ANSONIA — The school district and city government are scheduled to meet today (Monday, June 11) in an attempt to settle a dispute over $600,000.
In January Mayor David Cassetti’s administration pulled the money, saying it had been given last year when it wasn’t clear whether the school district would be continue to receive extra state aid, including the “alliance district” grant — money given to under-performing school districts.
The grants came through, but the school district argues the city can’t use the alliance district grant as a way to replace local dollars. The school district has a lawsuit pending in Superior Court in Derby. School officials have claimed they don’t have enough money to pay expenses through the end of the month.
The dispute has become political, with Ansonia Democrats targeting the Republican-controlled Board of Aldermen’s spending habits, the Republicans accusing the school district of hiding financial statements, and the school board, through its membership in a superintendent’s association, bringing in a public relations consultant to shape an argument.
Meanwhile, the debate over who’s right and wrong rages on Facebook in Ansonia community and parent groups in the form of comments, photos and and videos interpreting laws governing how communities fund the school system.
At a hearing Friday, a judge told the school district to give city government the info the Cassetti administration seeks, and to try to work out their differences at a status conference scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today (Monday, June 11) in Superior Court in Derby.
The school district had argued that they’ve been handing over financial info, but City Hall kept changing requests.
All government financial info is public information.
This afternoon the two sides will probably meet in private within the courthouse to negotiate. It’s a way to reach a settlement.
Derby Superior Court Judge Theodore Tyma is expected to serve as mediator during the meeting.
If the negotiations are fruitful, the Ansonia Board of Aldermen could be briefed on a deal during an executive session tonight.
The executive session is scheduled after a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. in the Ansonia Senior Center, 153 Main St.
Monday’s public hearing is connected to two budgets:
1. The current budget that was already approved last year, but altered in January when the Aldermen withdrew $600,000 in school funding; and
2. The proposed budget for next year, which is supposed to go into effect July 1.
Earlier this year, the school district’s lawyer argued that the city violated state law by not holding a public hearing before voting in January to withhold money from the schools.
City government has responded by holding the public hearings after the fact, then re-voting on the measures. The tax board did so last month and Aldermen are expected to at Monday’s meeting.
The tax board has proposed funding for the school board next year of $31,260,484, the same as this year once the $600,000 reduction is taken into account.
The Board of Education also has a meeting scheduled, for 8 p.m. Monday, at the school district’s offices on Grove Street. The only item on the agenda is discussing the lawsuit in executive session.
If the two sides can’t come to a deal, a “show cause” hearing is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at which the school board will ask Judge Barry Stevens to order the city to release the $600,000 so the Board of Education’s can cover expenses until the end of the month.
But Tuesday’s hearing would only be the initial stage in the case, which could continue for some time if a settlement is not reached.