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State-appointed special master says city's schools are in peril

New London - The city's schools cannot survive another year with a flat-funded budget, the state-appointed special master told the school board Thursday night as members met to consider eliminating dozens of positions to balance its budget.

"You can be the board that shuts the lights out, or the board that turns things around,'' Steven Adamowski told five of the seven school board members at a budget workshop to address a $3.8 million gap in the 2012-13 budget.

Adamowski, who was assigned by the state in June to oversee the district, said it is up to the Board of Education to work with the community, the mayor and the City Council to get support for the city's 3,000 public school students.

The City Council, for the fifth year in a row, flat-funded the school district's $39.8 million budget. Adamowski said another year with no increase in spending will mean the school district will either close or be taken out of local control.

"I want to impress upon you the seriousness of this budget,'' Adamowski said. "New London now has the shameful distinction of holding the state record for number of years without an increase in public school spending.''

Bridgeport went four years with no budget increase, he said.

"This is not sustainable for a sixth year,'' he added.

Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer presented the board with a plan to close the $3.8 million gap, mostly brought about by increases in contractual obligations and no increase in local funding.

The school board took no action Thursday and will vote on the reconfigured budget at its Aug. 23 meeting.

Fischer's proposed savings include staffing cuts of nearly $3 million; closing portable classrooms to save $576,000; and cutting the supply budget by $99,000. Insurance savings will be nearly $84,000 and other cuts would save about $87,000.

Each of the district's six schools, as well as the central office, resubmitted their spending plans with 8 percent cuts. The result was the proposed elimination of three administrators, 23.2 teaching positions, eight education assistants, seven teaching aides, four secretaries and one custodian.

In April, the central office announced that 68 nontenured teachers had been sent layoff notices due to budget constraints. All 68 were reinstated in July, but Fischer said Thursday that most already had left for other jobs.

Under the new plan, the central office also would be reorganized. Three positions would be cut, others reconfigured and two new positions created. A new director of student services would oversee English Language Learners, English as a Second Language, special education, and gifted and talented students. A new director of talent and human resources would focus on ensuring compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as personnel issues such as hiring, training and recruiting staff to reflect the city's diversity.

"You have to rebuild your staff and develop the staff you have,'' Adamowski said, adding that he approved reallocating funds for the two new positions.

No additional money will be needed for the positions, Fischer said.

The board will be asked to review and approve the two new job descriptions at its next meeting.

Fischer also outlined how the estimated $808,000 in state Alliance District funds would be spent: $428,000 at Jennings and Winthrop schools 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.

Assistant Superintendent Katherine Ericson said the extra learning time would mean students at Winthrop and Jennings schools would have more time in the classroom.


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