Groton may find funds for magnet school busing

Groton - The school board is poised to reconsider a budget cut that eliminated busing for out-of-district school students and riled some magnet school parents.

Board of Education Chairwoman Kirsten Hoyt, addressing the Town Council on Tuesday, said the decision to cut a $100,000 line item for magnet school transportation was made without the realization that the money was fully reimbursed.

"We think that we can hopefully absorb it back," Hoyt said.

Hoyt said, however, it would be up to the full board to make the decision. Prior discussion by the school board focused on the fact that the state money goes back to the town and not the school board directly.

"That does make it a wash in your eyes, but it does have to be in our budget in order for us to be able to pay for it," Hoyt said at Tuesday's meeting. "I think we look at it from two different perspectives."

Magnet school transportation was part of more than $4 million in overall cuts made to a school spending plan that is suffering from a loss in federal funding and an increase in other costs, such as the $660,000 for transportation associated with redistricting, said interim Superintendent John Ramos. The redistricting plan satisfies the state's racial balancing mandate.

Many cuts were made, Ramos said, and the board struggled with the magnet school transportation funding in part as a "philosophical issue."

"That is to say, if we're having to reduce services in the schools, how can we justify paying to send students out of the district," Ramos said.

Ramos said at the time, there was some confusion on the reimbursement rate.

The school board's decision was immediately criticized by Kate Colello and Christine Cabral, both parents of children attending the Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London. The two made calls to the state, filed a Freedom of Information request for school budget documents and finally approached the council with news that the state did, in fact, reimburse the town.

A noncompetitive grant program from the state Department if Education provides up to $1,300 per student who attends an out-of-district school. The town received more than $150,000 last year through the program.

There are 142 students from Groton attending magnet schools this year, including the Dual Language & Arts Magnet Middle School in Waterford.

Mayor Heather Bond Somers said the council would consider earmarking the reimbursed money with some kind of reassurance from the school board that if the money were restored, it would be used for that purpose. The Town Council votes on the overall school budget but cannot dictate how that money is spent.

Hoyt said she expected the board to have taken up the issue before the council's next meeting on April 11.

g.smith@theday.com

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