NB Politicus

Stewart Seeks To Exclude BOE, Common Council From Approving Use Of School Construction Money

Posted in Bonding, City Hall, public education, school board, School Construction by nbpoliticus on March 8, 2021

By John McNamara

The Stewart Administration, blocked in recent months by a bipartisan Board of Education (BOE) and city ordinance from filling a political patronage job on a new school construction project, will seek to remove  Common Council and BOE authority on school construction spending handing the final say over to the seven-member School Building Committee (SBC) appointed by the Mayor.

A resolution filed by the Republican caucus Majority Leader Daniel Salerno and Alderwoman Sharon Beloin-Saavedra at the March 10th Council meeting would alter the membership of the SBC, by dropping Common Council appointments.  It would further cede approval to “engage, select, and enter into or continue all necessary contracts with contractors, architects, landscape architects, or engineers, and within the limits of the appropriations made by the council, this committee shall engage and fix the salary of one or more construction representatives ” to the School Building Committee. The existing ordinance requires  approval by the BOE and Common Council.

CITY HALL WATCH

The hiring of a construction representative for the Chamberlain Elementary School renovation project and re-roofing projects at Pulaski and Slade Middle Schools sparked controversy last year when the SBC selected Ray Moore, the former Schools’ facilities director, to be a construction representative at a six-figure salary shortly after he retired from his job at the schools.  Former NBHS Principal and retired School Administrator Paul Salina, who is the Stewart appointed Director of Support Services at City Hall, reportedly pushed hard for Moore, his former colleague, to get the lucrative construction representative’s position. 

BOE members, however, objected to the Moore hiring saying a newly-hired Facilities Director in the School District could handle oversight of the Chamberlain renovation without the added costs. “We try to save as much as city-wide taxpayer money as possible.” BOE Member Violette Jimenez Sims told the New Britain Herald’s Catherine Shen in a November 24th story. “For me, I would rather spend the money that would directly impact the children that they can use forever and ever and not spending it on a redundant service.” 

The Moore hire was subsequently set aside after BOE Attorney Patrick McHale asserted that state statutes and the ordinance gave the BOE the right of approval of the construction manager who answers to the SBC.

For all its clout in allocating and contracting tens of millions of dollars for school construction the School Building Committee is a relatively obscure municipal government committee.  It’s not easily found on the city website’s link to boards and commissions.   Its Chairperson, Frances Wolski, has been a member for multiple two-year terms during the Stewart administrations. The committee has seven members but two seats are vacant as of February.   The Committee’s most prominent member in recent years has been former Mayor Timothy Stewart, a position of influence he held during his daughter’s first two terms until his mysogynistic social media rants ended his tenure on the committee and as head of the Chamber of Commerce.

Last year the Council approved $57 million for the Chamberlain renovation and re-roofing projects contingent on state reimbursements.  State Representative Bobby Sanchez (D-25), the Chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, has successfully worked to get a 95% reimbursement from the state for a renovated Chamberlain School in the east end and roof upgrades to two middle schools.

The proposed School Building Committee resolution is certain to raise new concerns by Common Council Democrats over the propriety of removing Council and BOE checks and balances on school construction.  School construction projects involve millions of dollars in state bond and local funds that need to be allocated with competitive bidding and full transparency, which is what the existing ordinance ensures.  Ceding all power now to the Mayor’s office and the Mayoral appointed SBC creates a process that will eliminate oversight by elected BOE and Council members.

Related Story:  School Building Committee Pick For Architect of Smalley Academy Renovation Has Its Share of Troubles.

Related Story from New Britain Herald  Construction Bill Will Fund Three New Britain School Projects

 

 

 

 

“Revolutionary” State Budget? Property Tax Relief, New ED Aid For NB Is Part of Democratic Package

by John McNamara

A tentative agreement among Democratic leaders on a biennial state budget  that begins July 1st appears to be good news for New Britain and other municipalities in terms of property tax relief and continued aid to the under-funded city schools.

Late Saturday (May 31) Democratic legislative leaders and representatives of the Malloy Administration agreed on a revenue package that will drastically cut the car tax. The measure will set aside the city’s property tax rate of 49 mills on vehicles and cap the tax for cars to no more than 29 mills in a statewide formula.   The levy on vehicles will be in effect for the 2015 tax year if OK’d in a final vote. At the same time the plan will designate a percentage of sales tax revenue for transportation and new funding to cities and towns to reduce burdens on property taxes.

New Britain's legislative delegation will wrap up the 2015 session June 3. From left Rep. Bobby Sanchez (25), Rep. Peter Tercyak (26), State SenatorTerry Gerratana (6) and Rep. Rick Lopes (24). Absent from photo is Rep. Betty Boukus (22)

New Britain’s legislative delegation will wrap up the 2015 session June 3. From left Rep. Bobby Sanchez (25), Rep. Peter Tercyak (26), State  Terry Gerratana (6) and Rep. Rick Lopes (24). Absent from photo is Rep. Betty Boukus (22). ( F Gerratana photo 2014)

The Democratic package, if approved by the Legislature, represents the most significant change in Connecticut’s tax structure in decades, making the system more progressive and fairer to New Britain and other cities.

Taxes will most certainly  increase by a smidgen for high-income individuals with the ability to pay. For most citizens burdened by one of the nation’s heaviest property tax burdens there is relief.  State Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven) called the proposal “revolutionary” and said “this budget meets the state’s obligations and provides historic property tax relief for the people of Connecticut,”  It includes provisions to:

–  Raise the income tax rate on millionaires from 6.7 to 6.99 percent

–  Maintain the state sales tax at 6.35 percent and designating half a percent each to local property tax relief and the Malloy transportation initiative. Proposed sales taxes on accounting, engineering, advertising and dry cleaning were eliminated from the plan.

– Triple the tax on computer and data processing from 1 to 3 percent.

– Adjust Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) grants to municipalities with high mill rates where state property and nonprofit institutions hold significant amounts of property.

As the legislative session ends New Britain’s legislators have been mobilizing to retain a fair share of municipal aid,  support state-funded programs and maintain New Britain’s share of education funding.

Details will be forthcoming over the next several days, but it is likely that the delegation has succeeded and the city will improve on the $85 million (covering 68%)  it now gets under state cost sharing formula to underwrite the education budget proposed by the Stewart administration at a flat-funded $124,183,673.

Despite billion dollar deficits confronting the Malloy administration and legislators in  state budgets since 2011, New Britain’s education aid has steadily increased over the last four years.  It will do so again if the budget package wins approval by Wednesday, June 3.

To be sure New Britain schools will remain under-funded in comparison to comparable communities in the absence of more equity in the way educational funding is distributed. The state budget package now on the table, however,  is a step in the right direction.  New Britain has fallen behind more sharply than others because of a consistent pattern of the city setting budget priorities that stiffed the schools year after year, but increased spending in municipal government. This year is no exception.

Attention now turns to the adoption of the municipal budget. The Common Council is due to act on  the Stewart Administration’s $224,757,851 budget and 49 mill tax rate by mid-June.  No matter how the city acts there is now room for optimism on property tax relief and education aid given the prospect of a “revolutionary” state budget plan being adopted.

Dems Recommend Nicole Rodriguez For School Board Vacancy: City Council Will Fill Vacancy

Posted in public education, school board by nbpoliticus on July 22, 2013
DTC Recommends Nicole Rodriguez For BOE Vacancy
Nicole Rodriguez, a high school graduation specialist in the Hartford School system and parent, is the choice of the Democratic Town Committee to fill the seat left vacant by Dr. Nicole Sanders who recently resigned from the Board of Education.
Ms. Rodriguez, who holds a master’s degree in school counseling, volunteers as Alton F. Brooks Youth Basketball Commissioner and coach.  She also coaches for the CT Heat AAU Girls Basketball Club. She serves on the board of directors of the New Britain-Berlin YMCA and was a recipient of WMCA’s Ron Brooks Youth Development Award. 
Rodriguez was among five candidates seeking endorsement for three BOE seats up for election this year.  In seeking a board seat she told the DTC of her interest in being a member of the Board of Education:  I am a stakeholder, educator and I am committed to quality education. As a parent and educator I am concerned and determined that our children receive the best education possible. I have over 12 years’ experience as an educator. Many of them include working to reduce the dropout rate for at risk students.
If appointed by the New Britain Common Council, Rodriguez will serve for the remainder of a term that ends in 2015.  The appointment could come at the August meeting of the Common Council.
from http://www.newbritaindemocrat.org