Transportation savings could mean the end of ‘Pay to Participate’

Shelton students won’t have to pay to participate in sports and other extracurriculars this school year, if a new transportation contract moves forward as planned.

The Shelton Board of Education voted Wednesday, Aug. 8 to eliminate pay to participate fees, contingent upon a new one-year contract with Durham School Services that would save the district $450,713. The board’s motion also included approving the use of grant money to partially restore busing for students in the Talented and Gifted program.

The district’s bus contract with Durham is being renegotiated from a three-year to a one-year contract following a settlement agreement the BOE reached with the City of Shelton last month.

Superintendent Chris Clouet told the board he hoped to have the contract signed by Durham at Wednesday’s meeting but he is confident it will be finalized soon and include the savings of roughly $451,000.

Based on the potential savings, the board went forward with a motion to approve removing Pay to Participate on a contingency basis and authorizing the board chair to sign off on the agreement with Durham.The vote passed 6-1 — Dave Gioiello voted against the motion.

The fees were budgeted to generate roughly $257,000 and would be applied to activities like band and robotics, in addition to athletics.

“I think we all agree, when it comes to pay to participate, that none of us were happy with adding that,” Dr. Clouet said.

Instituting pay to participate fees was part of the board’s effort to balance its budget proposal back in June, cutting about $2.37 million. At the time, board members said fees would save teaching jobs.

Board member Gioiello didn’t want to vote without seeing a copy of the proposed contract with Durham.

“We don’t know how much we will save, how much is available — we don’t have firm numbers,” Gioiello said. “How can we vote without firm, hard numbers?”

Board Chair Mark Holden said the contingency vote was necessary due to timing. Families will be starting to sign-up for activities before the board’s next meeting. Even if the district refunded families later, some students might be discouraged from signing up if the fees were still in place, Holden argued.

Talented and gifted

Wednesday night’s motion included approving the use of a Magnet School Transportation Grant to partially restore district transportation for students in the Talented and Gifted Program. Transportation had previously been eliminated from the budget entirely for the upcoming year. The district will now cover a portion of the transportation costs and families would be asked to pay an $800 annual fee. That fee could be paid in installments throughout the year, Dr. Clouet said.

“We are not obliged to provide it but it is a good things for kids,” Dr. Clouet said of the Talented and Gifted program transportation. “We are asking parents to pay for part of it over course of the year.”

Gioiello said eliminating pay to participate fees but still asking parents to pay for magnet school transportation appeared to favor sports over academics.

Board Member Amanda Kilmartin noted that pay to participate fees would impact more students than the Talented and Gifted program busing.

“Hundreds of kids are affected by this” Kilmartin said of fees. “…I think we can’t let perfect get in the way of good.”

Dr. Clouet, who argued athletics and other extracurricular programs are also an important part of an education, echoed a similar sentiment on eliminating fees.

“I think we, as a district, are underfunded,” he said. “But this is a reasonable way to help families get ready for the school year.”

Preschool

With $193,713 potentially remaining in transportation savings, the board discussed other cuts it may be able to restore.

Board members Kathy Yolish and Kate Kutash supported reinstating some level of the free preschool program by grandfathering in students who were already attending. The board voted in June to charge tuition for the program.

“I’ve been involved in the preschool program — I’ve seen the benefits of it,” Yolish said. “If we have to phase it out, we phase it out, but parents need time to find a new program.”

Kilmartin said she’d like the board to spend more time looking at ways the remaining savings could best be used, whether for preschool or in another area.

“I want to go back and look at what we cut and prioritize,” Kilmartin said.

Dr. Clouet and board members agreed to discuss preschool and additional ways to use the savings at an upcoming finance meeting. 

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