New London — The Board of Education reluctantly approved the district's $39.8 million spending plan for 2012-13 in a 5-2 vote Thursday, with a majority of members saying they felt as though their hands were tied.
Members Jason Catala and Sylvia Potter voted against the budget.
"For the first time in 10 years (as) a board member, I have a problem with the budget," Catala said. "I've never felt as left out as I have with this budget. I was told that if we don't pass it, it's going to pass anyway. I feel like this budget is cheating our children."
Last month, school administrators delivered lists of cuts that would meet the goal of saving $3.2 million across the district. Working with that information, the district's state-appointed special master Steven Adamowski, the superintendent of schools and others in the central office worked to adjust the district's budget for a second time.
The central office and the principals of each school trimmed their budgets by 8.2 percent, Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said during the meeting.
Board approval means the 2012-13 budget is now final.
The school board has been struggling to close a $3.8 million gap since the budget process began. When Adamowski put the city's proposal to absorb the school system's finance department on hold, the $500,000 the school system had hoped to save from the consolidation dissolved.
Also, for the fifth year, the school system did not receive a funding increase from the city. The district now holds the state record for the most years a public school system has gone without a budget increase.
Bridgeport's school district went four years without an increase.
To achieve the 8.2 percent reduction, three administrators, 23.2 teaching positions, 15 educational aides and assistants, four secretaries and a custodian have been eliminated. Advancement Via Individual Determination, a program introduced to New London in 2007 that brings students from Mitchell and Connecticut colleges as well as from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to classrooms to help students, also has been eliminated.
"I don't like the budget that's been presented to the public at this time, and I don't like the flat-funding that we've received for the last five years," board member Margaret Curtin said. "If we looked at the consolidation of the finance departments, we would have had another $500,000. I'm not happy, but we have to pass it to keep the schools open and running."
The school district issued layoff notices to 68 nontenured teachers earlier in the budget process. All positions were later reinstated, but the school board on Thursday terminated the contract of a technology education teacher at the Science and Technology Magnet High School in order to achieve the teaching position cuts they needed. They achieved the rest through retirements and resignations.
"Over the past five years, we've had to reduce the staff of this district by 100-plus people. This is extremely serious," Fischer said.
Also Thursday, board members approved the submission of an Alliance District application to the state Department of Education. As one of 30 designated Alliance Districts, the city would receive its only increase this year, $809,001 in expected Alliance District funds, Chairman William Morse said before the meeting.
The district plans to spend that money at Jennings and Winthrop schools. In its plan, $428,000 is marked to help close the achievement gap; $50,000 for leadership and accountability; $110,000 for effective instruction; $20,000 for strategies for recruiting and retaining talent; $80,000 for high expectations; and $120,000 for additional learning time.
School days at both schools will not necessarily be extended, Fischer said during the meeting. Rather, the district will look at programs to hold after school, on weekends and potentially during the summer.
Fischer said he expects to hear from the state in early September as to whether the district receives the grant.
The new budget will be posted on the school district's website today.