Letter: Shelton school budget hike necessary, not a 'wish list'

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

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To the Editor:

It was great seeing so many concerned community members attending the Board of Education's budget workshop in which the Superintendent’s proposed budget for the 2023-24 was passed by a vote of 7 to 2. Your turnout is necessary in order to impress upon the Mayor and Board of Alderman that education funding is very important to all citizens of Shelton.

The Mayor has already indicated he has no plan to approve this education budget in its current format. Flat or declining enrollment being the biggest factors in his opinion. The facts are that enrollment was 4,413 in 2020/21 and increased to 4,494 in 2022/23 and continues to grow with all the new development and high-density housing that has been approved. The school system’s biggest growth, however, is associated with special education, re: students requiring services. For instance, in 2014/15 students requiring services or outside placement totaled 623 but in 2022/23 those numbers rose to 791 which is a rise of 27% over that time period. Our system has a reputation for diligently providing for students “with needs” and that is why households move to Shelton because our school system provides for and supports all learners.

One board member commented that the Superintendent’s budget was “premature” with so much unknown spending at this time. The BOE is required by City Charter to have a proposed budget submitted to City Hall by Feb. 15. Sadly we cannot wait to see if state or federal funding will be forthcoming due to this timeline. BOE personnel have always had a transparent line-by-line budget ready for review to the BOA and A&T during their presentation to City government. Community presence is essential at those meetings to ensure our elected officials understand the dire circumstances our schools will be in if our proposed budget is not adequately funded.

Transitioning to an educational environment that does not revolve around COVID is difficult. The pandemic left our kids with learning voids and deep emotional impacts that no other generation in recent history have had to endure. It is imperative that the counseling and social support that has been embedded in our school system remain untouched and/or supplemented. We are thankful that grant funding for these necessary positions remain intact for the upcoming year but it is important to note that at some point these positions will need to be financially supported by the city government. These positions are not “wishes” or “wants” they are necessary positions to ensure our students’ emotional and social growth so that their instructional program can be successful.

Bottom line — inflation is here to stay for at least the foreseeable future. Energy expenses have gone up and must be accounted for in next year’s operating costs. Various union contracts have been settled and salary raises must be delivered. Students’ social and emotional services must be addressed. Students’ technological and curriculum needs are mandatory provisions that all school systems must provide. These are all essential services that all schools systems are obligated to deliver. As BOE chairwoman aptly paraphrased; “Some will say that “I drank the Kool-Aid” and to that I say, "No it’s a cup of reality." Well here is our cup of reality — a 7% increase is a necessity not a wish and is the result of chronic underfunding. It is time for city government to tell the BOE and taxpayers why they will not fund our educational system because education is the most important responsibility any city or town has to provide their citizenry.

Kate Kutash, Diana Meyer, Patti Moonan, & Lorraine Rossner

While these are members of the Shelton Board of Education, the opinions in this letter are not representative of the Shelton Board of Education as a whole.