Layoffs, pay-to-play fees in district’s near future

The Shelton Board of Education voted to make $2.37 million in cuts to its initial proposal in order to balance its overall budget with the city’s approved budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, at its June 12 special meeting.

As the board weighed its possible options of how to address its current deficit in the least impactful way, it ultimately settled on a “solution” that includes cuts to staffing, puts an end to free access to schools buildings after hours, and creates fees for those participating in sports.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said the board was forced into making “unnecessary cuts” to make up for the gap between its $2.8 million request and the $1.23 million increase that was allocated by the city.

The city’s final budget included a $72.7 million allocation for education in 2018-19.

According to the district’s Financial Director Ed Drapp and Board Chairman Mark Holden, the district has gotten less than 50 percent of what it has requested from the city for more than 11 years in a row.

In addition to not receiving the full amount it requested again this year, the board is now expected to fund an additional $800,000 for the 60-propane buses owned by the the city that it will not be permitted to use in the upcoming school year. After entering a three-year contract with a new vendor for the buses out of Durham, the vendor was burdened with having find a place to park its buses, as it was not permitted to use the original property located in Shelton. According to Holden, the company has found a lot that will allow it to park its buses in Shelton.

Holden said after a conversation with Mayor Lauretti and the company from Durham last week, the company had the option to use the bus yard for repairs, but declined because its buses are diesel fueled, not propane.

As a result of failing to reach an agreement with the city, Holden said the city’s 60 propane-fueled buses will not be used by the school district in the upcoming school year. It is unclear at this point for how long the buses will not be used by the district, according to Holden, but it could potentially be for the duration of the three-year contract with Durham.

“At this time Durham has begun the process of removing buses from around the country and relocating them to Shelton,” said Holden before explaining that the company is flying employees as far as Oklahoma and having them drive the buses to Connecticut for the district’s purposes.”

The board chairman said luckily the district was able to save approximately $88,000 because the Durham company agreed to pay its transportation director without modifying its current contract.

Dr. Clouet urged the board to vote to make the changes to the budget at the June 6 meeting in order to provide any staff members that could be affected by the cuts, as much of a heads up as possible. The board eventually passed the amendments to its initial proposal via a 6-2 vote. Board members Dr. Darlissa Ritter and Kathy Yolish opposed the motion to accept the cuts.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

Before officially voting to pass these changes, Dr. Clouet clarified that if the city relieved the board of its additional $800,000 school transportation fee by granting its new bus provider access to the district buses and bus yard, it would revisit this budget process and potentially reduce cuts.

Holden said unfortunately the board didn’t receive that news from the city and after the mayor had a conversation with the Durham transportation company shortly after the board’s meeting, not much had changed.

Dr. Ritter said the district could be taking an opportunity away from students and families that cannot afford the would-be pay-to-play fees.

“There is more to schools than just the books,” Ritter said.

“Our first obligation has to be to the classroom,” Holden said while explaining that the revenue generated by the fees to play sports would save multiple jobs.

According to Clouet, the district still plans to cut four to five teaching positions, but is thankful to be able to maintain the shared assistant principal position at Elizabeth Shelton and Long Hill schools.

Approximately 850 students participate in sports in Shelton. If the district were to charge $200 per student to play a sport, it could generate roughly $170,000, according to Drapp.

Holden said each student would be expected to pay $200 per activity they participate in. He added that in the near future the board will set the “cap” or maximum amount of how much a family with children who play multiple sports must pay.

At the board’s June 6 meeting the board voted to eliminate freshmen sports and indoor track, but at the June 12 meeting those decisions were reversed.

“Freshmen sports are safe and we are going to continue to have indoor track because we have determined that pay-to-participate will cover those expenses,” said Holden. “The reason indoor track had been cut was because it’s the only co-ed sport and had no effect on Title IX.”

None of the board members, nor Dr. Clouet, were in favor of these cuts or policy changes but Holden said that under these circumstances, the board is doing what is has to do to move the district forward.

“This money will save a teaching job or two,” said Holden.

Clouet told board members and concerned parents at the board’s Tuesday night special meeting on June 12, that some figures had changed since the week before and there was money that could be used to prevent some of the damage.

The superintendent explained that due to the discovery of some “consolidated federal grant money,” the district was able to save one teaching position, an assistant principal, and a reading specialist. On top of having to move money around, the district was forced to cut two of its tutors in order to save these positions.

“The simple explanation is that this grant was associated with poverty levels,” said Clouet. “It was an attempt by the federal government to reduce the impact of poverty on students nationally. Each state got some of that funding and each district got some of it depending on the level of poverty. Right off the top of my head I can’t tell you how much we get because it changes, but in any event, you can carry over around 10% of the money and so out of those carry over funds we decided to fund the teacher and put back the assistant principal.”

Holden clarified that the district will also be moving forward with its plan to redistrict, with the beginning of the study scheduled to take place this summer. Redistricting was an option discussed by the board as a means to more equally distribute students to schools with more room than others.

While the board all shared the sentiment that this budget situation is crippling the district in terms of the programs and services it wants to offer its students, Clouet was pleased to announce that these cuts would not affect the existence of the Intermediate School’s school of innovation. Clouet clarified that the school whose pilot year this year only included multiple seventh grade classes, will expand to eighth grade in the next school year, and to the high school level by 2020.

Even with some jobs being saved in the end of this budget process, Holden said he fears that these conditions will only worsen in the future.