The Ansonia Board of Education’s finance committee voted Jan. 13 to seek an increase of 7.7 percent from the city to fund the school district in 2016-2017.
That’s a year-to-year increase of about $2.3 million.
Will they get it?
“Absolutely, positively not,” Mayor David Cassetti said.
’Way Too High’
It’s early in the annual budget process in Ansonia.
The 8 percent increase isn’t a recommendation of the full board of education. It is from a subcommittee of the board.
The full school board is scheduled to talk about the request Feb. 3.
In the meantime, Board of Education President William Nimons, who is also the city’s comptroller, said the request may be trimmed after talks with city officials, emphasizing the “preliminary” nature of the budget.
Meanwhile the mayor is scheduled to deliver his own suggested budget to the tax board next month.
He said he wants to give more money to the schools, but the city can’t afford to spend an additional $2.3 million.
Cassetti said he’s aiming for an increase somewhere between 2.5 to 4 percent.
“I am a proponent for education, I’ll do whatever I can, but 7.7 (percent) is way too high,” Cassetti went on. “Way too high.”
Finance Committee Fireworks
The school board’s finance committee reviewed spending proposals from school administrators at a meeting Jan. 13.
The subcommittee’s vote — Nimons, Carmen Pitney, Christopher Phipps and Vinnie Scarlata — was unanimous, though another school board member criticized the request as unrealistically high before walking out of the meeting.
Click the play button below to listen to the meeting.
John Izzo, a school board member elected last November who isn’t a member of the finance subcommittee but sat in on the Jan. 13 meeting, called the 7.7 percent request “unprecedented.”
“I want to support the district as much as I can, but I don’t see (the Board of Aldermen) ever approving anywhere near 7 percent,” Izzo said.
Phipps conceded the request is steep.
“It is high, but I feel as a Board of Ed member I owe it to the kids to ask for what they need,” Phipps said. “I’m not worried about what the city is going to say, that it’s too high, they can say no, but it’s our responsibility to get these kids what they need and let the city find out where to get it. It’s not a big wish list.”
Izzo said he wants to be “fair and reasonable,” and began to make suggestions about how to reallocate money in the budget.
“Let’s face it, nobody gets what they ask for in budgets,” he said.
But Pitney, the school board’s vice president, asked him to stop talking, apparently because the discussion was going to reach the public.
“I think you’re out of order saying that,” he interjected.
“It’s my opinion, Carmen,” Izzo replied.
“I know, but you can’t bring it up now,” Pitney said. “You’ve got the press here, it might be in the paper . . . If we go out with what we think what we can save — what you’re going to be saying — then they’ll cut us again. In the 17 years I’ve been here, they cut us every year.”
Izzo asked if he could ask questions about the school district’s contracts with its unions.
“You’re welcome to ask those questions when we get to union negotiations,” Nimons said. “Right now we tried to get into the teacher’s union to try to save some of the new teachers, and we can’t even open the contract because they will not let us.”
“I have other questions, but I don’t want to insult anyone if you feel they’re not important,” Izzo said.
Nimons told Izzo he wanted to hear his suggestions — just not at that moment.
“You have to understand the process,” Nimons said. “This is a committee meeting just to set the budget. The Board of Ed has the final say, but then the city has the final say.”
“I don’t understand how you can set the budget without having a good dialogue,” Izzo said. “Please give me that professional courtesy.”
Nimons and Merlone asked Izzo to send them his questions and then have a meeting with them and the school district’s business administrator.
“No, I have to go, but thank you all, have a good evening,” Izzo said before leaving the meeting.
Click the play button on the video above to see the committee vote and the ensuing back-and-forth.
Asked for comment after the meeting, Izzo sent the Valley Indy a statement commending administrators for improving schools “without significant numbers of new hires,” but complained that “in a difficult budget year they have not demonstrated a willingness to listen to suggestions on how to reduce spending.”
“I support education deeply, but we cannot continue to balance the education budget on the backs of the taxpayers,” Izzo’s statement said. “We have to collaborate and find ways ways to provide successful instruction with less resources, which is obviously challenging for all school districts. We are not unique.”
As it stands, the schools’ funding request for next year totals $32,388,109, which represents an increase of about 7.7 percent, or $2,335,014, over the 2015-2016 budget.
Last year, the school district received a year-over-year funding increase of $1,155,888, or 4 percent.
The proposed 2016-2017 increase breaks down like this:
— $910,192, or 3.03 percent, for contractually obligated pay increases for current employees;
— $651,599, or 2.17 percent, for increased benefits costs;
— $134,402, or 0.45 percent, for salaries for new positions;
— $30,000, or 0.1 percent, for benefits for new positions;
— $310,000, or 1.11 percent, for “out-of-district” tuition for special education students;
— $230,730, or 0.82 percent, for transportation costs for out-of-district students;
— $68,091, or 0.23 percent, for all other accounts — insurance costs, textbooks, etc.
The new positions would include a part-time paraprofessional at the high school, a social worker at the high school, and half-time art/music teachers for the city’s two elementary schools.
A 30-page booklet handed out at the Jan. 13 meeting with more details is embedded below.
Superintendent Carol Merlone said trimming the school district’s request — say, to a 2.65 percent increase — would be a disaster.
“We (would) have to get rid of system-wide athletics,” she said. “We would have to get rid of 13 teachers and special education out-of-district increases.”
And it’s not like Ansonia teachers are living high on the hog, Merlone said. The school district is constantly struggling to retain teachers who are lured by higher-paying jobs elsewhere.
“They don’t make what they should as it is,” she said. “And when we negotiate these contracts, it’s not like we don’t negotiate a hard deal here. They’re not getting a lot of money. That’s why they’re leaving us.”