State and Bridgeport tussle over $3.3 million for schools
Posted in the Bridgeport Forum
#1 May 6, 2013
BRIDGEPORT -- 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.
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.
"If a city takes over some $1 million activity for the (school) board, they get a credit, or vice versa," said Ben Barnes, head of the state Office of Policy and Management, who participated in a conference call on the topic Friday with the mayor's office. "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."
For example Bridgeport's police department took control of school security. And the city's public facilities department maintains the district's buildings.
If the city expanded those activities it could count toward its school spending requirement.
But just how much of that $3.3 million tab might be whittled away is unclear.
Any unanticipated expense is a problem for Finch since his 2013-14 budget already increases the average homeowner's $6,822 property tax bill by $391. Businesses paying an average $17,112 would pay an additional $981.
The mayor released a budget in early April that flat-funded education despite being advised in mid-March by the state that last year's education reforms required Bridgeport spend $3.3 million more on its schools.
The city is one of several "alliance districts" -- under performing school districts that receive added state aid in exchange for increasing local education spending over the next five years.
The dispute over the $3.3 million became public in late April after Bridgeport Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas factored the funds into his 2013-14 budget.
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.
"I don't know if it was confusion or if (the mayor's office) just chose not to put it in. I don't know what those conversations were," said state Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport. "I do know we need to find a way the city can get the funds it needs."
Ayala wants the state to also add the Finch administration's investments in school construction towards the $3.3 million commitment -- something not allowed under statute.
"Is that an education expense? Could that be included in that in-kind contribution? Right now it's not ... I'd argue it should be considered," Ayala said. "Would that open the flood gates for other municipalities? They should have that bite at the apple as well."
Any change to the education reforms will require support of key legislators like the cochairs of the General Assembly's education committee, Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, and Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford.
In separate interviews each said they are willing to listen to the Finch administration but hesitant to let Bridgeport off the hook for the money.
"I have some serious concerns," said Fleischmann. "It's not as if there are indicators Bridgeport students in schools are reaching levels of academic growth that would justify they have a completely different system from all the other alliance districts."
Stillman noted Bridgeport has had a history of underfunding its schools.
"The reality is, it is the law," she said. "I think Bridgeport should be able to do it."
But, she added, the legislature does not adjourn for another month.
"We've got another few weeks and hopefully we can come to some resolution," Stillman said.
But Bridgeport's City Council is scheduled to adopt a budget early next week.
Since: Aug 10
#2 May 6, 2013
Bridgeport is broke. Blame Finch.
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