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Stratton Calls For Panel To Probe Schools Budget

by Thomas MacMillan | Apr 16, 2014 12:34 pm

(10) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, Schools, City Budget

In a budget season in which school spending has taken center stage, Alder Michael Stratton is floating a new proposal to examine the Board of Ed budget more deeply.

Stratton wants to create a “Civilian Volunteer Task Force” to oversee Board of Ed spending. He has drafted a proposal that would create the body, with the approval of the Board of Alders.

Click here to read his proposal.


According to Stratton’s proposal, the task force would comprise no more than three people and would report to the Board of Alders Finance Committee. The task force would review Board of Ed expenses and “make short and long term local contribution recommendations regarding education spending” to the Finance Committee. The task force’s recommendations would be non-binding.

Stratton proposes that the first three members of the task force be, if they accept, James Alexander, Christine Bishop, and Alex Marathas. “These three persons all have extensive knowledge of city finance and organization and have done work that has been praised by the mayor and Board of Alders in the past.”

Although Stratton’s proposal calls for the task force to review the proposed city budget currently under review by the Finance Committee, it’s unlikely the task force could be created and complete its work before the Board of Alders is due to approve the budget, at the end of May.

Stratton has emerged as the most outspoken critic of the mayor’s proposed $511 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, particularly the money spent on education. He claims that the Board of Ed has been spending more per student than it should, and has questioned the legality of the city paying for health care for Board of Ed employees. (Click on the video at the top of this story for a sample of his take.)

In response, Board of Ed officials last week shared a PowerPoint presentation with the Finance Committee, detailing how many city taxpayer dollars go towards the schools. Click here to see it.

Asked about Stratton’s task force idea, Board of Alders President Jorge Perez said he hasn’t read it yet and could not comment.

Schools Superintendent Garth Harries released this statement Tuesday evening: “Both I and the rest of the Board of Education are committed to public, transparent and responsible discussions of fiscal priorities and local prioritization of spend on education – and we are committed to working with the mayor, the Board of Alders, and every other stakeholder to ensure appropriate investment in the education of our children. The Board of Education budget has been and is in the midst of being publicly debated, vetted, and voted on through a series of long standing budget committees, protocols and review.  At last week’s finance committee meeting, we agreed to meet and follow up with Alderman Stratton once he synthesized his questions, in preparation for a follow up meeting with the full finance committee.  We have not yet seen those questions.  Re-inventing process and renewing calls to defund the schools shows to us a lack of genuine engagement in the essential question of what kind of investment our children deserve.”

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posted by: elmhurst1 on April 16, 2014  9:38am

So first he’s going to sue the city, then he’s going to cut youth programs, then he’s going to fund youth programs, then he’s going to put in a bilingual library worker, then he’s going to cut the library $500,000 including that position… is it a surprise he never followed through with his questions to Garth? Stratton doesn’t seem to have stayed consistent on anything but getting his name in the press.

So now, instead of taking up the school board on their invitation to really discuss the budget and answer his phantom ‘questions’, Stratton has a new scheme of putting his handpicked (rich, white) team together to hold a ‘fair’ review… gee, I wonder what result they might come up with.

Sure is easy to defund public education if you only send your own kids to private schools.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 16, 2014  9:40am

Gart…really? If you really want transparency I would except Strattons committee. Other wise it looks like you are really hiding something? Are you?

posted by: Tell The Truth on April 16, 2014  10:15am

Why does he get to pick the members if this panel?  I would love to apply to be on this panel.  It seems this Alder wants to put his people on this committee to do his BOE bidding.  If this Alder wishes to make this committee, then he needs to follow his own recommendations concerning transparency. Choosing who you want on this ridiculous committee points to your ridiculous intentions. The BOE needs to take care of their own business. People, including self serving Alders, need to stay in their lanes.  This Alders tantrums are getting annoying and along the lines of mania.  I was willing to listen, in the past, now I tune this Alder out. Too many tantrums. This Alder doesn’t seem like a Team New Haven player.

posted by: HewNaven on April 16, 2014  10:51am

I don’t like the precedent of having to check-in on other towns to see how they’re budgeting for education. Its a classic ‘apples and oranges’ scenario. What if another town is mismanaging their education budget? Why would we want to model our budget on such a town? Who will decide which towns to compare ourselves to? It sounds arbitrary and inaccurate. Why can’t we just have an open,transparent budgeting process checked by trustworthy individuals and parties in our own city? IMO, we should strive for that and not give up so easily.

posted by: robn on April 16, 2014  12:40pm

HN

How about an even simple method? How about budgeting education within our means? Taxes are too high in New Haven and until they decrease, we’ll won’t attract more wealth to the city and therefore we won’t provide more opportunity for local businesses (=jobs).

posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 16, 2014  2:18pm

The choices are simple as to the Education part of the City Budget: approve it with some face-saving tinkering and declare a victory or actually do a comprehensive study of what is in the budget and what is in, but hidden in other categories.

Education is the single biggest part of most town/city budgets and should be scrutinized.

But even lopping off whatever from the education budget will not solve New Haven’s budget pressures and escalating real property and personal property taxes. Nor will small upticks in PILOT.

Some one in gov’t has to be willing to look at tax policies generally. How much can a diminished middle class afford to subsidize the wealthy, whether individuals or corporations?

I hope Stratton gets to this some day.

posted by: Esbey on April 16, 2014  2:40pm

Open and transparent?  Check out the linked BOE presentation, which does its best to invent new words to hide the city’s funding of the BOE.

There is an early slide showing only a small amount of revenue coming from the city—only a very small “city contribution.”  Oddly, though, categories like “pension” are listed as “revenue”.  Wait, what! How are employee pensions a source of revenue to the BOE???

Well, if you keep reading the slides start to distinguish between the city’s “cash” contribution to the BOE and other “in kind” contributions, like the city paying for employees pensions.  That is a ridiculous set of weasel words. The city pays for everything with “money.”  It doesn’t pay for pensions “in kind”, they are justing trying to hide facts.

Then they don’t want to very clearly add up the city total contributions, so they start expressing them broken out in small categories and then as various ratios of other things.

Transparent it is not.

posted by: HewNaven on April 16, 2014  7:47pm

Robn,

I simply want to make our current budgeting process more transparent and easier for us all to understand. I’m not taking a stand on taxes at the moment. I don’t think adding a powerless citizen’s panel to an already complex process will help matters. I do think more citizen participation throughout the entire process would go along way though. I’ll support any effort to engage and inform citizens as long as it simultaneously empowers them to participate in a meaningful way. I’m afraid Stratton’s proposal does not offer a true means to influence the process.

posted by: Brutus2011 on April 16, 2014  10:01pm

I read the proposal and it seems simple enough: get three independent and experienced qualified persons to examine how public education dollars are being expended.

My question is not why but why not?

Taxes are very high and going higher. We have beautiful schools but not beautiful student achievement.

Every year we seem to do the same dance vis a vis more money-another budget crisis-hand wringing-threatened layoffs-actual layoffs, etc etc.

No one can stand in front of the Finance Committee or the BOA and say this is what is spent and where and how. Or not with any degree of lay understanding.

In 2011, the Center for American Progress released a study called “Return on Educational Investment” as part of their “Doing What Works” program. It was a state by state and district by district analysis of spending and student outcome. Kind of a “bang for the buck” paper. Here in Ct, Ansonia was #1 out of 111 in getting the best educational ROI and New Haven was #105 out of 111 or pretty close to the worst in getting what we pay for.

This should add to the impetus for the citizens of New Haven to want to see the numbers so that decisions can be made on how to rationally proceed.

I can understand that there are those who have overseen this education expenditure and don’t fancy having what they do questioned, but I don’t think it is beyond the pale for our BOA as our elected representatives to request real accountability for how and where the money is going.

[For those interested in the report:
http://www.americanprogress.org  search for “doing what works return on educational investment”
Look for the interactive link that will bring you to the state by state data. Then select Conn and all the data per district will appear.]

posted by: NewHaven06513 on April 17, 2014  10:11am

I’m not a personal fan of Stratton but I love what he is doing. Someone needs to watch out for the few and fleeing tax payers left in this city.

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