New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT)

Shelton parents call for fully funded school budget

- By Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — With the mayor’s budget presentati­on only a couple weeks away, dozens of residents recently called on the Board of Aldermen to back the Board of Education’s proposed 2023-24 budget.

Last month, the Board of Education approved a proposed budget of nearly $80.4 million, more than $5.3 million, or 7.15 percent, than the present 2022-23 school budget. The proposal went to Mayor Mark Lauretti, who then stated that the schools would not receive that large of an increase.

“Enough is enough,” said parent Christine Scarpetti told the aldermen. She was one of more than a dozen residents who spoke during the public portion the meeting, calling for city officials to “fully fund” the education budget.

“Children should not be expected to fail before adequate services and support are put in place to help our children thrive and succeed,” Scarpetti added. “My children, our children, deserve better than this.”

Lauretti, who was not in attendance at the aldermen meeting, is preparing his 2023-24 budget, which will be presented to a joint meeting of the aldermen and the Board of Apportionm­ent and Taxation later this month.

Those in attendance said the school budget has been inadequate­ly funded for the past several years, which they say has led to larger class sizes — 29-to-1 in some cases — and lower test scores.

“You haven’t met with the Board of Education, and already, you’ve announced the $5 million request they made isn’t going to happen,” said Mark Holden, former Board of Education chair, referring to Lauretti’s past public comments on the budget proposal.

Since 2015-16 enrollment dropped by 411 students, Holden added, and budget constraint­s resulted in eliminatin­g 71.5 positions.

“That’s one employee for every reduction of 5.75 students,” Holden said. “This is why class sizes are growing. The easy closing remark would be to suggest (Lauretti) learn to do as he asks of others — find ways to do more with less. Instead, I’m asking you to learn to be reasonable with the Board of Education, and provide adequate funding so they can maintain programs, and meet new needs as they develop.”

Holden noted that five years ago Shelton schools ranked 41st in the state for student achievemen­t based on standardiz­ed testing. The school system now sits at 84th.

“This isn’t a failure of the Board of Education,” Holden added. “It’s the failure of (Lauretti) and the Board of Aldermen to provide the resources the Board of Education need to accomplish their task. Please fully fund the Board of Education.”

Parent Tom Hanas said the proposed budget on Lauretti’s desk is “status quo,” and eliminatin­g any funds would only exacerbate already high class sizes and overtaxed teachers.

Scarpetti said as a parent of children in Shelton schools and a child in special education, she is “truly concerned” about this year’s budget. “I am saddened by the status of our special education program in town and honestly cannot sit back and stay quiet,” Scarpetti said. “I am aware you cannot be everywhere, but I ask you to ask questions, visit a kindergart­en classroom, TLC/ALC or any other SPED program at our schools, or even talk to staff or parents.”

She said there are children in the district who have not been receiving services or the number of services they should be getting documented in their individual­ized education program because there isn’t a staff member to provide that service. She said special education teachers are pulled to substitute in other classrooms leaving their children without support and employees are filling in for psychologi­sts because staff are splitting their time between schools.

“The inconsiste­ncies and unstable environmen­t in our schools are causing havoc and anxiety to our children, typical or not,” she added. “It is important that these kids feel safe to learn to build relationsh­ips with peers and their staff. Children who are safe and secure in their environmen­t and with the people around them are more likely to engage in frequent, age-appropriat­e conversati­ons.”

This year’s education budget proposal includes $577,000 for hiring two elementary school teachers, three special education teachers and support staff, plus two paraprofes­sionals and $976,000 for the special education budget to cover anticipate­d overages.

Superinten­dent Ken Saranich and school Finance Director Todd Hefflefing­er have stated that the “status quo” budget for 2023-24 fiscal year would require a $5 million, or 6 percent, increase to maintain.

That includes contractua­l increases of $1.48 million for certified staff and nearly $219,000 for non-certified staff; $1.08 million for benefits; nearly $589,000 for electricit­y and natural gas; and over $399,000 for tuition costs at specialize­d schools.

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