Shelton pays out $652K to settle tuition suit with Bridgeport

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

Shelton schools are paying $652,000 to the City of Bridgeport to settle a lawsuit seeking unpaid past tuition costs for educating Shelton students at that city’s magnet schools.

Bridgeport had originally sought $852,000, and had given the Shelton schools until mid-June to pay up.

“This is a tremendous relief,” Board of Education Vice Chair James Orazietti said about the settlement.

In mid-May, Shelton was given 30 days to make an $852,000 payment to Bridgeport schools. Russell Liskov, the lawyer representing the Bridgeport school board, said he was 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.

Orazietti said Mayor Mark Lauretti negotiated with Bridgeport officials to reduce that amount to $652,000. The Shelton school board, at its meeting June 23, approved the settlement deal - in which the Shelton school system will pay $400,000 from its expected 2020-21 budget surplus, with the city covering the remaining $252,000.

Lauretti told the aldermen the district will work to get more Shelton students enrolled in the Bridgeport magnet schools.

Orazietti said the deal was a win-win for Shelton students and taxpayers.

“The negotiated settlement with Bridgeport is a direct result of what happens when our mayor gets involved,” Orazietti said. “(Lauretti) was the driving force and all you have to do is look at his record to know this was a great deal for the Board of Education and taxpayers.”

Board Chair Kathy Yolish praised Lauretti, Orazietti, corporation counsel Fred Stanek and Superintendent Ken Saranich for their efforts in settling this suit.

"Through their combined efforts we can now proceed into the 2021-22 school year with focus on education and issues addressing the social and emotional learning of our student population,” Yolish said, “Additionally, I offer thanks to the Bridgeport Board of Education and the City of Bridgeport for working with us in finalizing the settlement.”

According to Bridgeport school records, 26 Shelton students attended Discovery Magnet School 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 records state that Shelton paid $3,000 per student, with the number of students paid for capped at 50.

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,” Liskov said.

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 benefited 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, $852,000; 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 per 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