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Tuesday, September 25 Local

Ansonia mayor pushes back against ed costs

ANSONIA — City taxpayers need school administrators and union leaders willing to compromise for the greater good of the city.

So said Mayor David S. Cassetti in a written statement on Thursday, a day after the state Board of Education unanimously authorized the initiation of a complaint process against the city for what it says is a failure to adequately fund its public schools.

The contention is that the city is not meeting a statutory minimum budget requirement by failing to fund the district as least as well in one fiscal year as it did in the year before. The state contends the city contribution is off by $600,000 in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years.

Cassetti called it an unanticipated $1.8 million that places the city in a very difficult position.

“Ansonia schools have received three consecutive years of significant budget increases, totaling over $4 million since 2013,” Cassetti said. “Ansonia taxpayers simply need the same good faith to be shown in return.”

State officials say the city needs to appropriate $31,860,484 to its school system to meet its minimum budget requirement. Ansonia appropriated $31,260,484.

Whether the city acted properly in reducing the Board of Education's 2017-18 budget increase by $600,000 is before a superior court judge.

“We believe this action was allowable under a new law passed last year, but that is ultimately a question of statutory interpretation for the court to decide,” Cassetti said.

State law allows some districts to skirt the minimum budget requirement, but not Alliance Districts of which Ansonia is one.

“Eventually the city is going to have to come up with some money,” Frederick L. Dorsey, an attorney for the Ansonia school board, said. “That is pretty straight forward. The MBR has been there long time. It is not like something out of blue.”

Mathew Hough, a city music teacher and president of the Ansonia Federation of Teachers, said that while the mayor keeps saying that taxpayers give enough, the school district remains one of the lowest in per pupil expenditures in the state.

“He keeps talking about gross mismanagement,” Hough said. “Where is the proof? Just because the Mayor or an alderman says it, doesn't make it true.”

Hough added that teachers have come to the table to renegotiate health benefits that saved the school board nearly a million dollars.

“We have accepted cuts to staff every year,” Hough said. “There is very simply nothing left to give.”

Dorsey said city teachers are among the lowest paid in the valley and class sizes are above 30 students, even in the lower elementary grades.

“Ansonia’s children deserve better—much better,” Dorsey said. “School administrators will not abdicate their responsibilities to the children of Ansonia.

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Cassetti’s stance, Dorsey added, just acerbates the situation. While the state gave the district a grant to improve student outcomes, the city is attempting to pocket the money.

He called that outrageous.

The two sides met August 27 at the city’s request, according to the board attorney, but neither the mayor or anyone from the board of aldermen attended.

“They have no desire to settle this,” Dorsey said.

The court cases and the state Board of Education complaint will run parallel to one another with one deciding if the city can reduce the school budget and the other if the city met statutory funding requirements.

Cassetti said the state board does not have the authority to interpret state law.

“That role is held exclusively by the court,” Cassetti said, noting a November court date. “In the meantime, school administrators should give thought to whether their actions are providing the right lesson for our students.”

Linda Conner Lambeck|Education Reporter

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