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Schools seek to end city agreement, keep cash

December 24, 2016

BRIDGEPORT — Two years ago, the city started giving the school board $2.3 million annually for things like crossing guards, snow removal and trash pick up.

The deal called for the city to perform those services and then bill the district for them.

By doing so, the city came into compliance with a state law that prohibited so-called “in-kind” services. The city used to do those services, then count them toward local school spending. State law requires cash.

Now, the city school board wants to end the agreement, sealed in a memorandum of understanding, and keep the cash.

It has until February 1, 2017 to notify the city of its intentions to stop the deal before being locked into another fiscal year beginning in July.

Board member Maria Pereira, at a meeting of the school board last week, maintained that most of the items the city is charging the district for should be considered municipal expenses. The schools, she said, have no control over crossing guards. The district has its own staff that can shovel walkways and parking lots.

“We shouldn’t be paying for it,” Pereira said. “It is a waste of money.”

She added that the city should be powerless to remove the cash contribution, since under state law cash contributions are locked in and can not be lowered in subsequent years.

Marlene Siegel, the district’s budget director, said she agreed.

“The city can’t technically or legally reduce our level of funding from the prior year,” Siegel said. Still, she recommended a conciliatory approach.

“To ensure we can move forward without any negative consequences,” Siegel said.

In the past, the city has threatened to cut off funding if the deal ended.

“It’s a new mayor, a new superintendent. It’s a conversation that needs to be had,” Board Chairman Joe Larcheveque said.

The board directed Larcheveque, Interim Superintendent Aresta Johnson, and other board members to meet with members of the Ganim administration in the first week of January to discuss the situation.

Board member Sauda Baraka said she never supported the deal but wants to know before the February deadline what impact it will have on the district’s budget.

Already suffering programing cuts this year and with another tough budget year ahead, Pereira said ending the deal would free up some cash for programming.