Norwich school board threatens court action if City Council makes major cuts to budget

Norwich — Faced with a budget shortfall this year and a projected 9 percent, nearly $7 million increase next year, the Board of Education threatened to take the city to court if the City Council fails to approve “sufficient funds” after years of budget cuts.

The Board of Education met behind closed doors with its attorney, Tom Mooney, for 90 minutes Tuesday to discuss legal options if the city’s allocated funding falls short of the projected $83 million budget for next year, a $6.88 million increase over this year.

Board Chairwoman Yvette Jacaruso started the brief open session of the Budget Expenditure Committee by reading a seven-point statement recommended by Mooney.

Jacaruso said the board has been inadequately funded for many years, and will need a supplement to its budget this year. She said the board cut all it could from the proposed $83 million budget, “it’s an honest proposal.” The city has the statutory duty to “exercise reasonable judgment for making appropriation sufficient to educating children of Norwich," Jacaruso said.

“If the city fails to act reasonably and make necessary appropriations, the Board of Ed will and must explore all options, including going to court to seek court orders to obtain necessary funds,” Jacaruso said.

Several board members agreed that the budget cannot be cut. Last week, the budget committee unanimously rejected a proposal by administrators to save $800,000 by restructuring six elementary schools by grade level. The move would have cut 11 classroom teaching positions and other support staff, but would have only shaved 1 percent off the budget increase.

Without those cuts, the budget includes a $2.2 million combined increase in certified and support staff salaries, a $948,977 increase in benefits and a $2.7 million increase in regular and special education tuition.

Board members said it would be unfair to keep cutting the preschool through eighth-grade programs, while high school and special education tuitions cannot be touched.

Republican board member Dennis Slopak said the current increase is a product of “flat funding after flat funding after flat funding, a decade of it.” Without extensive grant funding, the school system would be “so severely behind.” But Slopak said Norwich students still are going to high school underprepared.

“We can’t afford to deprive them anymore,” Slopak said. “Whatever it takes, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Newly elected Republican board member Patricia Staley said when she considered running for school board, she was “pretty sure” she would find places to cut the budget “because there was an enormous amount of waste.” Staley said there might be a few cuts that can be made, but not $8 million.

“I do not believe there is any way we can find $8 million to cut,” Staley said. “... There are too many expenses that are beyond our control.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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