ANSONIA — The state Department of Education warned Mayor David Cassetti Wednesday that the state could take enforcement action against the city for not giving enough money to the school district.
In a letter, Peter M. Haberlandt, the director of legal and governmental affairs, “strongly” urged the mayor to set up a meeting with the Ansonia Board of Education and the Department of Education to resolve the matter.
Otherwise, the state Board of Education could punish the city by taking away $1.2 million in school aid.
In addition, the state Board of Education could order an investigation into the matter, which could include issuing subpoenas for records and compelling people to testify.
That inquiry could land in Superior Court, where a judge could order the city to carry out orders issued by the state Board of Education.
To avoid that type of enforcement action, Haberlandt’s letter offered three dates for a meeting — Aug. 14, Aug. 15 or Aug. 16.
If the issue isn’t resolved, Haberlandt said the Department of Education could recommend taking further action against the city at the Sept. 5 meeting of the state Board of Education.
The Department of Education’s move comes after the Ansonia Board of Aldermen voted in January to take back $600,000 in education funding.
The Aldermen’s move meant that city schools did not receive at least the same amount of money it had the previous year — a violation of Connecticut’s “minimum budget requirement,” according to the state Department of Education.
Taking money away from a school district after approving a budget is unusual.
Mayor David Cassetti’s administration said the cut was reasonable because the school board received about $1.8 million in unanticipated grants from the state, including money for low-performing “alliance districts,” struggling schools that get additional state funding.
The $600,000, according to the Cassetti administration, was given because the schools expected alliance district funding to be sacrificed in last year’s state budget mess.
Cassetti cited state law — created in response to the state budget mess — allowing towns and cities to make revisions to spending plans to account for unanticipated revenue.
The school district has a lawsuit pending against the Cassetti administration for the $600,000 cut.
In a press release Wednesday (Aug. 8), the school district notes that 17 teachers were laid off in Ansonia, and that “additional cuts were made to administrators, athletics and other school costs.”
Click here for a podcast during which the president of the teachers’ union talks about larger class sizes and other ways the schools in the city are struggling.
“For the past several months, we have been asking our city to restore the money it cut out of our budget in January 2018,” Schools Superintendent Carol Merlone said in a statement. “Now, the State of Connecticut is directing the city to do so.”
Mayor Cassetti told The Valley Indy he received the letter from the state Department of Education and that the dispute is in litigation.
“They have their way of interpreting it, we have our way. We’ll see what happens in court. That’s all I can say,” he said.
A meeting between his office, the city’s board of education and the state officials is possible, the mayor said.
In an email, John Marini, the city’s corporation counsel, said the city disagrees with the state education department’s interpretation. It will be up to a judge to decide who is right, he said.
“This matter is being litigated to resolve the interpretation of a new statute that, on its face, allowed the City of Ansonia to amend the Board of Education’s budget in light of an unanticipated additional $1.8 million in state funding,” Marini said. “The question of how the law is ultimately interpreted will be answered not by the City of Ansonia, local Board of Education, or State Board of Education, but by the court.”
The press release and letters from the state are embedded below.