Speakers call for more Shelton schools funding

Exterior of Shelton City Hall, in Shelton, Conn. Jan. 11, 2021.

Exterior of Shelton City Hall, in Shelton, Conn. Jan. 11, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Stop the annual slashing of school staff and properly fund the education budget — that was the call from those who appeared before the Board of Aldermen’s public hearing on the budget.

Only a handful of people spoke at the hearing this past week, but each was adamant that the city grant the Board of Education’s full 2021-22 budget request or, if not that, at least find $1.2 million to maintain present staffing levels.

"It’s time to stop the war on education,” Mark Holden, former Board of Education chair, said.

Kate Kutash said the Board of Education needs at least that additional $1.2 million to meet the district’s contractual obligations.

“Without that funding, we will be forced to cut jobs — again,” Kutash said. “Over the last three years, Shelton Public Schools has cut 55 certified positions. That means teachers. We have also cut paraprofessionals, secretaries and custodial staff as well. We used to run our schools with 22 administrators, now we have only 19.”

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace Jr. said during his board’s first budget workshop last week, funding the school district’s contractual obligations was part of the discussion.

“What we’ve got to do is find a way to provide (the Board of Education) with $1,179,000,” Anglace said, adding that Mayor Mark Lauretti “acknowledged in his budget address that the Board of Aldermen must put more money in the Board of Education budget. We’re all starting on the same page here.”

Holden said it was “encouraging that (the Board of Aldermen is) talking about funding the contractual obligations for the Board of Education."

Lauretti has proposed a 2021-22 fiscal year budget of $128.2 million, a $43,728 increase from the present year.

If the mayor’s budget is approved as proposed, the mill rate would be lowered to 22.03, a 1.74 mill reduction. The proposed spending plan projects a 98.85 percent tax collection rate, according to Finance Director Paul Hiller.

The Board of Education has requested a near $75 million budget, a $2.2 million, or 2.99 percent, increase from the previous year. The amount would maintain present programs and staff levels, according to Superintendent Ken Saranich.

Lauretti’s proposed education budget stands at $73 million, a $135,000 increase from this fiscal year.

"We would love to be fully funded to meet other financial obligations and not be playing catch up and make do again all of next year,” Kutash said. “We would like to be able to look at a large class size and add the needed teacher to meet our students’ needs. But please, find a way to come to an agreement to grant us at least the $1.2 million to meet our contractual obligations.”

Matt McGee, co-founder of Envision Shelton — who has announced his candidacy for 3rd Ward alderman — called for the board to accept the Board of Education’s proposed budget in full.

"Keep in mind that this budget proposal for education in town put in front of you tonight does nothing to increase the value of the services our school system currently offers,” McGee said, “but instead just protects against further cuts to staff and services our education system already provides."

McGee talked about the loss of staff in the past two years, which he said has resulted in rising class sizes, aging curriculum and the pay-to-participate system.

"Are we really saying that, even when raising taxes isn’t anywhere near being on the table, we’re still not willing to invest in our kids?” McGee asked.

“There is no good justifiable reason to cut teachers and curriculum writing yet again this year while also making students and parents continue to pay to participate in certain extracurricular activities … none,” McGee said. “I hope the proposed budget on the table is revised to reflect that reality.”

Holden also called on city officials to be more transparent concerning the Shelton Student Transportation Services, the city-run bus company, and its costs.

A court-negotiated settlement put student transportation in the hands of the city at a set cost of $3.15 million, to be covered by the Board of Education. Anything over that amount would be covered by the city. If less money is spent, the city keeps that money.

"The reason you had to sue to get the transportation contract,” said Holden, who was Board of Education chair at that time, “was nobody working on transportation for the city was willing to share any information to establish they knew what they were doing and would be capable of providing an acceptable level of service.”

In the budget interviews this year, Holden referred to SSTS Director Ken Nappi, stating that the BOE never required Durham, Landmark or other outside vendors to release their actual expenses for the various components of their contracts.

“The difference is if Durham or Landmark underbid and lost money, the taxpayers of the city would not be on the hook for the loss,” Holden said.

“If Shelton Student Transportation Services does not have enough income to cover their expenses, the budget will be out of balance, and taxpayers will have to make up the difference,” Holden added. “The taxpayers deserve to know this department is being held to the same scrutiny as others.”

Anglace has stated that the actual costs are proprietary information and offering those details could hurt the city’s competitive advantage when time comes to seek a new contract with the school board.

The joint Board of Education-Board of Aldermen budget workshop is May 18, followed by one more workshop May 20 and a final vote on May 27. All meetings are online on the city website and live in the City Hall auditorium.