City and education officials have announced an agreement that should allow full-day kindergarten to start this fall in the Shelton public schools.
The agreement also should enable the Board of Education (BOE) to eliminate the unpopular pay-to-participate (”pay-to-play”) fees charged for sports and afterschool activities at the intermediate and high school level, and adequately fund rising special education costs.
In addition, the deal covers who will pay for propane needed for the school system’s new city-owned, propane-powered bus fleet.
According to the announcement on Friday, Mayor Mark Lauretti, School Supt. Freeman Burr and Aldermen John F. Anglace Jr. and John P. Papa have signed off on the agreement. Anglace is Board of Aldermen president, and Papa has been working closely with Anglace on budget issues.
“Everyone is relieved,” Anglace said of the agreement. “I’m very happy.”
Involves $500,000 in funds
The agreement “will allow the Board of Education to re-allocate $500,000 within its budget to implement full-day kindergarten, cover its increased costs for students with disabilities [special education], and eliminate pay-to-participate for all students involved in extracurricular activities and athletics,” according to a press release distributed by Burr.
As for propane, the BOE will meet all propane costs for the current 2013-14 fiscal year and the city will cover BOE propane costs above $226,000 for upcoming fiscal year 2014-15. The new fiscal year will begin July 1.
The current school year is the first in which the city has had the propane buses, and the cost of buying propane has been about twice as high as anticipated for a few reasons, including a national spike in propane prices related to the cold winter.
‘Freeing up the money’
Anglace said the agreement essentially means the BOE will be able to use $500,000 in city capital funds to purchase certain education-related items, which should free up an equivalent amount in the BOE operating budget to use for other purposes.
“We’ll be freeing up the money so they can do what they want,” Anglace said of the school system.
Anglace said the $500,000 in city capital funds for the schools has been in the budget all along, but this needed to be better explained and clarified to BOE officials. “They just didn’t understand how to use it,” he said.
He said up to $538,000 in BOE expenses that could be paid for through the city’s capital accounts have been identified, based on discussions.
What are capital expenses?
The city has both an operating budget and a capital budget. The capital budget is used to cover assets that are supposed to last awhile, such as those involving buildings, technology, furniture, vehicles and various kinds of longer-term equipment. The city usually pays for major capital expenses through bonding (borrowing).
Anglace also complimented Burr for working to hold down spending, especially when it comes to special education through the expansion of in-district programs in recent years.
State law requires the needs of special education students be adequately met, and this can lead to high tuition bills for placement in out-of-district programs. Having more special education programs within the district therefore cuts down on out-of-district placement bills.
Cost of full-day K
School officials have said full-day kindergarten would cost about $950,000 in its first year, but they need only from $350,000 to $450,000 in new operating money to make it happen.
Some of the other full-day K expenses would be paid through the city’s capital budget or be offset by teacher position reductions expected in other grades due to declining enrollment.
The BOE originally had requested a 5.4% spending increase, but will get 3.4% under the Board of Aldermen-approved budget. Lauretti had recommended a 3% spending increase for the schools.