Mayor Finch – with staff help – avoids $3.2 million $chool ca$h que$tion

Mayor Bill Finch’s 2013-14 budget keeps education spending level with the current year’s.

As we reported this week, Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas as well as the Board of Education insist that under a new 2012 state law the mayor owes them an additional $3.2 million.

If that’s the case it’s another expensive complication in an already tough budget season for the Democratic mayor and all-Democrat City Council, who are under pressure to hold the line on taxes while facing cuts in state aid. As it is Finch’s proposed budget would raise taxes on the average residential property owner by $400.

“He is in trouble,” said School Board Chairman Kenneth Moales. “Somehow, he is going to have to come up with the extra dollars. If he doesn’t, he is breaking (state) law.”

Finch should trust what Moales has to say about money because Moales was the mayor’s campaign treasurer.

Following his meeting with East Side community leaders Wednesday night I attempted to ask Finch to explain his administration’s position on the $3.2 million.

As usual his spokesman (and former Connecticut Post employee) Elaine Ficarra was at his side.

Finch is perfectly able to field a reporter’s questions, and he should be well-versed on this school funding issue because it’s been around for about a year.

But the mayor’s staff prefer the questions be posed to Ficarra and the answers come through her as well. It’s message-management 101.

I asked the mayor to explain his rationale for not providing the extra $3.2 million to the Board of Education.

“Well, we’re formulating an answer for you. We’ll probably get it to you tomorrow (Thursday),” Finch said.

I pressed, since it’s what I get paid to do.

“Okay,” I said. “But tell me – just give me your initial understanding…”

At which point Ficarra – as she gets paid to do – interrupted, “No, I think he gave you the answer. He gave you the answer, Brian. That’s it. He gave you the answer. C’mon.”

So would they get me a comment Thursday?

“It looks like, yeah,” Finch said.

“We’ll get back to you,”  Ficarra said.

I wasn’t reassured.

“Well, I need something tomorrow (Thursday),” I said.

“That’s good. That’s your schedule. We’ll get back to you,” Ficarra said, adding: “No. No. No. You’re not going to put him on the spot over here, Brian, to talk about it, okay?”

At which point the mayor chimed in, “Actually, we’ll get back to you when we want to.”

After our exchange I emailed Ficarra later Wednesday with my specific questions about the $3.2 million, why the mayor kept it out of his budget, whether the administration was negotiating with state officials on the matter, and what happens if any talks fail?

On Thursday Finch’s answer arrived via Ficarra in a very short email: “We are incredibly focused on this issue and we are working diligently to resolve it. In the end, we hope to be as effective as we were in 2012 in working with the state to close the Board of Education’s multimillion dollar deficit.”

For comparison’s sake, here’s the level of detail Ficarra provided in an email Thursday about the mayor’s tree planting ceremony on Friday…


WHAT:           On Friday, April 26, Arbor Day, Mayor Bill Finch will unveil a new “Tree City USA” sign. Mayor Finch will also plant a tree near the new sign to celebrate National Arbor Day.


The “Tree City USA” sign will be located on the city line, so drivers traveling into Bridgeport will be made aware of the City’s achievement. This is the fifth consecutive year that Bridgeport has been named “Tree City USA.”


The honor “Tree City USA” officially recognizes Bridgeport’s commitment to responsible urban forestry management. In 2012, the city reached its goal of planting 2,012 new trees.


The Arbor Day Foundation awards the title “Tree City USA” to cities and towns across America that have demonstrated a strong commitment to tree care, and have made urban forest maintenance a priority.


WHERE:        The esplanade located in the middle of Fairfield Avenue, across the street from 3431 Fairfield Ave. (Kali’s Auto Body), Bridgeport, CT


WHEN:          Friday, April 26 at 2:30 p.m.



Brian Lockhart