Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti will present his recommendation for the 2017-18 fiscal year city budget at a joint meeting between the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Apportionment and Taxation in city hall on Wednesday, March 22. The meeting will begin at 5:15 p.m.
Lauretti said he’s been more vocal in terms of his plans to finalize the city’s budget this year than in previous budget seasons because of the proposed cuts to education described in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal at the state level.
The mayor said the budget he will propose will take into account the city’s current numbers, rather than considering the governor’s cuts.
“I’m not reflecting that couple-million-dollar cut that the governor is proposing in our budget because then they’ll think it’s OK. They’ll think, ‘Oh, he worked it out, he didn’t need our money after all,’ and that’s BS,” said Lauretti.
Public outcry to governor’s proposed cuts
At the March 9 Board of Aldermen meeting, a group of about a dozen or so parents took turns expressing their concerns about the possible effects of the governor’s proposal, and their desire to have the Board of Education’s proposed budget for the 2017-18 year approved.
The BOE’s proposal would include a $1.98-million, or 2.82%, increase in its budget for 2017-18. The board’s proposed increase would bring its budget to $72.4 million for the 2017-18 school year.
Among the parents’ concerns, the most prominent is that the city isn’t investing enough of its funds in education.
Parents repeatedly mentioned that Shelton is ranked 162 out of 165 towns/cities in spending per pupil in the state and said they believe that it could and should be higher up on the list.
Mayor Lauretti responded that throwing more money at educational problems won’t solve them.
“I’ve heard this same complaint for years about how little the city spends on education,” said Lauretti.
The mayor then challenged the group of parents to consider how the quality of their children’s education would differ if they attended school in one of the cities or towns that spends more per pupil.
“No. 2 on that list of spending per pupil is Hartford, No. 7 is New Haven, and No. 13 is Bridgeport,” said Lauretti. “So my point is that there’s no statistic out there that says the more money you spend on education the better results you’re going to get.”
Parents continued to express their list of concerns, stating that potential cuts to the city’s Educational Cost Sharing grant, along with the possibility of the city not awarding the Board of Education its requested $1.98-million increase, could result in valued specialists within the schools losing their jobs.
Many of Shelton’s schools, such as Mohegan and Long Hill Elementary, currently employ part-time media specialists who are responsible for teaching students how to safely navigate the Internet, how to properly do research using technology, and how to organize Web shows.
Parents said they fear that potential cuts to the employment of referenced media specialists could put their students even further behind competing towns such as Trumbull, Easton and Newtown.
One Shelton parent who attended the meeting said she teaches in a neighboring community and agreed that the city’s lack of technology has put it behind other competing school districts.
When the parents asked the mayor why more money isn’t invested in implementing technology in Shelton classrooms, he said that’s not his job.
“I don’t make those decisions, but if you contact me as a PTO representative and say that you need my help, nine times out of 10 I’m going to do it because I’ve been doing it for 26 years,” said Lauretti.
The mayor went on to say that it wouldn’t be difficult for the city to allocate $250,000 for technology to be put into the schools — it would just require a detailed request from the city’s school superintendent, Dr. Chris Clouet.
Parents said they were shocked to hear the mayor say so readily that he’d be willing to invest in getting more technology into the city’s schools.
Jessica Mitchell of Shelton attended the meeting and said she has a young daughter who will be entering kindergarten in the fall at Elizabeth Shelton School. Mitchell said she’s currently an online college English professor at multiple universities and feels students aren’t being prepared to excel in online courses.
The PTO treasurer at Long Hill Elementary said the school’s PTO raised a total of $4,000 in funds for Chromebooks to increase the amount of technology in the classrooms. She said there are currently students who are required to be on a computer for a total of 45 minutes per week in a classroom where only three computers are available. The 45 minutes per week is designed to help prepare students for testing on computers in years to come.
The treasurer said the PTO also spent $14,000 on playground mulch because the mulch that was funded by the city contained cushions from couches and wood with nails in it.
Lauretti said the city would have paid for the repairs to the school’s playground, but needs to be made aware of the issues first.
When we give them money, they don’t spend it.
Since 2009, Shelton school enrollment has decreased by 900 students, and the mayor said that’s just one of several reasons why he refuses to just hand over the board of ed’s requested budget increase each year.
“We can write a check to get the proper technology in our elementary schools,” said Lauretti. “It’s not a problem for us, but when you look at budgets where the enrollment is falling off the charts yet the total is millions more every year, in my opinion, it’d be irresponsible not to question that. I do it with the police and fire departments, too.”
Resident Kristina Keyser suggested that the decline in student enrollment could be a direct result of parents leaving because they’re not happy with the growth of Shelton education. She said parents might be moving their children to communities where the additional taxes they pay are going toward the education they provide.
Lauretti said that despite the BOE’s history of giving unused funds back to the city to put into its general fund, he always considers its requests and what the city’s education system needs to thrive.
Shelton resident Debbie Wurms suggested that a more direct line of communication among the Board of Aldermen, Board of Education, parents, and the mayor be maintained.
“If we go to the Board of Ed, they say, ‘We’re not getting the funding,’ and if we go to the Board of Aldermen, we hear, ‘They’re not spending the money’ or ‘They’re giving money back.’ I’m sure it’s true on all sides, but as parents, we want to get to the future,” said Wurms.
She then proposed that a meeting among the several groups take place in the near future and Lauretti said he’d be happy to take part in it, but that parents would need to organize it through Clouet.