Budget Cuts – Round #1, More to Come

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On Thursday, Governor Malloy’s budget director announced a series of significant budget cuts to existing state programs.  The problem is not only the damage the cuts will do but that they solve only a portion of this year’s growing state budget deficit which is now projected at about $100 million.  However, the magnitude of the budget deficit is closer to twice that number, a fact that Malloy can’t keep secret for more than another month or two.

Still Malloy’s initial cuts fly in the face of his repeated promises that Connecticut’s fiscal health is good and that we do not need to cut vital services if the voters of Connecticut granted him a second term in office.

But his actions tell a very different story.

Topping his list of budget cuts was, as expected, Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, along with critically important human services.

CT Mirror has the details at “Malloy’s emergency budget cuts fall on social services, education,” CTNewsJunkie at “Malloy Makes Cuts To DCF, Higher Ed,” and the Courant at “Malloy Makes $47.8M In Budget Cuts To Ease Deficit.”

The most revolting of Malloy’s budget cuts are aimed at Connecticut most vulnerable citizens, children facing severe challenges and those with developmental disabilities.

Malloy cut $9.2 million from the Department of Children and Families and $5.5 million from the Department of Developmental Disabilities.  Since there are only seven months left in the fiscal year, these cuts will hit key programs especially hard.

As reported by CT Mirror and others, Malloy has been limiting access to DCF’s residential treatment programs (group homes for extremely troubled children).   His latest cut will effectively close the door on new placements and lead the closure of even more DCF group homes.

While a Malloy official explained away the problem to the CT Mirror by saying that DCF was, “committed to maintaining youth in their communities in the least restrictive settings that can meet their needs,” the reality of the situation is that there are many parents and children that desperately need residential options.  In far too many cases, the failure to provide a residential placement puts the family and child in danger.

However, in what only can be described as an immoral move, the Malloy administration turns its back on these Connecticut families and children.  If Malloy’s action is not illegal, it should be.

In an equally inappropriate blow, Malloy is cutting the Department of Developmental Services including day services and employment programs for those with developmental disabilities.  Sad and ironic that Malloy reduces residential treatment options and then reduces options for those who need day treatment and employment services.

Malloy’s human service cuts also include $3.2 million cut from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The cuts to that agency will mean vitally important positions will go unfilled, leaving remaining employees unable to meet the present demand for services.

At the same time the governor is going after human services, he is also cutting an additional $6.5 from Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, this despite the fact that Malloy has already made the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s system of public higher education.

Rather than speak out against these dramatic cuts, the spokespeople for the universities and colleges rolled over in appeasement, thereby assuring that Connecticut students and their parents will be paying even more and getting even less from UConn, CSU and the community colleges.

As Malloy pretends to claim that he is adhering to his “no new taxes” pledge, Connecticut college students and their parents will be paying higher tuition – which is nothing more than a user tax.

But perhaps the most offensive move of all is Malloy’s failure to come clean about the magnitude of the budget problem, even though the election is safely behind him.

While the present budget deficit is officially pegged at about $100 million, Malloy’s budget office is holding back evidence of additional budget problems.  The reality of the situation is that this round of cuts solves less than half of the documented budget deficit and more like 25 percent of the real budget problem facing the state.

Even in victory Malloy remains unable or unwilling to tell the people of Connecticut the truth.

Malloy must take responsibility for many of the these hospital layoffs

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When Governor Malloy proposed his bait and switch “provider tax” strategy he promised hospitals that they would be “held harmless.”  The goal he said was simply to maximize federal reimbursement rates.

But two years later, the impact of Malloy’s decision to renege on that promise is leading to massive layoffs and undermining many of Connecticut’s hospitals.

The news headlines have been shocking;

“The state’s 30 acute care hospitals have shed 1,400 jobs in the past year”

“Hartford HealthCare is eliminating 350 jobs”

“Nearly 70 positions at The William W. Backus and Windham hospitals will be eliminated”

“List shows 176 Connecticut layoff notices so far (Norwalk Hour)”

“116 positions will be eliminated as a result of state budget cuts (Danbury News-Times)”

St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center is reducing the staff at its pediatric and adolescent clinic

“The layoffs announced Monday are the second round in the last seven months.  In November, Hartford HealthCare laid off 179 employees, including 10 each at Backus and Windham.”

So why are people being thrown out of their jobs when access to quality healthcare is more important than ever?

Malloy’s “provider tax” budget gimmick is a major factor.

When Malloy proposed his $1.5 billion tax increase in 2011, the plan also included an additional $350 million “provider tax” on hospitals.  Malloy claimed it wasn’t really a tax because the hospitals would get all the money back and the federal government would reimburse the state for a portion of that money.

Of course, to the self-pay patient, it was a tax.

And to the health insurance company it was yet another cost to be passed on to the people who pay for health insurance.

But the General Assembly approved Malloy’s plan anyway.

As part of his state budget coverage, CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf wrote last year,

“And then there’s really bad news: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would cut their state funding by one-fifth over the next two years.

Put it all together, hospitals say, and at best, they will cut jobs and services. At worst, some will shut their doors. And facilities in the state’s poor northeastern corner say they are particularly at risk.”

The fact is that while the Malloy administration did pay the hospitals back the first year, his budget REDUCED the amount Connecticut hospitals received by about $27 million in the second year, $134 million the third year and $269 million in this year’s budget.

Overall, as a result of Governor Malloy’s budget strategies, while hospitals are being paid for additional Medicaid services, the State of Connecticut has reduced funding for its 32 chronic care hospitals by about $400 million dollars in the last two years alone.

The massive number of layoffs are proof that the “chickens are coming home to roost.”

And, none of this is a surprise to Malloy and the legislature.

As the Vice President of the Connecticut Hospital Association said,

“In short, what started 18 months ago as a scheme to help balance the state budget … has been converted to an unadulterated tax on hospitals…It’s one thing not to help hospitals, it’s something completely different when you harm hospitals.  “Taking patient care revenue to balance the state budget is just plain wrong.”

The state cuts to hospitals garnered some notoriety last spring when Malloy lost his temper on the WNPR radio show, “Where We Live,”

The CT Mirror reported at the time,

When Malloy appeared on May 6 on WNPR’s public affairs show “Where We Live,” he responded quickly when host John Dankosky asked about the hospital funding reductions the governor’s own budget staff wrote about in his budget.

“Let me stop you right there,” Malloy told Dankosky about four minutes into the program. “There aren’t cuts to hospitals.”

The administration insists that while the hospitals lose $400 million in tax reimbursements, they will make it back. But to do so, hospitals will have to treat thousands more poor patients covered through Medicaid.

“It is time for people to trim their sails, to find ways to deliver great service at less expense,” the governor said, adding that all hospital-related state spending should be $1.7 billion next fiscal year, just as it is this year. “We’re not cutting, we’re funding.”

What Malloy forgot was the evidence of the cuts was part of his own budget documents.

Again quoting the CT Mirror,

When the administration unveiled its latest budget plan in February, it initially referred to those changes in hospital reimbursements as spending cuts.

“The decision to reduce hospital funding was not an easy one,” the governor’s budget introduction states.

While the overall policy is rather complex, the impact has been pretty simple.  The way Malloy has handled the state budget is a primary factor behind the hospital layoffs that are taking place across the state.

The families that are being devastated by these hospital layoffs and the communities being impacted by reduced levels of services should tell Governor Malloy that at the very least, he must take responsibility for the actions he took that are now leading to many healthcare workers losing their jobs.

You can read the CT Mirror’s coverage of this issue here:  http://ctmirror.org/hospitals-warn-budget-cuts-will-cut-jobs-and-services-maybe-close-doors/ and here http://ctmirror.org/semantics-malloys-no-tax-pledge/

We don’t need no stinkin Certificate of Occupancy…. Laws don’t apply to Rev. Moales

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The strange twisted tale of Reverend Kenneth Moales, Jr. the Paul Vallas defender, Mayor Bill Finch campaign treasurer and Chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education took another strange turn yesterday when the Connecticut Post reported that Moales’ 1500-seat church, the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, never acquired a certificate of occupancy when it opened in 2009 and still doesn’t have one today.

Not only is Moales’ Cathedral of the Holy Spirit one of the properties facing foreclosure due to Moales’ failure to pay an $8 million loan, but the Connecticut Post is reporting the property houses the religious school that is operated by Moales and his church.

Connecticut state law requires that every building have a certificate of occupancy before it can be used.  Certificates of occupancy are provided by the local building inspector, on behalf of the state, after it has been determined that all fire and building codes have been met.  The law reads that, “Any person who violates any provision of the State Building Code shall be fined not less than two hundred dollars or more than one thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

In this case, it is the responsibility of the Bridgeport building inspector, a position appointed by Mayor Finch, to conduct all inspections and issue certificates of occupancy.

According to the Connecticut Post article, when confronted with the news, Kenneth Moales Jr. said, “We have one. We have a temporary one.”  And when he was told that there was no certificate of occupancy issued for the building, Moales said, “It’s not a problem.”

The Connecticut Post goes on to report that a Bridgeport building official “acknowledged it would be a violation of state law to occupy a building without a certificate of occupancy” but then explained that “he is not in a position to determine whether the church and Moales are operating illegally.”

The Connecticut Post story added, “When it was pointed out that the building has been used for the past four years as both a house of worship, drawing hundreds from around the area every Sunday, and a kindergarten-through-grade-six school, [the building official] said he was not aware of that.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Finch’s spokesperson told the Connecticut Post, “Mayor Finch was aware that the building was being utilized, having attended events at that site; however, he had no reason to suspect that an appropriate CO had not been issued.” The spokeswoman added, “A local chief elected official or chief executive officer exercises no jurisdiction or authority in such matters.”

What makes the story even more disturbing is that while the Connecticut Post is reporting that the building that lacks a certificate of occupancy houses a kindergarten-through-grade-six religious schools, documents show that the Love Christian Academy, a school that is registered to be kindergarten-through-grade-eight was supposed to be located at 1065 Central Avenue, another property owned by the church.

Furthermore, licensure documents filed with the Connecticut Department of Public Health show that Moales’ mother and sister presently have a “pending application” to expand their Kingdom’s Little Ones Academy to service 45 children and house it in the building the lacks the necessary occupancy certificate.

Other state licensure documents report that the Little One’s Daycare center (with 62 children) is presently located at 1277 Stafford Avenue and the Kingdom’s Little Ones Academy (with 15 children) is located at 1243 Stratford Avenue.  Both buildings are owned by the church and like the building that is supposed to be housing the religious school, these properties are also facing the same foreclosure proceedings.

At this point, it is not known whether the two daycare facilities are in buildings that have been properly inspected or have valid certificates of occupancy.

The complete Connecticut Post article can be found here:  http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/State-Church-must-close-without-paperwork-4680439.php

School Districts thrown under the bus as Commissioner Pryor ends successful technical services program

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Last Friday, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education quietly ended what has widely been recognized as one of the State Department of Education’s most important and successful programs.

For years, a variety of Connecticut school districts have been receiving vital technical assistance from a group of retired superintendents and senior school administrators through a program housed at the State Department of Education.

The program has functioned thanks to a grant through EASTCONN, the Regional Education Service Center.  The program has funded four State Department “Leaders in Residence,” along with three retired school superintendents.  Together these people have been giving school districts across the state with critically important helpg on a wide variety of projects.

Together, former superintendents Mike Wasta (Bristol), Patrick Proctor (Windham), Jim Mitchel (Groton) and Leaders in Residence, Rosanne Daigneault, Warren Logee, Robert Pitocco and Salvatore Randazzo have more than 250 years of combined expertise on the cutting edge of making schools succeed.  Their expertise ranges from Special Education, to improving teaching to financial management.  Some have Ph.Ds. while others have Education Doctorates.  All have spent their lives here in Connecticut helping improve our schools.

And now, as a result of Pryor’s most recent decision, towns will be losing the very help and expertise they so desperately need.

What is particularly disturbing is that Malloy and Pryor have repeatedly claimed their goal is to help school districts, especially the poorest school districts, succeed.

The hallmark of Malloy’s education reform law, Public Act 12-116, was the creation of so-called “Alliance Districts.”  According to Malloy’s bill, the Alliance District program was developed to focus support and funds on the 30 districts with the “lowest district performance index scores statewide.”

These are the districts that have the highest rates of poverty, the largest number of students who come to school with English language challenges and the communities that have the greatest number of children with special education needs.

And these very districts were among those that benefited the most from the state’s technical assistance programs.

But in a complete reverse of priorities, one of Commissioner Pryor’s top aides at the State Department of Education called these experts together last Friday to inform them, that despite the extraordinary success of their program, the Commissioner was putting an end to their contracts. More

ESPN announces layoffs as part of Malloy’s “Jive Five” Economic Development Program

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The Urban Dictionary defines “jive” as a “colorful form of speaking” that is “sometimes hard to follow.”

In the real world here is how it works;

On August 2, 2011 Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced that, in return for creating 200 new jobs over the next five years, the taxpayers of Connecticut would give ESPN $17.5 million toward the construction of a new building and at least $300,000 to train the new workers.  Malloy explained, “ESPN’s needs are not going to be ignored.”

That corporate welfare package brought the total Connecticut taxpayer support for ESPN to over $100 million in state tax breaks and grants over the past twelve years.

Then yesterday, May 20, 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that ESPN, “was in the process of laying off a few hundred workers… a sign that the hugely profitable sports cable-TV powerhouse is responding to the rising fees it pays to air games as well as other changes in the media industry…ESPN said some of the job cuts are coming through attrition, or unfilled open positions, and didn’t disclose the precise number or types of workers who are being let go.”

Associated Press added, “ESPN is cutting its workforce, the latest Disney division to reduce staff…’We are implementing changes across the company to enhance our continued growth while smartly managing costs,’ the sports media giant said in a statement Tuesday. ‘While difficult, we are confident that it will make us more competitive, innovative and productive.’”

The AP explained that the ESPN layoffs follow 300 layoffs that occurred at LucasArts and LucasFilms after Disney acquired the companies for $4.1 billion.

As AP noted, “Still, Disney has been on a roll financially, beating or matching earnings per share estimates for the last eight quarters. After it reported a 32 percent gain in net income for its fiscal second-quarter earnings two weeks ago, more than a dozen Wall Street analysts raised their price targets on Disney stock to an average of nearly $72.”

So in essence, despite being an extraordinarily financially successful subsidiarity of an extraordinarily, financially successful company that is doing extraordinarily financially well in this extraordinarily financially successful Wall Street market, ESPN accepted almost $20 million in scarce taxpayer funds and promised to create 200 jobs but is now intentionally keeping vacancies open and laying off Connecticut residents, so that it can appear even more extraordinarily financially successful.

Despite this development, according to the Hartford Courant, when asked about it, a spokesman for the Malloy administration said that ESPN will not be forced out of the First Five program as a result of its layoff plan because it is still intending to add at least 200 jobs during the period starting in August, 2011 when the Governor gave them the public funds.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut General Assembly continues to consider major cuts to some of the most significant and vital human and healthcare services.

Now if that jive is not a “colorful form of speaking” that is “sometimes hard to follow,” I don’t know what is.

Oh look, there goes more Connecticut taxpayer money to out-of-state “education reform” consultants

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Eighteen months ago, on January 5, 2012, Governor Malloy’s sponsored an Education Reform Workshop at Central Connecticut State University.  During the first breakout session there was a panel discussion focused on the issue of “Low-Performing Schools and Districts.”  The panel was moderated by Justin Cohen, President of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight Education company.

A few weeks later, Mass Insight Education’s Justin Cohen returned to Connecticut to submit testimony in support of Governor Malloy’s education reform bill, Senate Bill 24.  Cohen wrote,   “To dramatically and systemically improve our nation’s failing schools, comprehensive state turnaround initiatives, like the Commissioner’s Network included in Senate Bill 24, must be pursued as part of a spectrum of interventions. As the President of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight Education, I applaud the Connecticut State Senate for its consideration of Senate Bill 24 and strongly support its passage.”

Cohen added, “Senate Bill 24 creates part of the structure and authority necessary for the state to perform this work and hold districts accountable…”

Two trips to Connecticut in a matter of weeks.

Talk about a dedication to Governor Malloy’s education reform proposal!

And now it turns out that just last month, on 4/13/13, the State of Connecticut wrote out a check to Mr. Cohen’s Mass Insight Education company for $123,930.00.  It was an initial payment on a much larger contract signed by the Malloy Administration’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.  Mass Insight Education was chosen, over a number of entities including Connecticut’s Regional Education Service Centers, to assist with Stefan Pryor’s Commissioner’s Network Turnaround Program.  Funny…that was the very thing Cohen came to Connecticut to testify in favor of the year before!

Prior to becoming President of Mass Insight Education’s School Turnaround Group, Justin Cohen was the Director of the Office of Portfolio Management and senior advisor to Chancellor Michelle Rhee at the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

Rhee’s time there in Washington DC won her fame and fortune, as well as the demand for investigations into allegations about widespread cheating to inflate standardized test scores.

Before he worked as Rhee’s Director of Portfolio Management, Cohen worked as Director of Industry Support and Development for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

And before that, worked for the Edison Schools company.  Finally, of course, having won a contract from Stefan Pryor, we shouldn’t be surprised that Cohen also went to Yale University.

Fellow education blogger Gary Rubinstein investigated and wrote about Mass Insight Education.  Rubinstein observed that while Mass Insight claims to lead turnaround projects around the country, their track record is  murky, at best.  Rubinstein wrote, “On their School Turnaround Group [website] they list eight successful ‘turnarounds’ from around the country. Ironically, these eight ‘turnarounds’ were led by companies other than Mass Insight, but as Mass Insight doesn’t seem to want to put its own record up to scrutiny, they use these case studies to show the sorts of strategies that Mass Insight employs in its own turnarounds.”

Not surprising, Rubinstein discovered that the examples that Mass Insight Education relied upon are similar to what charter school companies here in Connecticut have been doing.  The “improved test results” that they education reforms tout are simply the result of policy changes that allowed these schools to skim off students that are less poor, have fewer language barriers, need fewer special education services or display fewer behavioral problems.  As usual, the “miracle turnaround” was a product of comparing apples to oranges, not comparing real “turnaround” in the existing population of students.

Meanwhile, Mass Insight Education has been raking in the money. According to research conducted by EduShyster, a public education blogger with extensive experience in Massachusetts, “In 2009, [Mass Insight] CEO William Guenther reported earning a cool $370,000–for 30 hours per week work. That works out to roughly $237 per hour.”

By 2011, Guenther, the Mass Insight CEO, was making $450,000.

Among its purported services, EduShyster discovered that “Mass Insight has moved into the highly lucrative consulting world, offering helpful tips to public districts and state officials around the country about how to “modify collective bargaining agreements .”

It figures that senior officials in the Malloy administration would hire a pro-charter, anti-union consulting company to advise his administration on how to undermine collective bargaining agreements.

And to further their standing, according to their IRS 990 filings, Mass Insight even engages in lobbying, although their most recent report fails to identify whether their 2012 efforts to support Governor Malloy’s education reform bill counted as lobbying.

But like all good lobbying, it would appear that their government relations expenditures can really pay off.

For example, last month’s check for $123,930.00 could have been spent here in Connecticut, supporting a Connecticut school or it could have retained the services of Connecticut residents, but instead it joined the millions of dollars flowing that are flowing to the corporate education reform industry outside of our state.

In this case, Malloy’s Department of Education is using Connecticut taxpayer funds to pay corporate consultants from Massachusetts, while Connecticut towns are left laying off teachers and reducing vital services.

Let’s hear it for the success of the corporate education-industrial reform movement!

Connecticut TFA Director wants to open a charter school…in Bridgeport

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Yup, the Connecticut Director of Teach for America has submitted an application to open a charter school in Bridgeport.

Nate Snow arrived in Bridgeport in 2007 as a new TFA recruit.

Today he serves as the Executive Director for the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America and President of the Board of Directors of Excel Bridgeport, Inc., a corporate funded education reform organization that he co-founded with Meghan Lowney, an aide to billionaire, hedge fund owner Steven Mandel.

Excel Bridgeport serves as the primary advocacy group supporting Governor Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch and “Superintendent of Schools” Paul Vallas’ education reform policies.

After graduating from Texas A&M University, Snow joined TFA and taught for two years in Bridgeport.  He then joined TFA’s fundraising operation and then made an unsuccessful bid as a Republican candidate for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Snow and Vallas recently signed a three-year contract between the Bridgeport Board of Education and Teach for America for $777,000, although the contract was never provided to the Board for their review and approval.  Team Vallas is claiming he has the authority to sign the contract without Board involvement.

And meanwhile, despite having no experience in school administration, Snow is the lead name on a charter school application that is pending before Paul Vallas and the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Snow’s proposal is to create a Montessori Charter School for children between the ages of three and thirteen.

As to Snow’s connection to TFA and Excel Bridgeport, a recent CT Post article reported that “The charter school idea, he said, is his own.”

According to their proposal, “Whittier’s Montessori program is inspired by the design and implementation of Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School (AFMMS), a high-performing public Montessori school in Hartford, Connecticut. Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School has distinguished itself by meeting high standards of student achievement through a meticulous, fully implemented Montessori program.”

Stephen Adamowski, who according to emails acquired through a Freedom of Information request, worked with Snow around Malloy’s education reform bill, was a strong proponent of Hartford’s Montessori school and now, as Malloy’s Special Master for Windham and New London has been working hard to get Windham to switch one of its elementary schools over to a Montessori school.

In the new Montessori charter school application, the proponents explain how they developed the plan saying, “Prior to preparing for this submission, none of the founders had worked with a Montessori school, but they knew that it was a good brand with an excellent reputation. Starting with a visit to the acclaimed Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School in Hartford, then undertaking conversations with parents who have children in private Montessori school in Fairfield County, and ending with informal consultations with Montessori leaders from around the country, the Founding members became convinced that Montessori should be an option for all children in Bridgeport. Nate Snow contacted the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS), located in Hartford, for further information on what was necessary to start a public Montessori school. These discussions led to an eventual contract with NCMPS to assist in school design and to aid in writing the charter application.”

The charter school proposal aims to start with 69 students next fall and reach 209 students in its fifth year.  Their budget calls for expending $1.7 million in year one and at least $3.8 million in year five.

While state charter schools get their money primarily from a state grant, Snow and his colleagues are trying to open a “local” charter school, meaning the funds would come mostly from Bridgeport’s school budget, with an extra $3,000 per student coming from a new state “local charter grant” that was part of Malloy’s education reform law.  Malloy’s education reform law also included a series of $500,000 “start-up grants” that charter schools could get from the state.  Snow and company are counting on getting one of those grants, as well.

In addition, the cost of transportation and special education costs would be paid for by the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Bridgeport is already well into the 60 day local charter review process.  The application, if approved, would then go to Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and the state Board of Education.

As to the various players behind the proposal, Wait What? readers may recall that starting in January 2011, Meghan Lowney, Nate Snow and Excel Bridgeport worked to persuade the Connecticut State Board of Education to take over the Bridgeport School System.  Over the course of the six months leading up to the State Board of Education’s illegal takeover, Lowney, Snow and Excel Bridgeport engaged in numerous communications with state officials.

Despite their ongoing lobbying, both before and during the illegal takeover and throughout the effort to persuade legislators to support Malloy’s education reform bill, neither Lowney, Snow nor Excel Bridgeport registered to lobby with the Connecticut Office of State Ethics, as required by law.

More than two weeks after the end of the 2012 Legislative session, Excel Bridgeport finally filed the required papers, listing Jorge Cabrera as the organization’s lead lobbyist.

Excel Bridgeport, a group initially called the Bridgeport Partnership for School Success, Inc., was created in December 2010 and then changed its name to Excel Bridgeport Inc. in September 2011.

According to its incorporation papers, Meghan Lowney, the Executive Director of the Zoom Foundation, (the personal foundation of Fairfield County billionaire Stephen Mandel), was registered as Excel Bridgeport, Inc.’s founding president and Nathan Snow, the Executive Director of Connecticut’s Teach for America Chapter served as the organization’s founding vice president.

Snow then took over the role as Excel’s president.   A board was also created made up of Jonathan Hayes (Executive, Meetinghouse Productions), Joel Green (Partner, Green & Gross, PC), Robert Francis (Executive Director, RYASAP), Carl Horton, Jr. (Consultant, Accenture), Scott Hughes (City Librarian, Bridgeport Public Library), Meghan Lowney (Executive Director, ZOOM Foundation) and Joseph McGee (Vice President, Fairfield County Business Council).  Like Snow, Francis, the Executive Director of RYASAP, also has a contract with the Bridgeport Board of Education.

As of now, Lowney and Snow have still not registered to lobby despite their ongoing efforts to influence public policy.

Meanwhile, faced with inadequate state resources, and Mayor Finch’s need to come up with $3.2 million more just to meet the state’s minimum local expenditure law, it will be interesting to see if Paul Vallas, the Bridgeport Board of Education and Commissioner Stefan Pryor divert dollars to their colleague Nate Snow and his proposal for a new Montessori charter school.

ConnCAN dropped $35,800 on opinion poll to make Malloy and education reform appear popular

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On February 6, 2013 Governor Dannel Malloy gave his Bi-annual budget address to a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly.    On the issue of public education he said, “We’re turning around struggling schools by growing our Commissioner’s Network, with funding for 17 more schools…We’re continuing to broaden the range of educational opportunities by maintaining our support for magnet schools, agricultural-science schools, and other high-quality options, including funding for additional state charter schools.”

It was just two weeks earlier that ConnCAN, the charter school advocacy group, conducted a public opinion survey designed to show broad-based public support for Malloy and Malloy’s education reform initiatives.

Interestingly, although the poll was conducted from January 23 until January 27, ConnCAN didn’t report their $35,800 expenditure on the survey until their March State Ethics Filing. By waiting a month to report the cost of their persuasion survey, they ensured that media coverage of the survey was confined to results and not the excessive amount of money ConnCAN spent to create the impression that Malloy’s actions were politically popular.

The strategy played itself out on February 13, 2013.  While Malloy’s controversial budget proposals floated out there, a week after he delivered them, the Global Strategies Group, a political and public relations company released a “polling memo” declaring that the public was strongly behind the Governor and his education proposals.

Global Strategies Group is the company that Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s former chief advisor, rejoined after leaving the Governor’s side on the first of this year.

The Global Strategies Group memo claimed that, “There is broad support for continuing education reforms. Connecticut voters are overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the education reforms passed last year… Support for reform crosses party lines… and demographic groups… Men and women… parents and non-parents… younger and older voters… and white and non-white voters… all support continuing reforms.”  The memo also claimed that “86 percent say improving the quality of public education is a high priority, including 49 percent who say it is a top priority that needs to be addressed by the governor and the state legislature.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of this entire story is the pattern of communications that was taking place behind the scenes.

According to materials released as a result of a Freedom of Information request, in late December 2012, ConnCAN’s acting CEO, Jennifer Alexander, wrote to Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, asking for a meeting to discuss the state budget.  Twenty minutes later Barnes wrote back accepting the request.

The meeting was originally scheduled for January 11, two weeks before the ConnCAN public opinion survey began, but had to be postponed due to the special deficit mitigation session.

When the meeting was postponed until after the date of the Governor’s budget address, ConnCAN’s CEO wrote on January 10, 2013:

“Dear Ben,

I saw that our scheduled meeting for tomorrow was cancelled…I really do need to meet with you before the end of next week… Is there any chance we can meet sooner?

All the best,

Jen”

On January 16, 2013 Alexander followed-up with a letter that included a statement that read, “I’m writing, therefore, to ask that your team come out as strongly as possible in the budget on the key pillars of the Governor’s reforms, most notably charter schools, the Commissioner’s Network, and educator evaluation.  Specifically, we ask that you hold firm to fully fund: the charter per-pupil increases currently set in statute: 10 new state charter schools; all 25 of the legally allowed commissioner’s Network Schools; and the full statewide rollout of the educator evaluation program”

The ConnCAN CEO ended with, “To summarize, we know that some members of the General Assembly are not where the Governor and you are on reform.  ConnCAN and others are here to help, and it will be easier for us to rally strong support if the administration comes out strong in your proposed budget on the key pillars of the Governor’s reforms, including charters, the Commissioner’s Network, and talent development.”

As we now know, Governor Malloy did “come out strong” in his budget address for the charter schools and the ConnCAN/OPM meeting was held on February 20 at 3 p.m., a week after ConnCAN released their poll backing the Governor and his reform proposals.

A sure indicator of the access ConnCAN has into Governor Malloy and the Office of Policy and Management was that when the meeting was held, it not only included OPM Secretary Ben Barnes, but the other participants appear to have been Paul Potamianos, OPM’s Executive Budget Officer; John Noonan, OPM’s Section Director for Education; Leah Grenier, the OPM budget analyst for education and Liz Donohue, Governor Malloy’s Policy Director.

The level of staff attention granted ConnCAN is impressive.  ConnCAN had the top four education budget officials at the Office of Policy and Management and the Governor’s policy director?  Most Connecticut advocacy groups would be happy to get one fifth of that group to hear them out.

Then again, we are talking about ConnCAN.

The same ConnCAN that spearheaded the multi-million dollar lobbying campaign on behalf of Malloy’s “education reform” bill.

The same ConnCAN that helped raise more than $40,000 for Prosperity for Connecticut PAC, the political action committee associated with Governor Malloy that held a fundraiser at the home of Jonathan Sackler, last year, with national and state education reform leaders.

And the same ConnCAN that was founded by members of the Achievement First, Inc. Board of Directors; Achievement First being the charter school management company co-founded by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and where Pryor served as a Director until he resigned to take on the role of Malloy’s Education Commissioner.

What’s that quote about it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters?

Heck, with an average age of 75, retired teachers may not even remember it was Malloy’s proposal

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Last month, in a post entitled, Define fiscally and morally irresponsible? Malloy’s plan for older, retired teachers. Wait, What? readers had a chance to learn about Governor Malloy’s budget proposal to eliminate the state’s contribution to the retired teacher’s health insurance fund. 

The fund pays a portion of the health insurance premiums of retired teachers.  The bulk of the cost still rests on the individual teachers.

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee will be holding a public hearing on Malloy’s proposal tomorrow.

Malloy’s plan would force the Connecticut Teacher Retirement Board to spend the existing fund down to almost zero over the next two years.

According to an article in yesterday’s CTMirror, while Malloy’s plan would “save the state” $70.7 million in the upcoming FY14-FY15 biannual budget, but it would “put the plan’s funding at a ‘dangerous level in two years.”

Why take such a fiscally irresponsible action you ask?

Because eliminating the contribution would make the state budget look more balanced during the next gubernatorial election cycle, although the “rob Peter to pay Paul” approach would require a massive boost in the state contribution to the teacher’s retirement fund in FY 16, the year after the next election. More

News Update: Finch cuts Bridgeport School budget ; Claims it won’t reduce funding for schools (oh, okay)

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With only three months left in the school year, yesterday started with the news that Mayor Bill Finch was reneging on his promise and cutting the Bridgeport school budget by $4.4 million dollars.  By the end of the day, the size of the cut was reduced to $1.1 million.

And according to a report in the CT Post, after the dust settled from all the meetings, Bridgeport’s $234,000, part-time, Acting Superintendent of Schools, Paul Vallas, “told the Board of Education that, he is not upset because his main concern is the bottom line and the city’s deal makes the district “whole.”

The CT Post further reports that; “City officials, meanwhile, said Monday they were not shortchanging the district at all.”

“As the mayor had promised, we are absolutely continuing the $5 million in support to the Board of Education in the current fiscal year,” said City Budget Director Thomas Sherwood in a statement.

“There is no cut,” said Elaine K. Ficarra, Mayor Bill Finch’s director of communication.”

The comments, taken together, assure Bridgeport students, parents, teachers and taxpayers that while Mayor Finch successfully reduced the school budget, it was not cut, and the bottom line is that the Bridgeport’s school budget is “whole.”

The paper is reporting that while the Mayor and City Council are cutting the city’s appropriation to the Bridgeport schools by $1.1 million, Vallas told the school board that, “the district will be allowed to pay employee medical expenses out of an internal service fund for the rest of the year. The move would cut district expenses by as much as $1.9 million.”

Last April, Finch proposed increasing Bridgeport’s financial contribution to its schools by $7 million.  Finch called it an historic investment.  The Bridgeport City Council then cut that proposal to $5 million.  Meanwhile, the Connecticut General Assembly modified the Education Cost Sharing Formula, which translated into an increase in $4.4 million for Bridgeport.  The additional $5 million from the city and the $4.4 million from the state were highlighted in every financial document Vallas provided the Board of Education and posted on the Board of Education’s website.

The additional ECS funds were contingent on Alliance Districts meeting certain criteria and the State, only recently, released the $4.4 million to Bridgeport.

After speaking with Finch Administration officials, the CT Post explained the situation by writing;

“Normally, state Education Cost Sharing funds flow through the city’s general fund. This year, $4.4 million in new ECS funds went directly to the district after the city had already forwarded the same amount of money to the district…In essence, the board got paid twice and the council was rectifying a $4.4 million mistake.”

Of course, the notion that, “In essence, the board got paid twice” is utter nonsense.

But by the end of the night, Vallas was reporting that all was well because, as he put it, “in a nutshell, I am north of $9.4 million.”

So the upshot is that Mayor Finch and his Administration are claiming that they cut the Bridgeport School budget but it won’t reduce funding for the schools.

You can read the full article CT Post article at http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/School-board-told-city-paying-3-9M-not-5M-4365102.php

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