Shelton schools superintendent: Education cuts will ‘devastate’ system

Photo of Brian Gioiele
The Board of Education discusses budget cuts during a remote meeting Thursday, May 21.

The Board of Education discusses budget cuts during a remote meeting Thursday, May 21.

Brian Gioiele / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — More than 30 positions — including more than a dozen teaching jobs — could be eliminated as administrators prepare to slash $3 million from next year’s proposed school budget.

Interim Superintendent Beth Smith presented a proposed budget mitigation plan to the Board of Education Thursday 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. “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.

“Every suggestion from members of the Board of Education, central office administrators and principals had to be included in these cuts due to the substantial monetary value that had to be cut, except, and only for the time being, sports, student activities and student enrichment programs,” said Smith.

Mayor Mark 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.

The board had hoped for concessions from each of its unions, but most, including the teachers’ union, rejected pleas for a pay freeze for the coming year, furlough days or reducing the number of schools days from 181 to 180. The most significant savings, more than $900,000, would have come from a pay freeze.

Board Vice Chair James Orazietti said he hoped that the unions would revisit its decision now that specific impacts have been identified.

“This is real … this is going to happen,” said Orazietti, acknowledging his angst at making such drastic cuts to the school budget.

Board member Amanda Kilmartin, visibly shaken by the task of making such cuts, rejected the idea that the responsibility of finding more funds be on the backs of teachers. She reluctantly suggested finding savings through paring back athletics and extracurriculars.

Smith said cutting athletics and extracurriculars altogether would save the district $627,000.

“Every year, we cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut,” Smith said. “Other districts don’t have to cut every year. They get money added every year. We don’t. We’re already at bare bones. Now we’re taking the skin off the bones and breaking the bones.”

In preparing the plan presented Thursday, Smith said she joined central office cabinet members in making line item cuts first and then reductions in personnel.

Smith said she was asked to maintain “equity across the board” when cutting personnel, including all bargaining unions and central office administration.

Each elementary school — except Sunnyside and Mohegan schools, where class sizes were already in the mid- to high-20s — will lose a teacher. Shelton Intermediate School has seven teachers eliminated, and Shelton High would lose a chemistry teacher. Also lost would be the school psychologist — just added this past year — as well as an art teacher, library specialist and a world language teacher.

To make the cuts equitable, Smith said she also factored in eliminating the athletic director position held by John Niski and the athletic director’s secretary and one as of yet undetermined central office position, which alone would offer $200,000 in savings.