After months of concern from parents and community members, New Haven’s Board of Education committed on Monday to steps to improve its transparency and accountability.
At Monday night’s meeting, board member Jamell Cotto introduced proposals aimed to mitigate the financial issues facing the board of education and the New Haven Public Schools administration, noting that the board must submit a budget to Mayor Toni Harp by March 1. The NHPS administration anticipates the school system will require a budget almost $20 million bigger than last year’s, but the administration hopes to cover that increase in part by requesting $10 million from the city — a cost members of the board have said is too high for the city to approve.
“We are no longer going to be the board of education that kicks the can down the road,” Cotto said.
Cotto, who joined the board in October 2017, said that for as long as he can remember, the board of education has operated on a deficit. Members of the board claimed they have not received monthly budgets and have been kept in the dark about the state of the district’s finances. In a unanimously adopted motion, the board called on the New Haven Public Schools administration to provide a $10 million reduction recommendation to the board’s Finance Committee and to include a summary of transportation, part time personnel, contractional services reductions and full-time employees by the next board of education meeting.
Cotto outlined other short-term goals of the New Haven Public Schools’ administration — upload bylaws to the New Haven Public School website by Feb. 19, ensure the board of education receives monthly reports starting at the next meeting, ensure committee notes are uploaded, provide written responses to public comment questions and concerns, and provide reports on which documents must be translated into different languages. Cotto’s motion said the board of education must approve a budget, review and update bylaws, and develop an ethics policy by March 26, while also reviewing and recommending new contracting standards by June 2018.
The motion comes a week after NHPS Chief Operating Officer William Clark presented a recommended budget of $206 million to the board of education, which included the $10 million increase in New Haven city funds. The board of education’s final budget must be approved by the New Haven Board of Alders, after it is reviewed and corrected by Mayor Toni Harp.
At the meeting, Clark presented several issues that he said have contributed to the New Haven Public Schools budgetary problems; the Board of Alders approved a budget $3 million under the requested board of education budget last year, and uncertainty and delays in confirmation of final numbers complicated projection. In addition, after losing temporary grants from the state, NHPS is struggling to support underfunded areas of need, including social emotional and physical health supports. Due to Connecticut’s budget issues, Clark said, most other towns in the state are struggling with education funding.
“This is not all negative. This is a challenge,” Clark said. “We found good, positive signs both on the academic side and the non-academic side … and our decrease was not out of the norm of the rest of the state.”
He said full-time salary inflation, fixed inflation costs in transportation and utilities, $2.6 million magnet grant revenue reduction, Special Education Outplacement Tuition and services and Union Settlements have all contributed to a need for a higher board of education approved budget, which Clark projects to total over $200 million.
Ed Joyner, one of two elected board members, praised Cotto’s motion, and advocated for an evaluation of all programs, services and departments. He said the board of education must first have a clear idea of the effectiveness of different departments to prove to the public that it is spending its finances efficiently. Joyner said the board of education has not been proactive in solving budget issues, and that the process has been “sluggish.”
President of the board Darnell Goldson said that the city will not give the board of education $10 million and said the board would not propose something that its members did not believe had a chance of getting approval from the board of alders. He also criticized the status of financial reporting to the board, and said that the board is prepared to make “tough decisions,” but needs full information and raw numbers from the public schools. Goldson said the board is prepared to take measures like cutting programs and staff and even consolidating schools if necessary.
“We started off the year with a $3 million deficit because we had a wishful-thinking budget, and we didn’t do anything to correct it … our eyes are closed because we didn’t have any financial reports,” Goldson said.
Officials will further discuss the board of education budget at the finance committee meeting next week, and the board will look to receive input from the public at the next board of education meeting on Feb. 26.
New Haven Board of Education meetings are held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.
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