Teacher layoffs? Consolidating schools? City and school officials seem far apart

No meetings have taken place yet between city leaders and Board of Education (BOE) representatives, in the aftermath of the city budget’s approval in late May.

School Supt. Freeman Burr, left, and Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden at a recent school budget session.

School Supt. Freeman Burr, left, and Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden at a recent school budget session.

School Supt. Freeman Burr, who announced he’ll resign at the end of this calendar year due to ongoing concerns about the education budget, isn’t optimistic about what may come of any meetings.

School Supt. Freeman Burr

School Supt. Freeman Burr

“The message they gave us was that they want us to eliminate positions,” Burr said of the final budget approved by the Board of Aldermen, with Mayor Mark Lauretti’s support.

“We’ll obviously do what we can to avoid that,” Burr said.

The BOE received a $1.5-million increase (2.2%), but had sought a $4.2-million increase (5%). During the budget process, BOE officials said they needed at least a $3.25-million (3.6%) increase to maintain current services and avoid layoffs.

 

Layoffs, pay-to-play, fewer electives

BOE officials have said from 10 to 16 teaching positions could be eliminated, some tutors could be let go, pay-to-participate fees re-instituted for sports and certain extracurricular activities, and fewer elective courses offered.

“The mayor’s message is clear: He wants fewer teachers because there’s less enrollment,” Burr said. “He said that again and again and again.”

Burr said conversations with Lauretti haven’t shown any indication the city is willing to provide more money to the school system or pick up more of its expenses.

“He re-iterated what he’s said before,” Burr said of his most recent phone conservation with the mayor.

“I’ve been pretty clear that this helped me make my decision” to step down, said Burr, whose current contract runs through 2017.

 

‘You can never win’

For his part, Lauretti said he’s waiting for Burr to call him to set up a get-together on the budget.

Mayor Mark Lauretti with a budget document.

Mayor Mark Lauretti with a budget document.

“I’ve been talking to him for a year,” Lauretti said of the school budget. “I’m interested in understanding where all this money is going. I keep asking these questions.

“It’s been the same issue for years. You can never win with them,” he added.

Lauretti said it’s not his decision whether teachers should be laid off or not, with the BOE being solely responsible for deciding how to spend its budget allocation, based on state law.

 

‘Shameful’

Lauretti, a onetime public school teacher, called it “shameful” to say he wants teacher layoffs.

“If they chose to lay off teachers, maybe they don’t care about education,” Lauretti said in a retort to critics who claim he hasn’t been financially supportive enough of education as mayor.

He said everyone knows the relationship between students, parents and teachers is the basic foundation for a good education. “Why would you destroy that?” Lauretti asked. “So if you really, truly had to do layoffs, why not do that with other positions?”

The mayor noted his children all went through the Shelton public schools, giving him the same vested interest in the system’s success as other Shelton parents.

And he said he’s dealt with four superintendents who have often warned of layoffs during budget season. “I’ll be here long after he’s gone,” Lauretti said of Burr.

 

Retirements and resignations

Mark Holden, BOE chairman, said it’s likely 10 teacher retirements and resignations will lead to those positions being left unfilled.

Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden

Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden

“We’re also looking at other ways to reduce our costs,” said Holden, noting that layoffs don’t free up as much money as assumed due to the need to pay unemployment.

He is leery of the idea of consolidating elementary schools, one of the ideas being suggested by some aldermen because of declining enrollment.

Holden said closing one of the five elementary schools would raise many issues, including the fiscal impact on bus routes and the possibility of unintentionally creating a lower-performing school while redistricting.

 

Waiting

Holden said he’s been told BOE officials and aldermen are waiting to set up their meetings to see if Lauretti and Burr can first work something out.

However, it doesn’t appear the mayor and superintendent are having the detailed conversations needed to accomplish that.

No matter what happens, Holden said, he thinks BOE members need to start discussing where to cut its budget by next week. The recently passed budget takes effect on July 1.

Holden said Burr can’t make spending recommendations to the BOE until it’s certain how much money the BOE will get, with the possibility city officials could agree to pick up certain school-related expenses outside the operating budget, as has happened in some past years.

This would be on top of the $350,000 for capital costs that aldermanic President John Anglace said should be provided to the BOE.

“We don’t want to make decisions until we have a final number,” Holden said. “The board doesn’t want to take away the possibility of the mayor or aldermen giving us more.”

 

 

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