Shelton schools superintendent says district cannot afford further cuts

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

School officials are calling on city leaders to cover $1.1 million in expected contractual costs for next year or see staff cuts the district cannot afford.

Superintendent Ken Saranich, flanked by central office staff and Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish, made their budgetary plea late last week at City Hall to the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and the Board of Aldermen.

“Our budget is all about sustainability … we’re not asking for additional staff, not asking for additional programs. We are just asking for no further cuts,” Saranich said.

“Over the past three years, (the school district) has sustained significant losses in staff and programs. At some point, for the betterment of this great city, have to stop it,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education approved a 2021-22 budget request of $74,944,205 — a $2,179,205, or 2.99 percent — hike from the previous year. Mayor Mark Lauretti’s proposed education budget stands at $72,900,000 - a $135,000 increase from the present fiscal year’s budget but more than $2 million less than the board requested.

The Board of A&T is considering Lauretti’s proposed 2021-22 $128,225,767 proposed budget, a $43,728 increase from the present year. If the mayor’s budget is approved as proposed, the mill rate would be 22.03, a 1.74 reduction from the present fiscal year.

Saranich said that the school district needs at least $1,179,000 to cover contractual obligations for the coming year.

“We are asking you to help us meet out contractual obligations,” Saranich said. “If we don’t get that money, that means reductions in programs and staff. The education system can’t afford any more cuts in staff or programs.”

Overall, the school district has cut some 35 staffers over the past two years and reduced program improvements, professional learning and administrative costs. There also were positions eliminated or adjusted.

Saranich said the Board of Education is committed “to pick up the remaining costs through money from the American Cares Act” monies if at all possible. Instructional software, summer school, afterschool programs and other supplies could be covered by the federal funds.

“This year’s request of $74,944,205 is a budget that will maintain what we presently have,” Yolish said, “and with monies available from the ESSR grant, we are able to save our city close to $2 million that would normally be applied to capital improvements.”

Yolish said the budget request “is transparent, fiscally responsible and one that will benefit Shelton Public Schools as we enter a new school year that will be recovering from the turmoil and uncertainty that the past year’s pandemic had on our children, our employees and our families.”

The mayor’s proposed education budget increase is $135,000 — which matches the amount that the Board of Education initially returned from last fiscal year’s budget.

A&T member Michelle Laubin asked why the mayor’s education budget increase did not also include another $450,000, since the board had returned that unspent amount to the city in early August after finding health care savings.

Laubin also asked whether the district would consider eliminating its pay-to-play policy for sports. Saranich said, as the budget stands, that money is needed to maintain the athletic programs.

Laubin then asked what cuts would be needed if the district did not receive the contractual obligation money.

"It would be cuts to staff … we’ve had such a significant loss of staff the last two years, I don’t even know where we would begin with cutting staff,” Saranich said. “We are running the minimum amount of staff in programs we need to offer to maintain accreditation for our high school and special education certifications.”

Saranich said the district’s biggest needs are personnel.

“We will need funding to allot for curriculum writing time and proper intervention staff at the high school level,” Saranich said.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace Jr. asked why Laubin was questioning what happens to the schools without an increase.

“This has nothing to do with the budget,” Anglace said.

Laubin said the mayor’s proposed budget does not cover necessary costs so it is important to learn the impacts of not properly funding the school system.

Anglace said his board was just seeking a number, adding it now knows the target education budget number the Board of Aldermen must examine.

"If you are saying you are making a commitment to cover these costs, that is great news,” Laubin responded.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com