School budget conversation gets an early start
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.