Rumor mill (still unconfirmed, but probably not true): Did Earl Kim drop the ball on a $20 million federal government grant for Stamford Public Schools?

May 6, 2019

Probably not.  But we have learned some more about the source of this rumor, and the capital projects grants process more generally. 

 

First, the source of this rumor, at least as far as I can trace it, appears to be an April 9, 2019 meeting of Board of Representative's Fiscal Committee.  There, Rep. Zelinksy (D-11) asked (beginning around 13:25), "do you [] apply to the federal government for grants?"  Clarence Zachery, Chief Fiscal and Operations Support Officer for Stamford Public Schools, responded in the affirmative.  Rep. Zelinksy then asked if anyone had initiated a grant available from the federal government to fix the mold issues in the school.  Specifically, he stated "it's something . . . [from] last year I was told--and Stamford could have gotten $20 million, but [] someone, whoever it be, did not apply for that grant, which would have been $20 for the city of Stamford to help with the mold removal."

 

Zachery denied any knowledge of such a federal program, and indicated he'd check with his employees responsible for submitting grant requests to determine if there had been an oversight.

 

(To those wondering if the source of the federal grant might be a "Rebuild America's Schools Act," I believe that is not the case, as that Act was recently introduced by a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has not been passed by either chamber of Congress.) 

 

Then-Superintendent Kim clarified that grant applications start with the state (even if they are federal monies, which sometimes flow through the state), and that Mayor Martin has led a project to apply for approximately $100 million of capital projects before the state (the agency being the "Department of Administrative Services," or "DAS"), knowing that the projects do not currently qualify to receive state funding, but, with the hopes that, once submitted with the state, the Mayor can work with our state legislative delegation to procure funding notwithstanding the projects' anticipated ineligibility.

 

* * * 

 

More information on the issue of state grants for capital projects was shared a week before the Fiscal Committee's meeting, at the April 2, 2019 Board of Education meeting.   


There, Mayor Martin addressed the Board of Ed, and exhorted that "We have to apply for every project that we think we can do if the state would support us in a major way," and that he had asked Kim to proceed accordingly.

 

Apparently, there is some sort of capital projects cost-sharing program, whereby the state may kick in 50-80% or so of the cost of eligible projects undertaken by municipalities.  This application process runs through DAS, and has 17 or so steps the application must provide to be complete, the first being confirmation that the local Board of Education has approved the project.

 

So, Mayor Martin asked the Board approve a list of projects (that we don't presently have money to proceed with) so we can complete our applications with the state, understanding that the applications will be rejected, and that after rejection, the city can ask for funding notwithstanding the lack of compliance with the terms of the cost-sharing program.  Importantly, approving projects does not commit the Board of Education to proceeding with any of them, even if the applications are ultimately granted by the state.


Board of Ed member Jaclyn Pioli (D) asked why this hadn't been done in prior years, and Clarence Zachery replied that we wouldn't be doing this in any other year, because our applications clearly won't be granted by the state.  However, in light of the mold crisis faced by Stamford Public Schools, it is the Mayor's hope that the state will provide Stamford relief as they have done other cities facing financial difficulties, in far greater amounts than Stamford will request (the $550 million bailout of Hartford was mentioned, not without a hint of disgust).

 

* * * 

 

One final note on the timing of Kim's "resignation."  It appears the Board of Education was considering replacing Kim at least as early as March 19, 2019, as on that day, they went into an Executive Session during a Special Budget Meeting to do a "360 degree review of the Superintendent."  I've still got no more color on the reasons for firing than what's been reported in the Advocate and in the Board of Ed's letter thanking Kim for his service, which don't seem to tell the full story.

 

I continue to welcome further input and insight on this issue, and thank those of you who have already contacted me as we try and figure out what's going on.  I also invite the Advocate's new Education Reporter, Sophie Vaughan (welcome!), to look further into the issue, and perhaps to reach out to Rep. Zelinksy to understand the genesis of his question.

 

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