A Republican state legislator from Winsted is questioning state funding of a professional tennis tournament and a Head Start program in Bridgeport at the same time that Winsted’s public schools are low on cash.
State Rep. Jay Case, a freshman lawmaker, sent a letter Friday to both Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his budget director that questions the state’s planned purchase of the rights to the New Haven Open women’s tennis tournament for $618,000 and the awarding of $800,000 for the ABCD Head Start program in Bridgeport.
Case charges that the Malloy administration ”has offered the town no help” in the high-profile struggle to fund the public schools after the alleged theft of money from the town.
“The governor’s administration has been unwilling to take a more substantial role in Winsted’s immediate and dire education predicament, yet it’s trumpeting government’s head-first dive into the sports management business,” Case said. “That doesn’t sit well with me, and throwing money toward a tennis tournament that even corporate sponsors bailed on won’t sit well with folks I represent, either.”
Malloy’s spokesman, however, says that the state has done what it could for the Winchester schools under the law.
But Case added, “If this state has money to spend on tennis, maybe our governor should pay a little more attention to Winchester’s problems. He can even make the hike out of Hartford and explain to the taxpayers of Winchester why a sporting event with declining attendance is more important than their kids’ schooling.”
Case’s one-page, three-paragraph letter states, ”I believe the running of a professional tennis tournament does not fit into our core mission.”
Malloy’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, responded, “The state, including the state Department of Education and the Office of Policy and Management, have been in close contact with municipal and school officials regarding the financial troubles in Winchester. Based on our review of the town’s cash flow and budget, we do not believe that there is an imminent threat of closure as there was for ABCD’s Head Start program or for the New Haven Open. We will continue to work with Winchester and support their efforts to overcome the challenges they face.”
Doba added, “That said, one would think that Rep. Case already knows that the law dictates the ways in which funds may be used. If he had bothered to ask, we could have explained that the Head Start money was from other Head Start accounts and the money for the tennis sanction was from economic development funds. He knows full well that the state has done what it could to help the town within the dictates of the law.”
The Courant’s Kathy Megan reports the following:
Last week, Superintendent Thomas Danehy told the state Board of Education that the town would have to shut down the schools in December for lack of funds. He said the district wouldn’t be able to make payroll.
Danehy attributed the financial situation largely to the alleged theft of more than $2.5 million by the town’s former finance director, Henry J. Centrella Jr., who was fired in January and has been arrested on financial fraud charges. The theft, which is believed to have happened between January 2008 and November 2012, is still under investigation, but city leaders say it devastated the town.
Danehy also raised questions about whether the town is meeting its legal obligation to contribute at least $19.9 million to operate the town’s three public schools and its designated high school, The Gilbert School. The state provides the town with $8.05 million of that amount.
Upon Danehy’s request, the state has also agreed to launch an investigation into whether the town is meeting its financial obligation toward the school district.
In the meantime, town officials have been scrambling to find a way to keep the schools open in December.
Selectman Candy Perez said she also sees the loan — called a “grant anticipation note” — as a good way to address the town’s cash problems.
The Courant’s David Owens has all the details on the situation at www.courant.com