School district joins study of savings

School districts across the state are revisiting their budgets to see where they can cut costs.

Shelton is no different.

While some people were happy to hear that the city would maintain its low taxes during a time when the state is battling a growing deficit and considering the possibility of tolls and new taxes, others were not so pleased.

Shelton Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden said that with the budget Mayor Mark Lauretti proposed, education remains underfunded.

“We needed $1.98 million to ‘tread water’ and we asked for $2.8 million, and that was us looking to add back approximately six positions that we had to give up this year in order to make our budget balance,” said Holden. “Whenever an opportunity to save money comes up, we look for it.”

The latest money-saving opportunity the district is exploring is the possibility of joining a “shared school district” with neighbors Derby and Ansonia.

Shelton’s Board of Ed voted 7-1 on March 19 to participate in a potential study, should the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments receive a grant to cover the $40,000 cost.

Holden said Derby and Ansonia are already a part of the study.

School Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said the decision to join this potential study is simply part of the district’s effort to save money.

“(Ansonia, Derby and Shelton) are looking at it in a similar way. We can’t find room for savings if we don’t look,” said Clouet. “If the grant money goes through, then that would allow us to have meetings where we could talk about different ways we could save money, whether that’s through purchasing power, sharing services or even having students partake in services within each other’s districts. These are all possibilities, but in no way would we be closing down Shelton schools and creating a new regional district. That’s not going to happen.”

Clouet said that although reducing staff is a possibility, nothing is certain at this time, and more information needs to be provided from the state level.

“It’s too early to begin putting things on the table, but what we are doing is looking at what some of our options are,” said Clouet. “Whether it’s by reducing more staff, reducing programs like sports or after-school.”

Mayor Mark Lauretti said he is in favor of the study being conducted and doesn’t see any harm in other districts sharing services.

“You’re putting kids on a bus anyway. What’s the difference if their bus goes another half-mile across the river to Shelton?” said Lauretti.

The grant is being submitted now, according to Clouet, and will soon be reviewed before it is determined whether the district is approved for the grant. He clarified that the district would not see any effects of the study immediately.

“If we get the grant and are able to participate in the study, we wouldn’t see any fruits of that for at least a couple of years,” said Clouet.

According to the superintendent, the district’s looking for ways to cut district expenses is a response to the state budget crisis.

“We’re always looking at reducing our utility costs, paper, and we have reduced our costs of special education transportation by consolidating fewer bus providers, which has helped us to contain costs,” said Clouet. “The biggest way that we have cut costs is through reducing our staff. The trouble with that is that after the staff member leaves, the students’ needs remain. Sometimes you hear people say, ‘Well, you had 6,000 students in the past and now you only have 5,000 so you’ll need fewer teachers,’ but that’s not necessarily the case, because many of the teachers we have now are here for very specific needs of children.”

Holden agreed and said the district could end up seeing class sizes increase should the mayor’s budget proposal be passed as presented.

“We were hoping to get class sizes back down to a more manageable level, but we’re liable to have more classes with these higher numbers,” said Holden.

The next step, according to Holden, is on April 4 when the Board of Education has its budget review with the Board of Apportionment & Taxation.  

The board of A&T has until the end of April to create its proposal for a budget before it turns it over to the Board of Aldermen, which has until the end of May to present its recommendation.