BRIDGEPORT – An unusual delay in local budget discussions has sparked claims from members of the city’s Board of Education that the release of the budget is being put off until after the Feb. 27 mayoral election.
Based on a draft timeline of the process, the board’s three-member Finance Committee was initially scheduled to receive the budget request on Jan. 17. But the meeting has since been canceled and rescheduled twice, pushing the committee budget discussion back to Feb. 28 – one day after voters go to the polls to elect the next mayor.
Given the delay, the full nine-member Board of Education will likely not discuss the budget until March 11.
Board members Robert Traber, Joseph Sokolovic and Willie Medina – who have all endorsed Gomes for mayor – warned this week that the timing was not coincidental. Rather, they speculated that the delay amounts to an intentional effort to shield the current administration from the backlash of likely cuts to Bridgeport schools as federal funding runs out.
“With an election coming up about a new mayor in Bridgeport, it sure looks like this is being done to not have this come up until after the vote,” said Traber in a Thursday call to CT Examiner.
The board leadership has instead attributed the delay to changes in the budget process and to a new superintendent of schools playing catch-up on district finances.
Carmela Levy-David, who was appointed in June 2023, is the fifth Bridgeport superintendent in the last 11 years.
But city superintendents, both new and tenured, have typically presented budget requests in mid-January or early February each year. Interim Superintendent Alyshia Perrin, for example, was appointed in November 2022 and submitted her request to the committee on Jan. 11, 2023.
Levy-David did not respond to a Monday request for comment by CT Examiner on the budget delay. But on Wednesday, she and Board Chair Christine Baptiste-Perez published a three-minute video to the district YouTube channel, seemingly responding to board member concerns.
In the video, Levy-David maintained that there was no legal requirement governing the budget process timeline, noting her recent appointment.
“As the superintendent, it is imperative that I take the time as I on-board into the district to learn about what is working well, and where we have opportunities for improvement,” said Levy-David in the video. “This process cannot be rushed, and it’s a priority for my team and I to get it right.”
Baptiste-Perez – who was elected board chair in December 2023 – backed the Levy-David, explaining that the district wants to ensure that the upcoming budget is clear and transparent. In a Friday email, Baptise-Perez told CT Examiner the delay had nothing to do with the upcoming court-ordered election between Ganim and Gomes.
But Traber, Sokolovic and Medina criticized the response, continuing their calls for immediate action on the budget.
While Sokolovic – a two-term board member – agreed that there is no law requiring the district to release the budget now, he said there are “practical and moral” reasons not to delay – voters, legislators and city leaders need to know where the budget for Bridgeport schools stands.
Sokolovic said voters have the right to know where district finances stand before casting votes in the election do-over, even if mayoral elections typically take place a few months before the school budget is released.
Sokolovic said the Ganim administration had cut budget requests in the past, forcing the board to cut jobs. And given recent hires using federal COVID funds, he said, voters need to keep in mind what will happen when those funds run out.
“We’ve lost over 243 positions due to chronic underfunding since 2015 and over 100 positions are at risk,” warned Sokolovic.
He said it was also critical for the board to know what positions or programs will need to be cut, so that legislators can advocate for city schools up in Hartford.
Sokolovic suggested the delay could also shortchange schools with the city budgeting process already underway.
“Other city departments are already submitting their budget requests and possibly shrinking the amount of money available to education.”
Traber, a former president of the Bridgeport Education Association and a member of the board for almost two years, told CT Examiner that while the budget should not be rushed, it cannot be delayed.
“We’re out of the discussion right now. So, I think that that hampers us,” Traber said. “By waiting until the beginning of March to come up with a budget, it seems to me we’re behind the ball.”
Traber said the video released by the superintendent and board chair appeared to suggest “significant changes” to the budget this year. And if that’s the case, Traber said, it’s especially important to release the budget now so the community can provide input.
Medina told CT Examiner on Friday that because the superintendent and many of the members are new to the board, including himself, they should have more time than usual to review finances – not less.
“There’s so many parts that are moving,” Medina said. “I’m a freshman, but at least for me I can support myself with the knowledge and understanding from being a parent and an advocate.”
Medina also pointed out that many surrounding school districts – including Fairfield, Stratford, Stamford and Norwalk – are already well into their budget processes.
Asked on Friday for comment on the budget delay, David-Levy, board Vice-Chair Akisha Cassermere, board secretary Jennifer Perez and board members Albert Benejan Grajales, Tiheba Bain and Andre Woodson did not respond prior to publication.