State says New London school project won't be recommended for funding

New London — The city's magnet school construction project will not be among the school building projects recommended to the General Assembly for funding when its next session begins, the state reiterated Tuesday.

But the Department of Administrative Services has committed to work with state Rep. Ernest Hewett and the city to secure the projects's authorization through the legislature.

"That project will not be on the priority list we send to the General Assembly," Jeffrey Beckham, a spokesman for DAS, said. "Under the law we have to follow in coming up with our list, we cannot include this project."

In December, DAS will submit to the General Assembly a list of school construction projects recommended for inclusion in the legislature's annual funding bill. To be included on that list, Beckham said, a municipality must have approved the project by June 30.

Even though the City Council approved the project and the associated $168 million bonding ordinance before that date, it was petitioned to referendum and the state considered local approval to be incomplete until the referendum question passed on Nov. 4.

The General Assembly can add a project not recommended by DAS to its annual school construction legislation, but no money can be expended on a project until it is included in such a bill.

On Tuesday, Hewett said he has already begun drafting an amendment to add the New London project to the legislation.

"I am working on a legislative provision that will be necessary in order to get the project included in the school construction bill that will be discussed during the upcoming session and look forward to dialogue with the rest of the New London delegation members to make this happen," Hewett said.

After The Day reported the project would be left off DAS's 2014-15 school building project priority list, Hewett contacted DAS Commissioner Donald DeFronzo early Monday morning and asked that the department review the New London project and its eligibility for inclusion on the list.

"Knowing Rep. Hewett's deep interest in this project, as well as its importance to the city, I directed my staff to review the project and to consider all relevant information concerning the legal obligations of the department in these matters," DeFronzo said in a statement. "We are committed to working with Rep. Hewett and the other members of the New London delegation, as well as the city, to find a way for this project to be authorized in the school construction bill that the General Assembly will enact in the coming legislative session."

On Monday, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said he and Law Director Jeffrey T. Londregan interpret the law differently than DAS and contend that the ordinance became effective when it was signed, and that the referendum did not alter the status of the ordinance.

"The city has still not received formal notification from the state about whether or not our school construction project will be recommended by DAS, and will refrain from commenting until we have heard directly from the state," Chief Administrative Officer Laura Natusch said by email late Tuesday afternoon.

On Election Day, voters overwhelmingly affirmed the City Council's approval of up to $168 million in bonding to complete the facilities portion of the transformation into the state's first all-magnet school district.

The bond ordinance passed with roughly 65 percent support, allowing the city to set in motion its plan to renovate New London High School and Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, and construct a building to house a science, technology, engineering and math middle school at the high school campus.

The referendum had no effect on the state's pledge to reimburse the city for 80 percent of the total project cost, Beckham said. The city ultimately will be responsible to pay about $31 million of the total cost.

The next session of the General Assembly begins Jan. 7, 2015.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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