Could city end up paying for students sent out of district?

The case to determine whether the city of Bridgeport can charge districts that send students to its Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School is heading back to court.

“Our original petition to court was thrown out because the judge said the sending districts had to go through the state commissioner of education first,” said Shelton Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Clouet before explaining that the state commissioner, Dianna R. Wentzell, ultimately ruled that Bridgeport could legally charge the districts that send students to its magnet school.

The list of sending districts being billed by Bridgeport includes Shelton, Trumbull, Stratford, and Monroe.

Bridgeport is attempting to charge cities an estimated $3,000 for each student that a community sends to its magnet school from out of district.

Stratford would receive the highest tuition bill, which would exceed $600,000, from Bridgeport because of the number of students attending Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School from its district.

The estimated $350,000 Shelton would be charged is an accumulated cost of Bridgeport running its magnet school, as well as the 120 or so students the city sends out of district to the school, according to Shelton’s Board of Education chair, Mark Holden.

Despite understanding how Bridgeport arrived at the total amount each community is being billed, Clouet said, the overall lack of communication between the sending districts and Bridgeport has resulted in an abundance of unanswered questions.

Clouet said he’s unaware of what the money would be going toward and is unsure whether sending districts would be expected to pay their bill in 2018.

“It could be used for the students at Fairchild Wheeler. Is it being used for some other purpose? We don’t know,” said Clouet. “As a superintendent of schools, it is very frustrating, because I would very much like to have an extra $3,000 for each one of my kids here in Shelton. We could do a lot of interestings with that money. With that said, for them to just demand that type of money without even a conversation or an explanation, it’s just unacceptable. So we’re going to continue to push against this, because this is an example of trying to solve an economic problem through means that are not just.”

Shelton’s financial director, Ed Drapp, speculated that the money being collected from sending districts would go toward “inflating the costs that it takes to run Fairchild Wheeler.”

Drapp also said that at this point, he’s not sure when a decision will be made on the case.

“I haven’t seen any estimated time to determine whether we would have to pay or not. It’ll be up to the court to determine that and the timeline of that decision,” said Drapp. “We’re currently putting together our rationale for why we think the majority of those costs are not justified as charges to include for sending to Fairchild Wheeler. We’re working with our attorney to strengthen our arguments, and that’ll be entered into the court and then it will proceed under the judiciary procedure.”

Bridgeport bill part of a larger issue?

Clouet said this unexpected bill from Bridgeport has highlighted an issue that districts have experienced statewide.

“Part of the problem is that there are multiple fragmented revenue plans around the state of Connecticut that determine how schools are funded. That needs to be addressed,” said Clouet. “What the state needs to do is, instead of this mandate approach, they need to come up with a plan for the entire state to determine how magnet schools are funded, agricultural schools are funded, how technological, traditional public schools, etc. We don’t have that. I have nothing against Bridgeport or the people of Bridgeport — this is simply a matter of being fair and coming up with a plan that works for all of the parties involved.”

Shelton’s superintendent added that if Bridgeport is using the money collected from the sending districts for anything other than funding the school, it would be worse.

“We don’t even know that that’s not the case. The money could end up in the general fund for the city’s Board of Education or the general fund for the city of Bridgeport. We literally haven’t had that level of discussion, and it’s just unacceptable,” said Clouet. “To make matters more complex, Bridgeport has switched superintendents.”

Clouet said he spoke with Bridgeport’s former superintendent, Fran Rabinowitz, but has had no contact with its superintendent, Aresta Johnson, as of March of this year.

“I did speak with the former superintendent, and now our business manager is involved in the group that has met with people from Bridgeport, Stratford, Trumbull, and Monroe,” said Clouet. “This is still not satisfactory, and still doesn’t represent what should be a rational set of procedures.”