EDITORIAL: When it rains it pours

While many cities and towns are entering budget season facing millions of dollars in potential cuts to their individual Education Cost Sharing funds because of the governor’s budget proposal, some cities, including Shelton, are also facing charges for sending students out of district to attend Bridgeport magnet schools.

In addition to the more than $7-million cut in state funding to education and the added responsibility of funding a portion of city teachers’ pensions being proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Bridgeport is attempting to bill Shelton more than $350,000 for the 120 or so students it sends to Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School.

Since the idea of charging all sending districts tuition was introduced late last year, Stratford, which would be charged a hefty tuition fee of more than $600,000, filed a lawsuit against Bridgeport and Connecticut.

Shortly after Stratford filed its lawsuit, other cities affected by the tuition fee, including Shelton, joined.

Not only would Malloy’s attempt to improve the quality of education in inner cities like Bridgeport by taking funds from cities like Shelton and Stratford fail, but it is also counterproductive.

The governor’s proposal seems to be based on the belief that throwing money at cities like New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport would improve the quality of education in those cities. He fails to mention exactly what the money would go toward, but the bottom line is that his plan takes money from towns that are already stretching their education budgets.

The chairman of Shelton’s Board of Education, Mark Holden, said before Mayor Lauretti proposed his budget, which actually includes a tax decrease for the city, that if the schools didn’t receive their requested $1.98 million in additional funding, they could potentially be forced to lay off employees.

The Board of Ed acknowledges its ability to do a lot with a little, but parents in the community have consistently requested that more money be invested in the city’s education system, claiming there’s no reason for it to be ranked so low in spending per pupil.

With its budget already running thin, Holden explained that if the tuition fees were to be approved, he doesn’t know where the money to pay Bridgeport would come from.

The court case will begin in April, and Holden said that charging tuition is an attempt by Bridgeport to “change the rules in the middle of the game,” because the understanding was that since the state was paying to build the school, and the state was also providing considerable funding to run the school, student-sending communities wouldn’t be expected to pay tuition for their students.

The Board of Ed is speculating that Bridgeport wants to change the rules because there are now more than 600 out-of-district students attending its magnet schools.