Shelton BOE to pay '20-21 magnet school tuition tab to Bridgeport

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton.

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — The city’s Board of Education has agreed on a first payment for Shelton students being educated at Bridgeport’s magnet schools.

The board, in a special meeting last week, agreed to pay $150,000 to the Bridgeport Board of Education for the present year’s tuition bill for city students attending the Fairfield Wheeler Magnet School and Discovery Magnet School.

According to the billing invoice, 26 city students attended Discovery Magnet this past year. In all, there are 50 students —15 in aerospace engineering, 20 in information technology and 15 in biotechnology/zoology — at Fairchild Wheeler.

The invoice calls for $3,000 to be paid per student, with the number of students paid for capped at 50.

While this covers this year’s tuition bill, the city remains in negotiations with Bridgeport officials on repayment of some $825,000 the Bridgeport school board claims Shelton owes for educating students at Bridgeport’s magnet schools for unpaid tuition bills for 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20.

In mid-May, Shelton was given 30 days to make an $825,000 payment to Bridgeport schools. Russell Liskov, the lawyer representing the Bridgeport school board, said he is prepared to pursue the board’s lawsuit against Shelton and seek 8 percent interest for the three years of unpaid tuition if no money is forthcoming before the deadline is reached.

Superintendent Ken Saranich, during a virtual meeting of the Board of Education’s Finance Committee last month, said the $150,000 payment was worked out between officials from the city of Bridgeport and Mayor Mark Lauretti.

Board of Education Vice Chair Jimmy Orazietti, at last month’s meeting, acknowledged that the money was an initial payment, and Shelton and Bridgeport officials are “still talking” about how the remaining money owed will be paid.

Orazietti said the “negotiations are continuing.”

Lauretti has stated that a deal is “close.” Concerning the remaining money owed, Lauretti has stated that both sides are “working on that now.”

Bridgeport, saying it was owed more than $3.2 million from suburban districts using the magnet schools, previously settled its claims against other municipalities.

“Stratford has paid 100 percent in full; Monroe has paid and Trumbull has been resolved,” confirmed Liskov.

According to the lawsuit filed in Superior Court by the Bridgeport Board of Education, since 2017 Bridgeport has educated 529 students from Stratford, 275 students from Shelton, 61 students from Monroe and 202 from Trumbull at its magnet schools.

“Each district benefitted by the plaintiffs educating its students at its magnet schools but unjustly did not pay the plaintiff for these benefits,” the lawsuit states.

It claimed Stratford owed Bridgeport $1,587,000; Shelton, $825,000; Monroe, $183,000 and Trumbull, $606,000.

In 2016, then-Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Fran Rabinowitz got permission from the state commissioner of education to charge outside school districts who send their students to magnet schools in Bridgeport $3,000 per student a year.

The towns of Stratford, Trumbull and Shelton filed suit to block the charges, but the case was dismissed by Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis. The judge’s ruling was upheld by the state Appellate Court last year.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com