Bridgeport school budget conversation off to an early start

November 8, 2018

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

Neither have infrequent sit downs with City Council committees.

So Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson has embarked on a new strategy. With the new budget season still a couple of months away, she held the first of what will be a series of community forums designed to educate the public and council about the consequences of an ill-funded budget.

Wednesday’s session punctuated with stories, not data.

Bryant School Victoria Egri told of students whose love of reading has blossomed because of an online program called “myOn.” The school of 357 students have read more than love 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,” he 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 auditorum was sparse.

The only council member in attendance was Kyle Langan, D-132.

They were very much preaching to the choir.

“Know that I am fighting, but I am fighting an uphill battle,” said the first-term city 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. It’s current operating budget stands as $248.4 million for some 21,000 students.

Raiola asked Langan what the district could do to win over more council members.

He was told coming to council meetings was only marginally effective.

More parents have to become voters, Langan said.

Michael Testani, director of adult education for the district, asked why the council was unwilling to sufficiently fund its school.

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.

Thirdly, there remains a distrust over where the money is spent as efficiently as possible.

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

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