School bud­get con­ver­sa­tion gets an early start

Connecticut Post - - NEWS - By Linda Con­ner Lam­beck

BRIDGE­PORT — Fill­ing City Coun­cil Cham­bers hasn’t given the schools su­per­in­ten­dent the bud­get she says is nec­es­sary to run the district prop­erly.

Nei­ther have sit-downs with City Coun­cil com­mit­tees.

So Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Aresta John­son has em­barked on a new strat­egy. With bud­get sea­son a cou­ple of months away, she held the first of what is planned as a se­ries of com­mu­nity fo­rums to ed­u­cate the pub­lic and coun­cil about the con­se­quences of an un­der­funded bud­get.

The next fo­rum will be held 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 28 at Thomas Hooker School, 138 Roger Wil­liams Road.

Wed­nes­day’s ses­sion was punc­tu­ated with sto­ries, not data.

Bryant School’s Vic­to­ria Egri told of stu­dents whose love of read­ing has blos­somed be­cause of an on­line pro­gram called “myOn.” The school of 357 stu­dents has read more than 75,000 books over the past three years. On Oct. 31, 2018, how­ever, the plug was pulled on myOn, when the district’s sub­scrip­tion ran out and was not re­newed.

Bas­sick In­terim Prin­ci­pal Joe Raiola talked of hav­ing to say “No” to a teacher who wanted to start a Na­tional Honor So­ci­ety chap­ter at the school be­cause his bud­get couldn’t spare the $350 spon­sor­ship fee. In­stead, she was told to hold a fundraiser.

And Curi­ale Prin­ci­pal Brett Gustafson — who had suc­cess rais­ing test scores in New York City — talked of be­ing shocked at the lack of re­sources when he re­turned to his home town to work in the district six years ago.

“Since then, there have been mas­sive bud­get cuts,” Gustafson said. “We have lost kinder­garten (aides), the par­ent co­or­di­na­tor, lit­er­acy and math coaches, in­ter­ven­tion­ists, my dean of stu­dents, a se­cu­rity guard and sup­ply money.”

The crowd that the prin­ci­pals ad­dressed in the Bas­sick High School au­di­to­rium was sparse. The only City Coun­cil mem­ber there was Kyle Lan­gan, D-132.

They speak­ers were very much preach­ing to the choir.

“Know that I am fight­ing, but I am fight­ing an up­hill bat­tle,” said the first-term coun­cil mem­ber. “I tried my best to fight for more fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion dur­ing this last bud­get sea­son.”

Lan­gan said he was in the mi­nor­ity, un­able to con­vince the ma­jor­ity of the coun­cil to move some money from a sup­ple­men­tal line item in the po­lice depart­ment bud­get to ed­u­ca­tion dur­ing the last bud­get ses­sion.

The school district ended up with a $1 mil­lion boost from the city — more than the $387,593 boost the year be­fore but mil­lions less than of­fi­cials said was needed to run a sta­tus quo school district. Since the 2014-15 fiscal year, de­spite ris­ing costs, the district has re­ceived a to­tal in­crease of 3.63 per­cent. Its cur­rent op­er­at­ing bud­get stands as $248.4 mil­lion for some 21,000 stu­dents.

Michael Tes­tani, di­rec­tor of adult ed­u­ca­tion for the district, asked why the coun­cil was un­will­ing to suf­fi­ciently fund its schools. Lan­gan said there are a few hur­dles, the state’s min­i­mum bud­get re­quire­ment be­ing one of them.

“If we give more fund­ing, we have to con­tinue to give at least that amount in the next year,” Lan­gan said. “So there is a hes­i­tancy amongst us to raise that num­ber, be­cause it has to stay there.”

The coun­cil also has no con­trol over the money it gives the district, he said. And there re­mains mis­trust over whether the money is spent as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble.

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