SHELTON — A student action group is demanding Mayor Mark Lauretti and the Board of Aldermen increase school funding for the coming year to help mitigate “devastating” cuts to staff and programs.

SHS Students Fight for Change has gathered 100 signatures on a petition opposing the mayor’s decision to leave the education budget unchanged from the present fiscal year. Creation of the petition came days after interim Superintendent Beth Smith proposed a plan to cut $3 million from the school budget.

“We are completely left out of the process when, in many cases, student voices could be critical in developing policy which is both necessary yet fair,” a SHS Students Fight for Change statement read. “We students will have to bear the brunt of the cost.

“We understand the fiscal challenges we face as a community,” the statement continues, “however, we, students of Shelton High School, unequivocally reject the mayor’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, which allocates no extra funding for contractually obligated raises, which in turn will lead to a massive cut in services currently offered by the district.”

Lauretti said the pandemic has created such economic uncertainty that “everyone must share the burden.

“I also feel bad for this generation of kids with the debt they are being saddled with,” added Lauretti. “No one ever wants to talk about that.”

Smith credited the students for taking an active role in the budget process.

“Students, like adults, have a right to advocate for what they believe in,” Smith said. “I have always been in favor of this long as they do it responsibly and respectfully.”

Smith presented a proposed budget mitigation plan to the Board of Education May 21 that would remove 32 staffers — from teachers to custodians, security to the athletic director — while cutting funding for instructional materials and technology support.

“Cutting over $3 million is devastating to the education of our students,” said Smith at the time. “It is an enormous amount of money. We will not be able to offer the level of services that we have in prior years. Staffing, instructional programs and class sizes in our schools will look different.”

Smith said the central office cabinet found $995,725 in line item cuts, leaving some $2 million in reductions that would have to be made in staff eliminations: layoffs, retirements or resignations that would not be replaced.

The Board of Education made no final decisions on Smith’s proposal, as many members await word on when, or if, they can plead their case for additional funding to the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and Board of Aldermen. No date has been set for upcoming meetings.

Lauretti’s budget stands at $128,182,039, which maintains the 22.42 mill rate while not giving any money to the education budget, which is to remain at $72,765,000 for the 2020-21 school year.

The Board of Education had proposed a $75,083,945 budget. The $2,318,945 increase, according to board members, was simply to maintain present services with minor funds set aside for a new pre-K teacher and curriculum writing.

“May we remind you that this is the second year in a row that the mayor has proposed a zero percent increase for the education budget,” the statement reads. “Last year, there was no Covid-19 pandemic. There was even a tax increase, and yet still, at the end of the day, only a measly $65,000 increase for a school psychologist.”

The petition notes that 14 teachers were eliminated under last year’s budget, and, if approved by the Board of Education, Smith’s proposal could slash 32 positions — nine administrators and 23 teachers.

“This will increase class sizes — at a time when we are all being asked to social distance — and limit one-on-one help from our teachers, adversely impacting the education that we receive,” the petition reads. “We fear their overall educational experience will be adversely impacted as not only will class sizes be increasing, but after-school activities will all but be a thing of the past as elementary and Perry Hill schools will shut down after hours and on weekends.”

The students stated they understand the coronavirus has left residents nervous and financial futures uncertain, but city leaders cannot let the school system be decimated.

“We can’t allow our most important public investment to be shortchanged any longer,” the petition read. “Student achievement rates, SAT scores, and graduation rates will suffer, and in turn all of our homes will be worth much less than we first thought.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com