be approved by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, makes it that much clearer that the Malloy administration has played a major role throughout this policy fiasco.

Since the story first broke last week, participants in the Sheff negotiations have revealed that the Governor’s Office, OPM Secretary Ben Barns and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor played the lead role in the talks, rather than the Attorney General’s Office, which has traditionally played a more direct role in the lawsuit and its related negotiations.

In addition, a number of sources have explained that the Perry boondoggle was proposed and pushed by the Malloy administration as a requirement for Hartford getting any additional state funds at all.

The notion that Pryor will now be a key player in the approval process reiterates the odd role the Malloy Administration has played in the effort to turn Capital Prep and SAND over to Perry’s private company.

According to the Courant report, “the [lighthouse] panel will be asked to convene at least one community forum and identify three or more city schools as candidates for a turnaround plan… By April 1, 2014, the selection committee is expected to recommend a school and its improvement plan, which must ultimately be approved by state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.”

The entire “lighthouse” concept seems designed to get around the Connecticut General Assembly’s language which prohibits the Commissioner of Education from taking over more than two schools in a district via his “Commissioner’s Network” program.  Concerned about giving Pryor and the Malloy administration too much control over local communities, legislators added the “two-school limit” as a way to preserve local control of schools.  The “lighthouse” school proposal appears to provide the Malloy administration with yet another way to undermine that language and the authority of local communities.

As to the two “new” magnet schools, the Hartford Board of Education voted 6-1 to move forward with creating the Capital Community College Senior Academy which will be a magnet school for 11th and 12th graders.

The board also approved converting “High School Inc., one of Hartford’s specialized high school programs, to a Sheff magnet school beginning with ninth grade in 2014-15 and gradually expanding to 12th grade by 2017-18.”

You can read the Hartford Courant story at: http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-sheff-magnet-1126-20131125,0,3465187.story

NEWS FLASH: Is Perry mocking Hartford Mayor and School Board Chair in Capital Prep Flyer or revealing secret strategy?

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Last week the Hartford Board of Education rejected the secret one-year Sheff v. O’Neill settlement agreement amid concerns that it was an inappropriate, and potentially even illegal, attempt to allow Steve Perry to set up his own company and then hand control of both Capital Prep and SAND elementary school over to that private entity.

The Perry issue also took down two other proposed magnet schools for Hartford; one at Capital Community College and one at High School, Inc. an existing Hartford school program that is connected to Travelers Insurance Company.

In response to the defeat, Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland called a special meeting of the Hartford Board of Education for tonight to re-vote the two proposed magnet schools and move forward with the idea of a more public process to help the SAND Elementary School or another neighborhood school become what is being called a “Lighthouse School” (whatever that is).

Chairman Poland and Mayor Segarra appeared to be salvaging what they could from the secret Sheff v. O’Neill deal, leaving aside Perry’s empire-building proposal.

The understanding was that proceeding with the “Lighthouse School” option WAS NOT an underhanded attempt to sneak Perry back into the picture.

But not to be outdone, Perry forces were handing out handing out a flyer and rounding up Capital Prep parents this morning instructing them to go to tonight’s Board of Education meeting to demand the “$3 million and Capital Prep Light House School.”

The headline of Perry’s flyer reads:  “SAND Kids Can’t Wait”

flyer (3)

Perry’s fancy flyer raises serious doubts as to whether Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland and Mayor Pedro Segarra were telling the truth about the purpose of tonight’s meeting or, alternatively, are they being had by Steve Perry, perhaps with the help of embattled Superintendent of Schools, Christina Kishimoto and others.

It is hard to imagine which would be worse… that the Chairman of the Hartford Board of Education and the Mayor of Hartford would be lying to their constituents and the people of Connecticut or that Perry would be undermining their effort without their knowledge.

What is clear is that Steve Perry believes the “$3 million and Capital Prep Light House School” is his for the taking.

The $3 million is money that Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor, OPM Secretary Barnes and Attorney General George Jepsen put on the table to try to convince the Sheff Plaintiffs to agree to this one-year deal so that they can push-off any further discussion of the segregation lawsuit until next year, after the 2014 gubernatorial election.

The “Lighthouse School” concept was a shell of an idea that has never been spelled out but was adopted by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1997.  (See language below).

Regardless of what was intended back in 1997, Steve Perry apparently believes that he has been guaranteed the leading role in an incredible deal that would allow him to take two existing public schools (Capital Prep and another Hartford School), more than 1,000 students, all of their state funding and an additional $3 million in a special allocation and move it off-line to a private company in which he is the sole officer.

The funding stream would provide Perry and his company with approximately $15 million a year in taxpayer funds.

For Perry to be so outspoken about the fact that Capital Prep parents should demand the “$3 million and Capital Prep Light House School” means others are definitely involved in this scam…

But the question is – is it Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor, Superintendent Kishimoto, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Hartford Board Chair Matt Poland or all of the above?

This will go down as a case study in how Connecticut public policy is made during the Malloy years and it doesn’t get any uglier than this…

 

Here is the definition of Lighthouse Schools from an old State Department of Education document:

A ‘lighthouse school’ is an existing public school or a public school planned before July 1, 1997, in a priority school district that (1) has a specialized curriculum and (2) is designed to promote intradistrict and interdistrict public school choice. During the 2000-01 academic year five lighthouse schools were operating in Connecticut. The State Department of Education provided up to $100,000 in grants to schools in each of the state’s three largest urban districts, Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven, to support the development of lighthouse schools into regional interdistrict magnet schools. Over a three-year period, each school must develop a unique educational theme, devise a governance agreement, revise its curriculum, establish a contract with surrounding school districts that will become feeders for the magnet school, recruit a diverse student body, and provide professional development for its teachers. After up to three years of funding as a lighthouse school, the school must open as an interdistrict magnet school whose purpose is to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. As a result of the lighthouse program, one elementary school and one middle school opened as interdistrict magnet schools in September 2001

And here is the Agenda for tonight’s Hartford Board of Education Meeting:

Approval to Implement Anticipated Sheff Agreement – Lighthouse (Dr. Kishimoto, Honorable Pedro Segarra, Mr. Poland and Dr. McIntye)

That the Hartford Board of Education further authorizes and directs the Superintendent to identify at least three (3) neighborhood and/or community schools as potential Lighthouse Schools, as well as the model(s) which may be implemented. The criteria to be used by the Superintendent in making these determinations shall include those used in considering re-designs, as well as any other relevant considerations. Thereafter, the Superintendent shall conduct one or more community forums to discuss the schools and models so identified.

Based on the results of said community forum(s), the Superintendent shall determine whether one or more of the schools and/or models so identified should be removed from consideration and whether a school and/or model not already so identified should be considered. After making these determinations, the Superintendent shall identify one (1) neighborhood school as a potential Lighthouse School, based on whether the school has the potential to meet the Lighthouse school goals. Specifically, does the school have conditions necessary for school quality improvement and increasing natural diversity? The Superintendent shall meet with and consider the input of the School Governance interested parents, other stakeholders, and the faculty and administration of said school. Based on the foregoing, the Superintendent shall recommend to the Board of Education one school for conversion to a Lighthouse School as well as the proposed model.

Approval to Implement Anticipated Sheff Agreement (Dr. Kishimoto, Honorable Pedro Segarra, Mr. Poland and Dr. McIntye)

That the Hartford Board of Education approves the creation of a new Partnership Magnet School with Capital Community College, the Capital Community College Senior Academy;

Furthermore, the Board of Education authorizes the Superintendent to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding with Capital Community College regarding the creation of such new school; and

Furthermore, the Board of Education authorizes the conversion of High School, Inc. to a Sheff magnet school starting with the 9th grade in 2014-2015 with expansion to grade 12 by 2017-2018.

Bridgeport: Where “truth” is sometimes fiction

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Paul Vallas likes to brag that he “balanced” Bridgeport’s school budget during the two years he ran Bridgeport’s schools.

Mayor Bill Finch likes to brag that he is making a huge “investment” in Bridgeport schools.

Every time Paul Vallas speaks about his budget success he fails to mention that he didn’t actually balance last year’s Bridgeport School Budget, the taxpayers of Connecticut did.

When Bridgeport’s Education budget was still facing a $3.4 million deficit, Governor Malloy proposed, and the legislature adopted special language providing Bridgeport with a $3.4 million “forgivable” loan.

And what did Connecticut taxpayer’s get in return if the loan was “forgivable”?

If Paul Vallas left his job as Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools – which he is now doing – Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, would be responsible for “approving” Vallas’ successor.  The wording is actually, “As a condition of making such loan under this section, the commissioner shall require the selection of a superintendent of schools or chief financial officer of the Bridgeport school district from a pool of up to three candidates approved by the commissioner.”

Vallas, Finch, Malloy and Pryor seem to forget that the “deal” is forever preserved in Public Act No. 12-1 of the June 12 Special Session (see complete language below).

And now, despite his bragging about his massive investment in Bridgeport’s schools, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch has now cut a secret deal with the Malloy Administration that will allow Bridgeport to take a pass on the law that requires Connecticut communities to maintain a minimum contribution to their local school budget in order to qualify for state funds.

When Mayor Finch presented this year’s Bridgeport City Budget he announced, “Thanks to the actions of my administration and the City Council, we are working more closely with the Board of Education to provide better educational opportunities for our children than ever before.”

But now, the secret deal he has cut with Governor Malloy’s operation means the City of Bridgeport DOES NOT HAVE TO PROVIDE their schools with $3,281,703 that would otherwise have been required under Connecticut law.

You can read about the new Finch/Malloy Bridgeport deal in yesterday’s Wait, What? post: Secret Deal for Malloy Political ally turns Education Funding Formula into a joke.

So Vallas didn’t balance the school budget last year, Connecticut taxpayer’s picked up the cost of the $3.4 million deficit.

And this year, a new deal between Malloy and Finch will mean that Bridgeport is excused from having to put $3.2 million into their school budget.

But hey, at least Malloy’s Commissioner of Education gets to require that the selection of a Bridgeport superintendent of schools is from “a pool of up to three candidates approved by the commissioner.”

Here is the language of Section 289 of Public Act No. 12-1 of the June 12 Special Session.

Sec. 289. (Effective July 1, 2012) (a) The sum of $ 2,300,000 appropriated in section 67 of public act 11-61 to the Department of Education, for Personal Services, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, shall not lapse on June 30, 2012, and such funds shall continue to be available for the purpose of funding a loan to the city of Bridgeport to be included in the budgeted appropriation for education for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, for the city of Bridgeport during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.

(b) The sum of $ 700,000 appropriated in section 67 of public act 11-61 to the Department of Education, for Sheff Settlement, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, shall not lapse on June 30, 2012, and such funds shall continue to be available for the purpose of funding a loan to the city of Bridgeport to be included in the budgeted appropriation for education for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, for the city of Bridgeport during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.

(c) The sum of $ 500,000 appropriated in section 67 of public act 11-61 to the Department of Education, for OPEN Choice Program, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, shall not lapse on June 30, 2012, and such funds shall continue to be available for the purpose of funding a loan to the city of Bridgeport to be included in the budgeted appropriation for education for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, for the city of Bridgeport during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.

(d) The Commissioner of Education may, upon approval by the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, provide a loan of up to three million five hundred thousand dollars to the city of Bridgeport for the purposes of inclusion in the budgeted appropriation of education for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, to cover education expenditures incurred during such fiscal year. As a condition of making such loan under this section, the commissioner (1) shall require the selection of a superintendent of schools or chief financial officer of the Bridgeport school district from a pool of up to three candidates approved by the commissioner, and (2) may require additional process or outcome targets and objectives to be included in the alliance district plan submitted by the board of education pursuant to section 34 of public act 12-116. The city of Bridgeport shall repay such loan not later than June 30, 2015. The commissioner may permit the city of Bridgeport to repay such loan by reducing the equalization aid grant received pursuant to section 10-262h of the general statutes, as amended by this act, in each fiscal year of such repayment. The commissioner may, upon approval from the secretary, forgive all or a portion of such loan if the city of Bridgeport has complied with the conditions of such loan and the commissioner has approved the alliance district plan submitted by the board of education pursuant to section 34 of public act 12-116.

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

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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.

“Special Deal” Adamowski state job was not part of Pryor’s “Sweeping Reorganization Plan”

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A primary question facing Governor Malloy and Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor is how did they have the authority to create a special position for Steven Adamowski when the State Board of Education hadn’t even voted to continue Adamowski’s role as “Special Master” for the Windham and New London school systems.

In fact, the position for “Special Deal” Adamowski wasn’t even part of the State Department of Education’s organization plan.

For that we have to go back to January 18, 2012 when the Connecticut State Board of Education approved Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s reorganization plan.  Pryor’s plan was developed with the help of a team of consultants who were brought in on no-bid contracts to help Malloy and Pryor write the Governor’s new education reform bill and reorganize the department to implement the new initiative.

Connecticut’s taxpayers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for these out-of-state consultants to develop a re-organization plan for Pryor and the education reform bill for Malloy.

At the time, Commissioner Pryor said that the reorganization plan laid out “the essential groundwork for realizing reform by creating the structure and capacity” to carry out Malloy’s education reform efforts.”

According to a press release issued at the time, “The reorganization addresses Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s six principles on education reform, including: (1) Enhancing families’ access to high-quality early childhood; (2) Turning around Connecticut’s lowest-performing schools and districts; (3) Expanding the availability of high-quality school models; (4) Removing red tape and other barriers to success; (5) Ensuring that our schools are home to the very best teachers and principals; and (6) Delivering more resources, targeted to districts with the greatest need-provided that they embrace key reforms that position our students for success.”

State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor was quoted in the official press release saying, “The Board’s support for the reorganization of the Department sets into motion a new era for education reform grounded in high expectations for every student in Connecticut’s public schools. Chief among our goals is to harness the strength to overcome deep achievement gaps in our system. This reorganization plan provides the right framework for progress.”

Commissioner Stefan Pryor added, “This reorganization plan sets the stage to accomplish the significant education reforms presented by Governor Malloy. We will position a talented team and operating structure that’s second to none, making Connecticut a national education leader once again.”

But the plan didn’t include the office of Special Master or a position for Steven Adamowski because Adamowski’s no-bid contract had already been delivered to him through the State Education Resource Center.

But now Malloy and Pryor wanted Adamowski to get a state job and apparently were hoping nobody would remember the earlier statements surrounding Pryor’s re-organization plan.

On August 8, 2013, Adam Goldfarb, Commissioner Pryor’s Chief of Staff, wrote to Malloy’s Office of Policy and Management explaining, “The purpose of our requested increase in headcount is to successfully implement the new work required of the state by the Governor’s reforms…”

So now Pryor’s operation needed more positions to implement Malloy’s education reform initiative?

But just a few weeks earlier Pryor had let seven State Department of Education experts go.  The four Leaders in Residence and the three retired superintendents of schools, all of whom at had been successfully working with these priority school districts to enhance their local education programs were gone and Pryor replaced them with a $1 million contract with a well-connected, out-of-state company called MassInsight that proceeded to send in a series of inexperienced consultants to help Connecticut’s poorest school districts.

But now Malloy’s Chief of Staff was asking for more positions, one of which we have now learned was intended, all along, for Steven Adamowski.

Apparently the professional staff at the Office of Policy and Management was also confused by Goldfarb’s argument on Pryor’s behalf.

According to a packet of emails acquired last week, one OPM analyst wrote back to Goldfarb saying,

Ben [Barnes] forwarded me the memo from the Commissioner to Mark Ojakian [Malloy’s chief of staff] and Ben regarding the staffing plan for implementation of Governor’s reforms.  Following a meeting with Ben on it, we would ask that you provide more detail as to how this can be accomplished within the budget for FY14 and FY15.  I assume the 24 new positions outlined in the memo include the 15 that were previously requested…I believe SDE currently has twenty something vacancies, which I assume would go unfilled in order to pay these other 24 positions…

  • A new “staffing plan” needed to implement the Governor’s education reforms?
  • 24 new positions including the 15 that were previously requested?
  • But the State Department of Education already had 20 funded vacancies?
  • And all of this time, one of these positions was targeted for Steven Adamowski?

And perhaps the most stunning point of all is that none of this came before the State Board of Education for approval despite the fact that the State Board, with great fanfare, had already approved a major reorganization plan to handle Malloy’s education reforms?

Is there anyone in charge of anything at the State Department of Education?

The new state budget that was approved by the Connecticut General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Malloy took effect on July 1, 2013…That budget is the legal framework for the expenditure of all taxpayer funds.

And here, thirty days later, Commissioner Pryor’s office is asking for an entirely new staffing plan for Malloy’s education reform bill…

And none of these important policy issues are reviewed and approved by the State Board of Education —- the entity which is legally mandated to oversee the operation of the State Department of Education?

And we wonder why the people of Connecticut have lost faith in their government.

Is that your credit card? Why yes, yes it is….

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[Or perhaps a better title would be:  Didn’t that sign back there say… “Bridge Out” to which the elected official responded…what sign?]

Earlier this week, the CT Mirror ran a story entitled “Debate intensifies over CT’s credit card,“ while CT Newsjunkie’s story was State On Pace to Exceed Malloy’s Self-Imposed Debt Limit.

Since the stories contained quotes from State Senator John McKinney, a potential candidate for governor and rather defensive statements from Governor Malloy’s media operation, some readers may have misinterpreted the issue as being primarily political in nature.

However, the truth is far from that.

If you skipped over the stories about the state’s bonding and tomorrow’s state Bond Commissioner meeting, go back and read them very, very carefully.

They highlight what is surely one of the most important fiscal issues facing Connecticut and the failure of our elected officials to take the matter seriously.  The course they are on will literally destroy Connecticut’s economic future.

The short version of the issue is as follows;

Tomorrow morning the Connecticut state Bond Commission will meet to borrow an additional $395.5 million in general obligation bonds.

With two more Bond Commission meetings left in the year, this new borrowing will “put Gov. Dannel P. Malloy within $20 million of his self-imposed $1.8 billion bonding limit.”

As CT Newsjunkie reported, at the first Bond Commission meeting this year Malloy said, “I can’t imagine that we would exceed $1.8 [billion], but we may be substantially less than that.”

But here we are…. At $1.8 billion and counting.

The $1.78 billion number actually exceeds last year’s amount of borrowing by nearly $400 million.

As State Senator John McKinney observed, “The governor, who two years ago set the record for the largest tax increase in state history, has today set a new record for the highest amount of borrowing in state history…This level of borrowing and these broken promises show a lack of leadership, a lack of fiscal responsibility, and a lack of consideration for the taxpaying public.”

McKinney’s statement was brushed aside by the Malloy administration who went on to claim that borrowing more money is not a drag on the state’s economy.

But that attitude overlooks a far more serious issue.

The drag on the economy is not so much a concern today, but the $19 billion in bonds the state must be off over the next twenty years will have significant and far-reaching ramifications.

Across the country, the average state per capita debt burden for state funded bonds is about $1,400.  In Connecticut, the state per capita debt burden is just about $5,100.

And that is just the amount owed for bonds.

According to the state of Connecticut’s own numbers, over the next few decades, Connecticut taxpayers will have to come up with nearly $64 billion in addition to the funds necessary to pay for the State’s annual expenditures.

Besides the $19 billion in existing outstanding debt, Taxpayers will have to deal with the following obligations;

State Employee Retirement System (SERS) $ 11 billion

Teachers’ Retirement System $ 11 billion

State Post Employment Health and Life Benefits $18 billion

Teachers’ Post Employment Health Benefits $3.0

Generally Accepted Accounting Principles Deficit $1.5 billion (a major portion of which the state intends to borrow)

Like having to use a bigger and bigger portion of one’s salary to pay off the minimum balance on their credit cards, the state’s extraordinary debt is requiring more and more of the state budget to be diverted from services to debt payment.

Ten years ago, about 8.5 percent of the state budget went for debt service.  Today that figure is over 10 percent and growing.  In this year’s state budget, about $2.2 billion is going for debt service.

Compare that $2.2 billion to Governor Malloy’s claim that he improved education funding by providing about $50 million in new funds for Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing Formula.

As Keith Phaneuf wrote in his CT Mirror article earlier this week,

“Financing for state government’s capital program basically follows a three-stage process:

  • The legislature has sole authority to “authorize” bonding. Every two years lawmakers adopt a schedule of projects that may be financed with long-term borrowing.
  • The bond commission — a 10-member panel of administration officials and legislators chaired by the governor — has sole authority to pick which projects will be financed.
  • And when a state agency or some other entity is ready to actually carry out a project, the state treasurer’s office is empowered to issue bonds on Wall Street to raise the funds needed to cover expenses.

So while bond commission action doesn’t necessarily mean money will be spent right away, it does represent the state’s intention to move forward at some point with a project.

And given that Connecticut has one of the largest bonded debts, per capita, of any state in the nation, McKinney said Malloy should be more restrained about assigning projects to the credit card.”

To that, Malloy’s press operation shot back at McKinney saying, “The work supported by the bond commission creates jobs for Connecticut residents. It also allows the state to invest in local projects like schools, parks and senior centers. Senator McKinney should explain which important investment in job creation and quality of life improvements for residents in all of our towns and cities he does not support.”

While investment in “shovel” ready projects to create jobs is undoubtedly an important priority, the rather flippant response from the Malloy administration reveals the same lack of appreciation that previous governors have shown – Democrat, Republican and Independent – all of whom have pushed up the state’s indebtedness and undermined the long-term health of Connecticut’s economy.

The underlining problem is that many of today’s politicians will be long gone when the children of today’s taxpayers are given a bill that they can’t possibly pay.

For more about this issue, start by reading the CT Mirror story here: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/2013/09/23/debate-intensifies-over-cts-credit-card and then the CT Newsjunkie story here:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/state_on_pace_to_exceed_malloys_self-imposed_debt_limit/#more.

Then when you have your courage, go check the General Assembly’s Fiscal Accountability Report which you can find here:  (Especially look at pages 26-32): http://www.cga.ct.gov/ofa/Documents/year/FF/2013FF-20121115_Fiscal%20Accountability%20Report%20FY%2013%20-%20FY%2016.pdf

Mayor Finch and Bridgeport say… But we don’t want to spend our money on education…

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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

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