Bridgeport Ups Education Budget Request by $3.5M Amid School Closure Threats

BRIDGEPORT — Facing the potential closure of six public schools, the Board of Education voted on Monday to boost its already substantial budget increase request by an additional 20%.

In her $309 million budget proposal for the upcoming school year, Superintendent Carmela Levy-David called on the city to increase its contribution to Bridgeport Public Schools by 22 percent — $16.7 million more than the current budget — to offset a decade of flat funding. 

But at this week’s school board meeting, a majority of members voted to increase Levy-David’s request by another $3.5 million, roughly the amount the district expects to save in 2024 if it implements a highly contested school closure plan.

Board member Robert Traber called on Mayor Joe Ganim, who reportedly backed the closure plan this week, to do the same.

“We saw in today’s paper the superintendent and the mayor expressing support for the closing of the schools,” Traber said. “We would like to see the mayor make up for lost time here and love to see the city start contributing what our children deserve, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Six schools in two years

During a news conference earlier this month, Levy-David, who was hired by the board last year, announced that the district will be closing five of its elementary schools — Bryant School, Edison School, Dunbar School, Cross School and Hall School — as well as the Bridgeport Learning Center, which services students with emotional and behavioral disorders, by 2026.

According to the superintendent, the schools subject to closure are “no longer safe” and have far outlived their lifespan. She said three of the buildings have been out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act for more than 30 years, three have asbestos in the floors and pipes, and all are missing fire sprinklers.

Along with safety concerns, Levy-David said many of the schools are “failing students.” Per district data, she said, only 7% to 15% of the students at each school meet the state’s ELA standards, and just 3% to 7% meet math standards. Dunbar and Cross schools, she added, are plagued with chronic absenteeism and lack student support.

Through looming staff layoffs and minimized maintenance costs, the district expects to save about $7.2 million annually with the proposed plan.

Under the current draft timeline, Levy-David expects to close Edison School, Hall School and the Bridgeport Learning Center in June. Edison students would be bused to Hooker School and Beardsley School; Hall students to Jettie S. Tisdale School, Luis Munoz Marin School and Beardsley School; and learning center students would be sent to Roosevelt School, Curiale School and Central High School.

According to board member Joseph Sokolovic, however, at least four of the nine members were unaware of the plan prior to its announcement. Traber said an additional $3.5 million from the city could cover the costs of leaving Edison, Hooker and the learning center open while members explore other options.

Sokolovic backed Traber’s suggestion, noting the additional funds should be considered  a necessity, not “extra money.” He said residents need to apply political pressure if they want the city to improve its public schools. 

“We’re just keeping our heads above water,” he said. “You want to ask us what we’re gonna do with extra money? Give us $25 million. We’ll have $25 million to institute a new program.”

Ahead of his reelection, Ganim touted his support for Bridgeport schools and education funding, promising to support students, teachers and learning centers. During the recent board meeting, member Albert Benejan Grajales said he hopes Ganim follows through on his campaign promises and funds the requested increase.

A spokesperson for Ganim told CT Examiner on Wednesday that the mayor would be presenting his budget to the City Council on April 1. 

Though district staff have made it clear that the six schools in the cost-saving proposal must either be closed or remodeled, member Akisha Cassermere said she’d like to save as much of the district’s Internal Service Fund as possible. According to the superintendent’s budget, approximately $12.8 million may be taken from the $36.6 million savings fund to finance the needed increase.

Board Chair Christine Baptiste-Perez agreed with Cassermere, adding that some of the schools are “dangerously unsafe” for students.

“It’s just a reality of what it would take to fix it,” she said. “But sure, we can ask for more money. It never hurts to ask for more.”

Six out of the nine members ultimately backed the $3.5 million increase. The board also decided to delay a vote on the full education budget until its March 25 meeting. 

You may also like...