By Reginald Johnson
BRIDGEPORT --- The city’s 21,000 school kids are getting shortchanged again.
Despite a court ruling last fall that found that school systems in Connecticut’s poorer cities like Bridgeport are being inadequately funded, city schools this year are due to receive even less money from the state than last year.
According to Bridgeport Board of Education member Maria Pereira, Bridgeport schools will get $4.6 million less from the state this year, when you figure in the changes in funding formulas for different programs.
“This is what we get after nine years of a lawsuit,” said Pereira at the Feb. 27 school board meeting.
Since the financially-strapped city government in Bridgeport is unlikely to make up the gap in state funding, it looks like the board will have to make a number of painful cuts in services. Shortening school bus routes, cutting social workers and guidance counselors, ending the program to deter drop-outs and truancy, and closing the Parents Center, are all being considered, Pereira said.
A number of people came out to the meeting to blast the board for considering the idea of shortening bus routes, saying children will be put in danger by having to walk longer distances on city streets.
“These streets are dangerous even for adults,” said one speaker. “People are driving while they’re on their cell phones or they’re texting.”
Under a state budget plan recently unveiled by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Bridgeport at first blush would seem to be doing better than last year. ECS and special education funding are both being raised. But with the state now insisting that local municipalities pick up one-third of the cost of teacher pensions, together with cuts in other programs, the increases are wiped out and Bridgeport is actually coming out behind, explained Pereira.
“It’s outrageous. We’re the most underfunded district in the state,” she said.
Pereira and other board members like chairman Joe Larcheveque urged the public to lobby their state legislators to increase state funding.
“Please let them know our funding is in dire straits and they need to make sure the funding is equitable,” said Larcheveque.
Pereira doesn't buy the idea that Connecticut --- one of the wealthiest states in the country --- "can't afford" to be more generous with school funding.
She noted that last year Gov. Malloy saw fit to steer $22 million in "aid" to Bridgewater Associates --- one the world's largest and most successful hedge funds --- to help them keep their headquarters in Connecticut.