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New London - One of the first things the state-appointed special master did when he arrived in town was to stop a merger of the school district's and the city's finance offices.
That action, taken by Special Master Steven Adamowski because there were no plans in place for how the consolidation would proceed, has angered some members of the City Council and has left them wondering why they were not consulted.
Council President Michael Passero said Adamowski has never met with the City Council to ask them about the consolidation, which would have transferred the salaries of the school business department staff to the city's budget. The move would have saved the school district about $500,000, which then could have been used for educational purposes, Passero said.
"He (Adamowski) never bothered to try and find out what was going on,'' Passero said. "He only got half the information."
Passero said the consolidation plan was not meant to save money initially, but rather, to create a better flow of responsibilities and to improve communication.
Thursday, Adamowski said his focus is on the school district.
"My role is to work with the Board of Ed," he said. "I'm not the orchestrator of all forms of government in New London."
Bill Morse, chairman of the school board, defended Adamowski's action to stop the merger.
"None of this was in writing ..." said Morse, who has been in favor of consolidating the two finance offices for years but voted against it most recently. "Nothing was on paper for something that was supposed to go into effect July 1. I thought it would be foolish to approve such a broad change without knowing the details and chronology."
Morse also said he had thought Adamowski had met with Passero when the special master met with Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio last month. But Passero said he has yet to meet Adamowski.
Councilors also were taken aback when they learned that Adamowski had told the school board that the schools could be shuttered if the district does not receive more funding and improve. This is the fifth consecutive year that the school board has been flat-funded at $39.8 million.
"I'm concerned with the special master's comments that schools could close or we could lose control,'' Councilor Adam Sprecace said during Monday's council meeting.
"I don't know what the special master wants to do,'' Councilor John Maynard said.
Councilor Anthony Nolan said after the meeting that he, too, was unsure what would come next. He said he would like to meet with Adamowski but has not yet been able to reach him.
"I just want to try and connect with the gentleman and see where he's at," Nolan said. "As a councilor, I want to know how we can try to come together in a way that doesn't hurt one side or other."
Adamowski said he has not heard from councilors; he returns every phone call he receives within 24 hours, he said.
Morse said Adamowski and the school board have been busy trying to close a $3.8 million gap in the school budget. Adamowski also is overseeing a reorganization of the central office.
"Once everything is in place, we will see more dialogue (with the council)," Morse said.
He is hoping to make a presentation to the council on the most recent test scores in which students made gains in reading and math in the hopes the council will see it must invest in the schools.
"Different people in the community have pretty much sent us a strong message that there has to be more dialogue, more buy-in from the mayor and council,'' Morse said. "In my opinion, New London will never go anywhere without good schools. Schools are the barometer of New London's health."
Staff Writer Julianne Hanckel contributed to this report.