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Groton parents call bus cuts senseless

By Greg Smith

Publication: The Day

Published March 17. 2013 4:00AM

Groton - For Kate Colello and parents of some of more than 100 other magnet school students from Groton, the school board's decision to cut out-of-district transportation next year simply doesn't add up.

After all, Colello said, the state fully reimburses the town for the transportation.

"This is not something that costs the town money," Colello said. "There's no sacrifice here. Who is this really going to affect? It's the families with a single income or without a car."

The Board of Education eliminated a $100,000 line item for out-of-district transportation as part of a host of cuts before presenting the town with a $73.66 million budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

The budget is a 1.4 percent increase over this year's spending and includes the potential for losses in teaching positions, paraprofessionals and programs. After three years without a budget increase, the district is coping with heavy losses in federal funding along with contractual increases.

Board members, during discussion of the cuts, had noted that the out-of-district transportation was one of the few items not mandated by the state. It was unclear if at the time, however, the school board understood that the costs are funded through a state Department of Education grant program that provides up to $1,300 per student, said Christine Cabral, a mother of two students at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London.

Cabral said she has spoken with the state Department of Education and filed a Freedom of Information request with the school district to confirm the town will be reimbursed more than $161,000 for the current fiscal year.

Cabral said the move was irresponsible and would cause a real hardship for parents who will be forced to either abandon their school choice or find a way to pick up and drop off their children. Cabral has three students at the Multicultural Magnet School, ages 6 through 9.

"We've taken the bus since day one," Cabral said. "It's something that we depend on as a family."

Interim schools Superintendent John Ramos, who first added the line item to his list of potential cuts, said there are 142 students attending magnet schools outside of Groton. He said the school district submits its costs to the state, and while the district spends the money, it is the town that is reimbursed for the costs.

Colello's response to that argument is: "Revenue-neutral for the town and revenue-neutral for the school district should be considered one and the same."

The school board, Ramos said, was forced to make tough decisions this year, and nothing was off the table.

"The budget is now at the Town Council, so it would be important for parents to make their concerns known at the upcoming public hearing," Ramos said.

The public hearing on the overall budget proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 28 at the Senior Center.

Parents of magnet school students are holding an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. on March 20 at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School library.

A similar move to cut transportation for magnet schools was made in Stonington last year, when $43,000 was pulled from the budget. A similar argument was made by school officials there that money from the state was going into the town's general fund.

Following an outcry from parents, however, the money was restored.

g.smith@theday.com

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