Malloy administration dumps the State’s best/toughest labor negotiator

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In a stunning move that surprised people across the political spectrum, Governor Malloy’s administration has laid off the individual who is widely acknowledged as the best and toughest labor negotiator the State of Connecticut has ever had.

Linda Yelmini has worked as a classified state employee since 1987, serving as a key labor negotiator and personnel manager for Connecticut’s Democrat and Republican governors, as well as for Independent Governor Lowell Weicker.

Those of us who have been involved in projects on the same side and opposing sides of Yelmini can attest to her extraordinary understanding of the law and her dedication to the state and its taxpayers.

Over the years, her reputation as a tough negotiator and manager has led many to observe that one definitely doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of an issue that she is working on and there are certainly active, retired and fired state employees who’d even call her ruthless.

That said, there are others who would argue that while she is tough, she has constantly strived to ensure that work rules have been applied consistently…which may just be the problem the Malloy administration has with her.  I’m sure they found it harder to make some political hires when the state’s chief labor negotiator tells them such a move would violate state labor laws and contracts.

While the Malloy administration’s decision to remove Yelmini and throw away her decades of experience is extremely odd, the way they went about it and their effort to spin their story is even stranger.

When interviewed about the news, Yelmini told reporters that the announcement to remove her from her career position had come as a “shock” and that she was told that her position would be replaced by a “political appointee.”

At the same time, in what could only be called laughable, Malloy told reporters that he had nothing to do with the decision, claiming that his budget director, Ben Barnes, was solely responsible for the action.”

CT Newsjunkie quoted Malloy as saying, “Ben’s going to continue in the position as secretary and he’s designing what he wants I guess.”

The notion that the governor’s budget director would lay off the state’s chief negotiator and replace that person with a “political appointee” without the approval of the governor is beyond absurd.

Unless, of course, Malloy is telling the truth in which case it is an extremely sad commentary about Malloy’s lack of managerial focus and his lack of commitment to his role as Connecticut’s Chief Executive Officer.

The CT Newsjunkie story went on to report that, “Malloy said he leaves these types of personnel decisions up to his department heads…’Within these departments, I give a lot of leeway to the people who are hired to do the job,’ Malloy said.”

So let’s get this straight…

Malloy is saying that despite that fact that the state is facing a projected $1.4 billion budget deficit next year, in which the Governor, himself, has consistently said he won’t raise taxes, won’t cut aid to towns, won’t cut vital services and won’t need to sit down with state employee unions to talk about concessions, he allowed an underling to fire the state’s chief labor negotiator and replace her with a political appointee…and he wasn’t even involved in the decision?

Yeah, and I got a bridge to sell if anyone wants to buy it.

You can read more about this strange development at:  Malloy Administration Personnel Changes Are Under Way.

Jon Lender has more details at the Courant in a piece entitled State Labor Relations Chief Facing Layoff

Budget Gimmicks and Declining Revenue catch up to Malloy

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As the CT Mirror is reporting, Governor Malloy’s extraordinary budget gimmicks and Connecticut’s lagging economy have caught up with the politician’s wild re-election promises.

The CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf reports,

“Citing declining state revenue projections, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gave up Monday on two of his biggest re-election year budget initiatives: a $55-per-person rebate and a supplemental payment into the state employees’ pension fund.

“We do not anticipate enough revenue to provide a tax refund or to make a supplemental pension payment, as we had hoped in January,” Benjamin Barnes, who oversees the budget as secretary of policy and management, wrote in a letter sent Monday morning to legislators.

While the Governor and his budget chief sort of skipped over the ugly details, the underlying problem is that Malloy’s rosy economic forecasts failed to materialize.

Last week the General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis reported that Connecticut Income Tax revenues were going to be $330 million short of what has been predicted.

This shortfall in revenue not only opens a huge problem for Malloy’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2014 but increases the projected budget shortfall for the following year’s budget to over $1.2 billion dollars.

Malloy, who has pledged not to increase taxes if re-elected is nowlooking at budget deficits of over $1 billion for each of the next four years if he is re-elected.

Claiming that he was sitting on a $500 million surplus this year and even more money next year, Malloy promised a series of election year tax-cuts including a $55 rebate to all individuals earning less than $200,000, and a $110 rebate to all couples earning less than $400,000.

Malloy also promised that he would pay an additional $100 million into the state employees’ pension fund, a fund that is approximately $11 billion underfunded.

But as the CT Mirror explains, income tax revenue has not come in as projected and the excessive use of one-time revenue and borrowing for ongoing expenses means Connecticut will continue to face extremely serious fiscal problems over the next few years.

You can read the entire CT Mirror story here:  http://ctmirror.org/malloy-gives-up-on-tax-rebate-citing-declining-revenues/

The CT Newsjunkie’s article on this breaking story can be found here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/malloy_scraps_55_rebate/, while the Courant’s article is here: http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-malloy-tax-rebates-20140428,0,4875051.story.

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

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.

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

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?

The State Lottery was for Education; Native Gaming Slots Revenue was for cities and towns…

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Right…The State Lottery was for Education; Native Gaming Slots Revenue was for cities and towns…And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

In 1993, the Mashantucket Pequot Nation signed an agreement with Governor Lowell Weicker and the state of Connecticut.

In return for the exclusive rights to have slot machines, Connecticut’s Native American Tribes would donate 25 percent of their gross slots revenue to the state of Connecticut.  It was the most generous Native American Revenue Sharing agreement in the nation.

When the Mohegan Sun was opened a few years later, the program became known as the  Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan Grant.  According to the program description, the fund “annually distributes a grant to each of the state’s 169 municipalities. The distribution is based on numerous factors including, but not limited to, the value of state-owned property, private college and general hospitals, population, equalized net grand list, and per capita income as set forth in Sections 3-55i, j, and k of the Connecticut General Statutes. Payment is made in three equal payments on January 1, April 1, and June 30th.”

In its first full year, about $85 million was distributed to Connecticut’s cities and towns.  The state of Connecticut was a bit short on revenue that year, so it withheld the other $30 million in order to help balance the state budget.

Over the years, as the two Native American casinos became more and more successful, the amount of money flowing into the state coffers grew substantially. 

Some years the state provided its cities and towns a little more money (one year the grant grew to $135 million), but in other years, it cut the grant a bit.  Each time, the excess stayed in the state’s General Fund.

Over the past 19 years, the Native American Tribes have given the state approximately $6.2 billion.  Over that same period, the state has passed on about $1.5 billion or less than 25 percent of the money generated by the agreement.  Connecticut’s state government spent the rest…

In recent years, the state has reduced the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan grant even further.

This fiscal year Governor Malloy’s budget allocates only about $62 million to the cities and towns via the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan grant program.

But then came last week’s budget proposal from the Governor.

In a major policy shift, perhaps one of the biggest in the entire budget, Governor Malloy has proposed to reduce the Native American grant program to almost zero.  Instead, the Governor’s budget plan has the state borrowing an additional $56 million and giving it to towns to boost their Local Capital Improvement Grants (LoCIP).  The unrestricted Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan grant would, for all intent, cease to exist.

It is ironic, to say the least, that on the twentieth anniversary of the Native American Slots Agreement, the Governor would run a wooden stake through the heart of what is left of Governor Weicker’s original proposal to allow the Tribes to have exclusive rights to slot machines in return for a “permanent” revenue source to help cities and towns pay their bills and lower their local property taxes.

Governor Malloy’s attraction to the concept of “MAJOR” initiatives

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Faced with a projected $1.2 billion budget deficit for next year and $63 billion in overall state debt and unfunded liabilities – giving Connecticut the largest debt burden per capita in the nation – Governor Malloy recently proposed a $1.5 billion initiative for UConn, a program to augment the existing $2.3 billion 1995-2017 UConn 2000/21st Century UConn program that was designed to rebuild, renew and expand the state’s public research university.

When confronted about moving forward with increased borrowing during this period of fiscal distress, the Governor responded, “Listen, Connecticut is not going to move forward doing the same things that we did unsuccessfully for 22 years,” Malloy said Friday. “This is a big idea.”

The concept of focusing on major initiatives, even in the face of unparalleled fiscal problems, is not new for Connecticut’s governor.  As observers have come to recognize, Governor Malloy wants people to see him as a “big” thinker.

A new investigative report by the CTMirror and WNPR highlights this issue extremely well.

“Stamford sewage treatment plant’s long history of problems, the financial implications for local residents and environmental consequences for the entire state.”

“Plagued by mismanagement, faulty equipment and a botched $105 million upgrade, Stamford’s Water Pollution Control Authority has come under fire for sending hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage into Long Island Sound in recent years.

Part of the problem was that three top city officials — the mayor, who is now Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy; his aide, Ben Barnes, now the state’s budget chief; and the sewage plant’s longtime director, Jeanette Brown, who resigned in 2011 — were focused on an exciting new technology that aimed to turn waste into energy.

Unfortunately, their plan had a few glitches.”

The two part investigative report can be read here Striving for innovation, spending millions, Stamford leaders ignored major problems and here Stamford’s failed attempt at energy innovation cost taxpayers tens of millions

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