Letter: School board has not spent money frivolously

Below is a Letter to the Editor from this week's Shelton Herald. If you'd like to have a letter to the editor run next week, email letters to brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com

Below is a Letter to the Editor from this week's Shelton Herald. If you'd like to have a letter to the editor run next week, email letters to brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com

Contributed photo

To the Editor:

As a member of the Shelton Board of Education for over 10 years, I take issue with the recent comment by Vice Chair Jimmy Orazietti, quoted in the Shelton Herald saying that “placing the excess funds in this account encourages the BOE to save rather than spend frivolously on non-essential items that has all too often been a past practice.”

To say we have spent money frivolously couldn’t be further from the truth and it should be noted that this is Mr. Orazietti’s personal opinion, not the stance of the majority of the BOE.

For many years the Shelton Board of Education has been flat-funded or minimally funded, causing us to lay off more than 48 certified staff the last four years, in addition to secretaries, custodians, administrators and paraprofessionals. Positions have also been eliminated through attrition, not replacing all resignations or retirements. Improvements to our schools and curriculum have been repeatedly postponed due to lack of funds.

Orazietti is wrongfully giving the public the impression that we have not handled money responsibly. This year it is only due to COVID funds from the American Cares Act that we can finally make vital upgrades in technology and become a one-to-one district, well behind many neighboring districts. The public needs to be aware that your BOE frugally and wisely spends funds on quality education for our students, we are not reckless as insinuated.

Furthermore, in a recent Letter to the Editor penned by Republican Carl Rizzo, he itemizes decreases in enrollment in recent years, particularly this past year, when we had a decrease of 248 students. What he fails to mention is that a large member of these students were withdrawn from Shelton Public Schools due to COVID to be either home-schooled or enrolled in private schools that were attending five days a week. We will likely see the return of many of these students this fall.

Rizzo also cites an increase in per-pupil spending without mentioning the accompanying increase in special education numbers from 12.3 percent of enrollment in 2014-15 to 16.9 percent this past year. The increase in per-pupil spending is not a direct result of a drop in enrollment or anything on the city side. The major driver of this number is the cost of special education students, many necessitating expensive outplacement.

In addition, several BOE accomplishments over the last two years that he cites were not funded by the city, including laptops for teachers and staff, increased network speed, one-to-one Chromebooks and the new Wit and Wisdom Reading Program, all funded by money from the American Cares Act, as mentioned previously.

“No charge for pre-k program” was simply a course correction. When we initiated a fee for pre-k due to lack of funding, there was a drop in enrollment of regular education peers that are required by law, so we resumed not charging. It should also be noted that “more than $5 million reimbursable dollars recovered” was money that went to the city and not into BOE coffers.

I caution citizens to verify “facts” they read as this is indeed an election year, or as a former colleague used to call it “silly season.”

Kate Kutash (D)

Shelton Board of Education