Disputing the budgetary bottom line in Bridgeport
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 2018-19 budget by $250,000.
City officials said Friday, that the issue — caused largely by the state’s late budget and then budget rescission in 2017 — had more to do with confusion over last year’s school budget 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 have yet to confirm 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 durrent 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 mid-year rescission of $250,000 by the state it its Education Cost Share grant to the city.
As such, 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 it’s 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 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 of the situation during the finance meeting.
Pereira likened the situation 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 loan until the state budget was set. The state Department of Education has sided with the school board.
White said 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 and will likely discuss the matter. Some board members say they will ask the state to get involved unless the matter is resolved.