Harp Frowns On $5.3M Schools Budget-Hike Ask

Melissa Bailey PhotoMayor Toni Harp rejected a new school spending plan as soon as it was proposed, arguing city taxpayers cannot afford to spend an extra $5.3 million a year on education.

Her comment came after Monday night’s school board meeting at Hill Regional Career High School, where officials gave a first sneak peek at the proposed FY 2014-15 school budget.

Schools Superintendent Garth Harries, who Monday won a renewal of his contract for another three years, presented an overview of a $396,524,351 total spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The overall package, which includes medical benefits, debt service, pensions and workers compensation, and various revenue sources, represents a $4.5 million, 1 percent increase over last year.

Discussion focused on the portion that’s likely to get the most attention in the upcoming budget season: the so-called “general fund,” or operating budget, which is paid for by city and state tax dollars.

Harries proposes increasing that operating budget to $186 million, an increase of $8.8 million, or 4.9 percent.

He announced good news: The state is expected to kick in an extra $3.3 million in Education Cost Sharing money, the main vehicle by which the state pays for schools. The schools currently get $142.5 million in ECS money. The extra money matches the amount of the structural deficit the schools have been facing for the past few years.

He also unveiled his big ask.

“We want to do more for our students, not less,” he said. “That would require another $5.3 million.”

He said he’s requesting an extra $5.3 million from city taxpayers, boosting the city taxpayer contribution by 2.9 percent, to $23.6 million. But he said he is also working with Harp to consider the “overall picture” of the city’s finances.

Harp replied that the city can’t afford the request.

“I know that people really care about education,” she said. “I do, too. But people also care about not raising property taxes in this town.”

Harp, who was attending her third school board meeting, launched into a critique of the way the board handles school finances.

“This board needs to take a little bit more authority in terms of oversight of this budget,” she said. The board “needs to understand that while the city can help, we also have state partners and federal partners. If there isn’t enough on the state side, then somebody needs to be up there rattling that cage!”

“We’ve got to look to our partners in the federal government, to our partners in the state government, our partner with Yale University” to help, not ask city taxpayers for more money, she argued.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re a lean, green, tough education machine,” she said.

She made the declaration in a firm but not confrontational way, drawing friendly chuckles.

She previously publicly criticized Harries for not giving budget updates at board meetings. (He has done so more often than his predecessor, but he didn’t do so in the first two meetings Harp attended.)

She urged her fellow board members to take a more active role on the budget. “I know it’s not what has typically occurred here,” she said. But “the people of this town are calling on us to be a little bit more interested in what is going on, and to have a little more oversight.”

Mayor Harp was later asked if she would support a schools budget that included a $5.3 million increase in city contribution.

“We don’t have the money,” she replied. “It’s not something we can do.”

“I don’t want to raise taxes,” she continued. “I think I would not vote for it” in its current form.

She called the budget proposal unveiled Monday “a starting point for discussion,” not a final draft.

Most of the increase in cost comes to pay people’s salaries, Harries said.

In years past, as the Board of Alders flat-funded the school system, the school district got into the habit of separating out a line item called the “budget initiative” highlighting just how much it would have to cut to make ends meet. The “budget initiative” amounted to a hole in the budget. It didn’t always get filled by the end of the year.

This year, the school district started out with a $9 million “budget initiative,” or deficit. He announced the school district has reduced that deficit from $3.5 million in December to $2.4 million as of Jan. 31.

The school system this year stopped the practice of including a “budget initiative” in its proposal, Harries said.

The school district recently created a new position called chief financial officer. The person in that post would be in charge of the budget. Harries recently said he is reviewing 10 applications for that job.

Meanwhile, schools Chief Operating Officer Will Clark (pictured) has been handling the schools budget in addition to negotiating labor contracts, settling lawsuits, running school facilities and overseeing school construction, among other duties.

Clark said the school district worked hard to close budget gaps each year as costs rose amid flat-funding. A labor deal that privatized one third of the custodial workforce continues to save lots of money, he said. And the district won a competitive federal grant that will help pay for teachers’ and principals’ salaries, he noted.

“It’s not just, ‘Hey, give us more money,’” Clark said in a budget briefing before the school board.

“We’re still doing the lion’s share of the work” in cutting costs and finding extra revenue. “We’re asking for a modest increase from the city, and a modest increase from the state.”

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posted by: outspoken on February 11, 2014  12:25pm

Thanks Toni.

posted by: HewNaven on February 11, 2014  12:32pm

“I know that people really care about education,” she said. “I do, too. But people also care about not raising property taxes in this town.”

Now there’s an experienced politician! Also a very pragmatic answer, given our circumstances in New Haven.

Hiring a CFO for NHPS is long overdue it seems. Looks like COO, Clark has been covering those duties for a minute and he deserves credit for that, even if the budget picture hasn’t always been rosy. It wasn’t really his job to begin with. Hire that CFO and straighten this mess!

posted by: Theodora on February 11, 2014  12:54pm

See if we cannot make due with just $400 million for a year. There is a lot of fat down at the district office. Start there.

posted by: robn on February 11, 2014  2:28pm

Ditto on the frowny face. Thanks.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 11, 2014  4:44pm

Ok at least now I am sitting up and paying attention. Thank you Mrs. Harp.

I agree with Theodora I think they need to go over all position see what are fluff jobs that were put there but JD. What are duplicate jobs even triplicate jobs. And see how many supervisor jobs and PR jobs are really needed at the executive and administrative level.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on February 11, 2014  5:38pm

What most people don’t understand is their children are getting an education at deeply discounted prices. Most single family homes pay $8000 a year in property taxes. It costs $15,000 a year to educate one child. Only roughly one quarter of your taxes goes to education. That’s about $2000 a year. You have to live in New Haven 25 years in order to pay for one child to be educated.

I think taxes are too low!  Raise taxes on properties!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 11, 2014  5:56pm

Need money for education.Do like the mayor of New york is doing.

Education Department Diverts $210 Million Away From Charter Schools.

In a move that hit at the core of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s schools legacy, the city’s Department of Education announced Friday evening that it was slashing $210 million away from city charter schools and redistributing it to programs including creating new pre-K seats.


posted by: Blake Fielder on February 11, 2014  6:58pm

Given her long experience in the field of education and her corporate background, I can fully understand Harpo’s explanations re: raising taxes for NH’s education system (‘or for actually anything’). The solution is simple: ‘Dear parents you can not and do not want and can not afford ‘any’ tax increases, so for the next two years we will plan to move to a trial three day education week (the savings will be tremendous). All children will remain at home on Monday and Friday for you to: enjoy reduced taxes, to spend joyful / loving / warm / patient time with your children, and to do some homeschooling (ala Tiger Mom) and then we will all be soooo $$$$$$ happy … ‘ have fun.’  I will propose this as a referendum to be voted on by all parents and corporate interests in July. Be sure to vote your wishes.”

posted by: sccampion on February 11, 2014  7:23pm

Well done, Mayour Harp. The Board of Education’s budget has been adrift and unfettered for far too long. Cost over-runs, top heavy with administrative staff with overlapping job descriptions, and poorly monitored cost centers. There is no reasonable justification for any increase in this year’s spending.
  The Board of Ed’s runaway budget has gone unchallenged for many years. Sadly, although there are scattered centers of solid academic excellence for New Haven’s youth, many parents across the city have shared with me concern and dissatisfaction with the quality of their children’s, youth and teens’ education.
  New Haven homeowners, business owners, and apartment dwellers continue to suffer with the burden of their current municipal taxes. We need not forget that every day, our city’s operational budget struggles with its enormous debt issues, which are related to the costs incurred by the School Building campaign.
  The BoE budget requires immediate systemic and deliberate cost reduction. Pilot funds, grants, and heaven forbid, new taxes can not solve this chronic problem.
  If the Board of Ed’s fiscal status was not
so grave, it would be almost comical to learn that the leadership of the Dept is now requesting a CFO. Really? The Board of Ed has been warned year after year to get its expenditures in line. A CFO might have been helpful 10 years ago-but not now.
  Unfortunately,once again in 2014, the New Superintendent and COO present a budget which seems to ignore the hardship placed upon other municipal departments and most importantly, city residents.
  Mayor Harp’s response shows an awareness and commitment to present a budget that is based upon accountability and responsibility to the people who pay for it. City residents may anticipate that Mayor Harp will use the same standards for fiscal management in the 2014-15 municipal budget.

posted by: fastdriver on February 11, 2014  7:54pm

First off, I agree with cedarhillresident! 100%- TOO MUCH FLUFF at the administrative level. That would be a GREAT place to start CUTTING the budget! The people doing ALL the work day in and day out are IN the classroom and not some office somewhere!

Secondly, I got a real chuckle from Harp’s comment, “I know that people really care about education,” she said. “I do, too. But people also care about not raising property taxes in this town.”

IF she REALLY feels that way, then GET rid of the two police officers driving you and put them back on the streets where they can catch some of these thugs running loose in the city! They have already cost us $4,000 in overtime pay in January. Then, there is the Ford EXPLORER that she wants! I NEVER read of DeStefano getting stuck in the winter with the Prius! If she did ever get stuck, there are plenty of SUVs in the city fleet that can go and pick her up. Also, WHY do we need to add 7 new bodies to her staff at a cost of over $400,000+? I love how politicians talk out of BOTH sides of their mouth.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 11, 2014  8:27pm


here are some numbers

Do our kids get the same or equal education as greenwich?? we pay a bit more perchild than they do.

What about Fairfield kids…do they get a lesser education because they spend less?How much we spend has very little to do with the quality.
My uncle was Principal of Hooker for a long time. It was not a fancy school.What made that school what it is now is not fancy…it was teachers that care and 100% parental involvement. It was a poor school back then. I does not matter how much money you throw at it a good education can happen it an afrian shake with no books and one chalk board if the teacher cares and the parents care.

posted by: Tom Burns on February 12, 2014  2:27am

There you go three-fifths—right on—and that’s where we need to be heading—we are all about public schools in New Haven—we have an experiment underway and a Montesorri coming in—but that’s it for charters in New Haven—Our Public School children can’t afford it and our parents and children won’t stand for it—-this isn’t New York and Garth knows that—we already have the best teachers and system in place to do what we need to for our children—there will be no experiments done on our kids—they are too precious—Tom

posted by: Hall2012 on February 12, 2014  8:59am

Parents -

Let’s be clear, you are the first person accountable for your child’s progress or lack thereof.

Every week there are countless comments, complaints, and dissertations about “the bad New Haven School central office & their employees”

Wake up and take responsibility for your children, you are accountable first.

Do you check homework? Powerschool regularly? Meeting with your child’s teachers? understand how YOU can better support them versus pointing fingers?

My son is a junior, minority student (must put that because then I will hear this person must be white) ranked in the top of the class, AP student, active in school and community, looking at top tier colleges - he sits in the same classes and the same building as many of the never ending complaining parents that continuously post here -  there really are no excuses in the equation to success.

It is personal accountability, every day , every week, every marking period.

The relentless attack on teachers and administrators is exhausting and quite frankly you need to take a look at your actions, and how you are approaching school engagement

The Mayor is short sided and quick to jump to judgement regarding Mr Harries and his plans -  New haven schools need a strategic CFO - while Mayor Harp is asking for several head count additions to here office, many of which are duplication of existing roles.

The world is a competitive place - we should not be looking at what other towns/cities spend or do not spend - We need to understand what it takes to develop, foster and sustain the skills our children need to win in life.

posted by: Jeff Klaus on February 12, 2014  12:42pm

3/5 and Tom Burns -

It’s clear from your comments that you are unaware that unlike New York city, New Haven has never paid for charter schools.

No operating dollars and no facilities.  State mandated transportation and special ed services are the extent of the city’s mandatory contribution to charters.

The State is the only public funder of charters in New Haven. In fact, New Haven’s finances are BENEFITTED with every student who chooses to leave NHPS (notice I didn’t say “gets kicked-out”) to attend a charter school.  Why?  Because there is a “hold harmeless” provision enacted in State law which protects the district from losing ECS funding whenever a student decides to attend a State charter school.  The theory being that if one or two students leave NHPS, its unlikely that taxpayers can save a lot on overhead.  After all if you only lose a couple of students, the district still needs a teacher in every classroom, a school building, utilities etc. 

But what happens when 2,000 kids leave NHPS?  That’s about the real number today. Certainly tax payers should expect some real savings when about 10% of the city’s school age kids are not attending NHPS, right? 

So if New Haven receives around $10K per pupil from the state through ECS - and we have approximately 2,000 New Haven kids who attend charter schools, then NHPS is receiving $20 MILLION for kids who don’t attend NHPS schools.  It’s a terrible deal for State tax payers because they are actually paying twice for every kid who attends a charter. On the other hand, its a $20M windfall for NHPS.

So I wouldn’t complain too loudly if I were you.  But thanks for bringing up the issue!

posted by: NewHaven06513 on February 13, 2014  8:10am

Just a thought…  What if we did what every other district does and hire retired police detectives to investigate student addresses to see how many out of district students are sneaking in? (Not counting project choice or magnets) secondly, we educate a tremendous amount of illegal immigrants, do we continue to do this for free?

posted by: robn on February 13, 2014  10:52am


Not sure what you mean. If an undocumented immigrant is living in New Haven, they’re paying property taxes through their rent. Unless their employer is keeping them completely under the table, they’re also paying state and federal withholding taxes and SS taxes which they’ll never see again.

posted by: Conscience on February 13, 2014  6:17pm

A quick check of the central office will reveal a number of staff who have no direct expertise or administrative responsibility for instruction. Additionally, there are some positions attached to the superintendent that could be performed by administrative assistants. In the past, chief operating officer was the deputy superintendent. When a CFO is hired will we still need a COO? The entire system should be reorganized around schools and classrooms thereby eliminating high salaries of people who provide no direct aid to instruction. There should be no such thing as a principal on special assignment which was a way for the previous superintendent to avoid demoting people who could not cut it, or to reassign those whom he did not like. We should also look into how many consultants the system uses and who they are. Finally, if we have to hire people to manage our schools (Clemente and Domus), what does this say about the people we have HIRED to manage our schools? The play on words is intended.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on February 14, 2014  1:28pm

This, or course, is all politics. It’s routine for a dept. to request more than they need. Then, when their proposal gets shot down and they get a reduced funding, that “reduced” amount is actually what they were hoping for. Anybody who has ever worked in any agency, business, etc. that needs to submit an annual departmental budget knows how this works. The mayor’s frowny-face could be because she was hoping to get more money for those 7 extra positions she wants to create. She’s less likely to get approval for that if education also needs more money.