State BOE initiates complaint over Ansonia school funding
HARTFORD — Letters didn’t work so the State Board of Education has initiated a formal complaint process to compel the city of Ansonia to pay its share of school funding.
The unanimous vote came after Matthew Hough, a music teacher and president of the Ansonia Federation of Teachers pleaded with the board to intercede.
“Over the summer we eliminated 24 out of 185 teaching positions in Ansonia due to funding issues,” Hough told the state board on Wednesday.
In all, 17 teachers lost their jobs through laid off. Hough called the results catastrophic with virtually 30 kids crammed in most every classroom.
“It is something we can not sustain,” Hough said, adding that a state Alliance grant meant to supplement funding for struggling districts like Ansonia is instead being used to help the school district of 2,300 students survive.
Peter Haberlandt, director of legal and governmental affairs for the State Department of Education, said the complaint process was recommended because the Ansonia Board of Education is unable to implement the educational interest of the state due to the city’s failure to provide sufficient funding.
The complaint comes one month after the city rejected calls from the department to follow state law by giving its school district no less in funding in one school year than it did the year before.
It is the department’s view that the city failed to meet the minimum budget requirement by $600,000 in the 2017-18 school year and by another $600,000 in the current school year, Haberlandt said.
Under state law, if that is found to be the case, the city could lose two times the shortfall in its next Education Cost Sharing grant for 2019-20.
The complaint process is a formal one that involves notifications, responses, collection of evidence and eventually a hearing. At least a 35 day process.
Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell said the process may seem straight forward but could become complicated if board and city books don’t match.
And in the end, the law doesn’t give the state board much power to enforce whatever decision it makes.
“We don’t have a police force,” Haberlandt said. “If the respondent is not cooperative, statutes authorize the state Board of Education to go to court.”
The state’s Attorney General would be consulted.
The situation is also pretty rare, Haberlandt said. Usually districts comply.
City officials disagree with the assertion it has underpaid its school district and last spring the when school officials threatened to close school early because it was running out of money the matter landed in court.
There, the city’s Board of Aldermen claimed it loaned the district money to help it weather last year’s state budget crisis, and then pulled it back once state money was fully appropriated.
A court-mediated settlement led to the city giving the district a one time $500,000 contingency account to get it through the last school year but did not resolve the underling issue.
Haberlandt maintain that once a city provides funding to its school district, it can’t take it back,
Mayor David S. Cassetti said the state is not a party to the still pending lawsuit and should not be interfering. As for Wednesday’s state school board action, he said he was unaware of it.
“It doesn’t surprise me. Nothing they do surprised me,” Cassetti said.
Hough, meanwhile, said even before the current situation, the Ansonia school district lacked a full time music or health or elementary and middle school band.
He blames the situation on dwindling city reserves and an attempt by the mayor to take control of the school budget.
State officials say the city needs to appropriate $31,860,484 to its school system to meet its minimum budget requirement. In high needs districts like Ansonia, municipalities cannot decrease school spending from one year to the next. It appropriated $31,260,484.
Michael Mayko contributed to this report