School bud­get bot­tom line in dis­pute

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By Linda Con­ner Lam­beck lclam­beck@ct­post.com; twit­ter/ lclam­beck

BRIDGE­PORT — City and school fi­nance of­fi­cials have spent the week at odds over the bot­tom line of the district’s $ 230 mil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get for the cur­rent school year.

District of­fi­cials say the city short- changed the 201819 bud­get by $ 250,000.

City of­fi­cials said Fri­day that the ap­par­ent con­flict — caused largely by the state’s late bud­get and bud­get rescis­sion in 2017 — had more to do with con­fu­sion over last year’s school bud­get’s start­ing point — and that the school board would be made whole.

“To­day, this ques­tion was re­solved,” Rowena White, a spokes­woman for Mayor Joe Ganim, said. “The city is work­ing in co­op­er­a­tion with the BOE to cover the $ 250,000 short­fall for this year.”

School of­fi­cials as of 6 p. m. Fri­day had not con­firmed a so­lu­tion has been reached, but in an email to school board mem­bers on Fri­day, schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Aresta John­son told them the city is promis­ing to pay for $ 250,000 worth of school board ex­penses with­out trans­fer­ring the funds to the district.

As part of the agree­ment, she said, the city must com­mit to restor­ing the

$ 250,000 in the 2019- 2020 fis­cal year bud­get and the school district must erase it from the bot­tom line of its cur­rent year fis­cal doc­u­ments.

Mar­lene Siegel, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer for the school district, told the school board’s fi­nance com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day that City Bud­get Di­rec­tor Nestor Nkwo in­cor­rectly treated $ 250,000 of a $ 387,593 in­crease by the City Coun­cil to the 2017- 18 school bud­get as com­pen­sa­tion for a midyear rescis­sion of $ 250,000 by the state it its Ed­u­ca­tion Cost Share grant to the city.

So the bot­tom line Nkwo started with in build­ing the 2018- 19 school bud­get was $ 250,000 less than the school board’s $ 230,394,025 start­ing point.

As a re­sult, the $ 1.039 mil­lion in­crease ap­proved by the City Coun­cil for the district for the cur­rent fis­cal year adds up to only a $ 789,419 in­crease, Siegel said.

“These num­bers are in­cor­rect,” Siegel said. “The full amount should have been car­ried over.”

The city coun­cil passed its 2017- 18 bud­get months be­fore the state re­ces­sions were an­nounced so were not tied to it in any way, Siegel added

State law pro­hibits mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties like Bridge­port from re­duc­ing its con­tri­bu­tion to school dis­tricts from one year to the next. Bridge­port con­trib­utes 26 per­cent of the district’s op­er­at­ing bud­get. The state pays 74 per­cent.

Nei­ther can the mu­nic­i­pal­ity treat in- kind ser­vices to­ward its state man­dated Min­i­mum Bud­get Re­quire­ment.

Beyond the $ 1.039 mil­lion in­crease from the city, the district ex­pects a $ 1.4 mil­lion fund­ing in­crease from the state. The adopted

$ 230.3 mil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get was mil­lions less than the district said it needed, forc­ing the elim­i­na­tion of nu­mer­ous staff po­si­tions and pro­grams and leav­ing of­fi­cials wor­ried about ris­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion costs.

“I don’t care if it was an ac­ci­dent, ( the city) can’t take it back,” Maria Pereira, a board mem­ber, said dur­ing the fi­nance meet­ing.

Pereira likened the dis­pute to An­so­nia, where the district and city are in court af­ter the city an­nounced $ 600,000 of its con­tri­bu­tion to the district in the 2017- 18 fis­cal year was a loan un­til the state bud­get was set. The state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion has sided with the school board in say­ing the money was not a loan but part of its state aid grant.

White said the sit­u­a­tions are noth­ing alike. She said the state rescis­sion called on the city to hold the school board harm­less for the cut, which is why there re­mains a ques­tion about its ef­fect on the base amount of ECS dol­lars from the state to the district.

Tom Gaudett, an aide to the mayor, said on Fri­day that there will be a so­lu­tion but that de­tails are still be­ing worked out.

“There was some con­fu­sion and I think there still is be­tween what the base num­ber should be,” Gaudett said.

The school board meets on Oct. 9. Some board mem­bers say they will ask the state to get in­volved un­less the mat­ter is re­solved.

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