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Board of Education Democrats Statement On Proposed Shelton School Budget

February 21, 2021

It’s school budget season again. This year, Covid has made the chronic underfunding of our schools much more palpable than in years past. Shortages of teachers and paraprofessionals, deficits in technology, and the City’s takeover of school bus transportation are just some of the issues felt deeply by parents and families this year.

Recently, the Board of Education announced that they will be seeking a “status quo” budget—one that doesn’t add funding for any new programs, but that preserves the number of staff currently employed. For the last 2 years in a row, the district has received NO new funding—a move that has forced the layoffs of dozens of teachers and administrators. So it’s understandable that the BOE is looking to present a very conservative budget request.

Already, however, City Hall has begun fabricating a narrative that tries to convince taxpayers that school enrollment is declining; therefore, the budget should also be declining, and more teachers and administrators should be eliminated. Unfortunately, the only thing this narrative accomplishes is making clear that our city leadership has no idea how to operate a district budget.

While it is true that enrollment has been gradually declining over the years, the formula for education has virtually nothing to due with the overall student/teacher ratio. First, to rely on such a formula assumes that every class, in every grade, in every school, has the same number of students. Anyone who’s had a student in the Shelton schools understands concepts such as electives, honors and AP programs, enrichment programs, IEPs, extracurricular activities and graduation requirements. Furthermore, acceptance of that narrative must assume that every child requires the same amount of instruction and ignores the critically important role of paraprofessionals, tutors, counselors, social workers, nurses, school resource officers, and janitorial staff.

What City Hall also fails to understand is that Shelton students have options. If Shelton High School isn’t appealing, students can choose go somewhere else, for example Trumbull Regional Vocational Agriculture Center, the Regional Center for the Arts, or Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Magnet School. Students choosing to attend these kinds of schools have their tuition paid for through the Shelton Public Schools budget—as Shelton residents, they aren’t removed from, but are included in, the annual budget. In fact, it would be more cost effective to invest those dollars in creating and enhancing programs at Shelton High School in order to encourage more students to stay—rather than directing those tuition dollars elsewhere.

So you see, school funding isn’t a basic math equation; it’s an algebraic problem with multiple variables to be solved for. It wouldn’t be hard for the Mayor or the Board of Aldermen to learn about the many considerations that must be taken when developing a school budget. Unfortunately, they’ve made it clear, year after year, that it’s something they have no interest in, and prefer to spend their time coming up with excuses for their chronic and severe underfunding. This year, prepare to hear the story about the decline in school enrollment— and know that you are now better informed about school budgets than our city leaders.

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