March 2, 2012

Council, school board rift is growing

The rift between the City Council and Board of Education is growing.
The five Republicans recently asked for detailed monthly school spending reports and were turned down cold.
School Superintendent Philip Streifer wrote Wednesday that “it is the policy of the school administration to provide the public only those documents requested by or created for the Board of Education, therefore, we will not be providing you the detailed request” sought in an email sent to the Board of Education by city Councilor Henri Martin.
“I don’t know why the resistance,” Martin said Thursday. “I just want to know some information.”
For city Councilor Ken Cockayne, the superintendent’s response only serves to widen “the disconnect” between councilors and school board members.
“I can’t help wondering what the Board of Ed is hiding,” Cockayne said Thursday.
Chris Wilson, the chairman of the school board, said that 137 cities and towns in Connecticut “spend more dollars than Bristol per student.  It seems that the City Council wants to erode that position further.”
The sole Democratic councilor, Kevin Fuller, said he is worried the GOP’s effort will create “a bigger divide between the Board of Ed and the Council, and who does that hurt in the long run? The students of Bristol.”
Streifer said Thursday he will gladly turn over any of the financial reports prepared for the Board of Education but it won’t create ones that don’t exist simply because city councilors want more detailed data.
Streifer said he hopes that problems don’t develop between City Hall and the school administration.
“There is an established process under the city charter to review and fund budgets,” Streifer said, pointing out that the Board of Finance reviews budgets and “then makes a recommendation to the City Council and they jointly vote on budget appropriations.”
“I would hope that everyone would respect and honor that process which has worked well in the past,” Streifer said.
Martin said the schools spend 61 percent of the city’s budget, a total of $102.6 million this year, and he would not be doing his job if he didn’t try to understand where all that money goes.
Fuller said, “The council in the past has looked at the BOE budget but we cannot control it. The only vote the council has is to approve or deny the total amount of the budget,” and cannot deal with particular line items.
“We understand that we don't have the power to line item the BOE budget and determine where money should or shouldn't go,” said city Councilor Derek Czenczelewski
“However, that doesn't mean the city shouldn't be able to see where the money is going on a monthly basis. We are looking for transparency, plain and simple,” he said. |”Unfortunately, some administrators and officials believe that the BOE doesn't need to report to the taxpayers in any way.”
Cockayne said that voters showed last year they don’t want officials to tread along the same old path.
“The citizens of Bristol are fed up with the Board of Education,” Cockayne said, and they very much want change.
Though Republicans took control of the school board for the first time ever in November, Cockayne said they failed to shake up its leadership.
“The old guard is still in charge,” Cockayne said, and its members don’t believe there’s a need to do things differently.
“The Board of Education needs to open its eyes,” Cockayne said.
Fuller said he is curious what the Republicans are looking for.
In his email to Streifer, Martin sought detailed monthly reports on these accounts:  central administration, principals and assistants, supervisors, psychologists, other instructional, improvement for instruction, instructional services, other professional services, rentals and leases, and staff transportation.
“Give me additional information,” Martin said. “Let’s break it down.”
Streifer said the reports Martin asked for “are much more detailed than what we have on hand or which the Board of Education has asked for, thus we will not create them for him. “
Martin said he did not understand the resistance to providing councilors with the information.
Cockayne said in a Thursday email to Streifer that he “can't believe the BOE doesn't have a detailed expenditure report run every month.  This is something at even a basic business would do.”
“How then do you do accounting on $100 million?” Cockayne said. “You must have more internal detailed reports than you give out to the public.”

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

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