Philip A. Streifer, Ph.D.
May 27, 2011
This budget year is a difficult one for everyone in city/school governance and we recognize the need to make tough choices. The current fiscal pressures are not of our making, but of the national/global economic downturn and the State’s failure to meet its constitutional responsibility to properly fund public education. Until that issue is fully resolved, local officials must deal with the fallout.
While the Board of Education is constitutionally responsible for deciding what is actually funded and what is cut, the Board can only operate within the scope of funds provided by the State and City. The bottom line is that when funding is cut – programs must be reduced or eliminated. The scope of the cuts required by the Bristol Board of Finance is significant – requiring a reduction of $5,002,000 for 2011-2012. As a result of reducing the Board of Education’s base budget from $102.5M in 2010-2011 to $100M in 2011-2012, the School Budget begins 2012-2013 needing to eliminate an additional $2.5M at the minimum. Let me restate: The proposed budget takes the school current base of $102.5M and reduces it for 2012-2013 down to $100M. Reductions of this scope over the next two years will have a dramatic and negative impact on programs and students, and sets back the progress Bristol has made over the past several years in becoming the most successful urban district in Connecticut.
Members of the Board of Finance have made suggestions as to where they felt the Board of Education could reduce its budget. These proposed reductions do not add up to the $5M cut (falling a full $2M short) and they rely largely on salary/benefit givebacks which require negotiation and are not assured. In another example, it was cited that the Board of Education budget includes $200,000 for School Board members to attend a conference on the west coast. Bristol Board of Education members do not attend conferences out of state and when they do attend a rare conference locally, it is to learn about new Connecticut laws and policies needed to fulfill their responsibilities. A training program that some of our staff attends (which is on the west coast) is for a very successful program designed to help students not normally thinking about college to do so. It is called AVID – Advancement Via Individual Determination – and participation is required at this training session to provide a certified program. We paid for this from two sources, Title I Federal Dollars and current surplus dollars – the local cost of which is 10% of the $200,000 figure cited. Focusing public attention on Board of Education members for this issue, which is both inaccurate and which is a part of the Board of Education’s mission statement, is undeserved and unfair.
The major issues facing Bristol focus on whether they want their schools to remain the most successful urban district in Connecticut where all students receive a quality education. Taking $7,500,000 out of the school’s current budget over the next two years (which amounts to a 7.3% reduction) dramatically reduces our ability to provide students with the educational programs needed to prepare them for success in college or other post secondary education.