Bridgeport to charge Shelton additional $350,000 for out of district students

Shelton, along with six other districts (Fairfield, Milford, Stratford, Trumbull, and Easton/Redding/Region 9) and their legislators, met recently to discuss the burden of having to pay Bridgeport Magnet School an increase in tuition for the students they send out of district in for the upcoming year.

The group held a meeting in Stratford on Wednesday, Oct. 26 that was hosted by Stratford Public Schools Superintendent, Janet Robinson and Board Chair, James Feehan. They discussed the burden of the potential hundreds of thousands of dollars some or all of these districts will be forced to pay.

The group decided to draft a plan to be put before the legislature in an effort to reduce the effects of this unexpected expense.

Shelton Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Clouet said there’s still a chance to either reduce or rid the cities of the additional costs for sending students to Bridgeport public school Fairchild Wheeler.

“Everything is possible in terms of the outcome. We’re working with the local legislature to ask the state to reconsider the change in policy. Part of the problem is when Fairchild Wheeler was built, the model was there was no charge to the sending districts,” said Clouet. “Now once people have signed up and many parents are sending their kids there, they’re trying to switch it up and say ‘by the way Shelton you have to send tuition money,” well our anticipated bill for that change would be close to $350,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, which is unfair and unanticipated.”

The estimated $350,000 Shelton would be charged for is an accumulated cost of Bridgeport running its magnet school as well as the 120 or so students the city sends to their school, according to Board of Ed Chairman Mark Holden.

Incumbent State Representative Jason Perillo (R-113) said he is working diligently with the city’s Board of Ed to try and address the increase in tuition.

“This is a complete bait and switch,” said Perillo. “Students are given the opportunity to attend the school at no charge to the towns and then the rules are changed. It’s unacceptable and we’re going to tackle it head-on.”

Dr. Clouet said he thinks he knows what led to Bridgeport requesting the increase in payment from each city/town.

“I believe the reason is that the state is saying they don’t have the money to support it and so they want the taxpayers of Shelton and other municipalities to support it,” said Clouet. “I am not at all against the concept of having a variety of schools in the region and the choice for students, but the overarching theme of the project is to reduce racial and ethnic segregation so I don’t think anyone is against that, it’s just how to pay for it and the state hasn’t created a clear plan. They’re kind of just shooting from the hip and it’s not fair to the taxpayers of Shelton or the other towns alike.”

Clouet and Perillo said their plan is to hopefully develop legislation for the upcoming January session that will change this rule put in by the state.

“The bill won’t come due until next year so we’re hopeful we can do something before then,” said Clouet.

He added that the dynamics of the policy are bad for all districts being forced to pay the increase.

“This type of policy coming out of state doesn’t make sense, putting one community against another community isn’t what we need and it isn’t fair for taxpayers,” said Clouet.

Mayor Mark Lauretti agreed the new policy isn’t fair for any taxpayers, but especially ones from Shelton.

Holden said there are other issues with the newly issued policy as well.

“Bridgeport already earns around $15,000 per student that attends the school. With this extra money it will put that amount around $18,000 range per student,” said Holden. “We’re doing our students for around $13,000 so they’re getting considerably more money for each student than what we have to work with in our district so frankly it will take away from what we can spend on our students. The school itself was paid for with state funds so that’s a concern there.

“Our students do better on the SATS than theirs too, it’s just one of those things where the state pays for their school to be built and they’re already getting more money so why the money grab? The other thing is the only district that’s been given permission to do this is Bridgeport. I don’t know why that’s true, but other districts are not able to do it.”

Holden said the city is currently investigating whether or not there will be a consistent price for the number of students they pay for.

“When the notification of this came, they told us we would not be able to reduce the number of students we pay for, we would have to pay for the number of students we have this year,” said Holden.

He added that this is an issue the city needs clarification on because they wouldn’t want to pay for 120 students to go to school out of district should that number decrease. The additional $3,000 added onto each out of district student’s tuition would come directly from the city’s pocket, according to Holden. He is hopeful the Board will receive city funding should they have to pay the full increase in tuition.

“Essentially we’re going to need the city to cover the costs for us or we’re going to go backwards in terms of what we can do for the students in our district,” said Holden. “The city might need to look at raising taxes or finding other areas in their budget where they can cut expenses to make up for it.”

Clouet said this is an ongoing story to follow and the next step will be what occurs in January during the legislative session.

“Right now when you look at CT many people don’t understand the variety of types of schools and where the money comes from to fund them. It’s a growing plan to see how we can support these things while making it fair for everyone,” said Clouet.

Holden said the city has filed a FOI in order to get a copy of Bridgeport’s budget. He said they think they’re using the increase in tuition to help subsidize its other schools.

“There’s no proof yet, but that price seems to be on the ‘high side,’” said Holden. “We’re going to need to build in these additional $350,000 costs for this new expense that we’ll have. Frankly the Mayor will look at that as part of our percentage increase and he won’t be happy about it, but it’s out of our control.”