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New London council, school board vow collaborative effort on budget

New London — When the City Council approved a $94.48 million budget in May, it unsurprisingly was accompanied by disappointment from the school board.

The $44.02 million in education funding, a 1% increase over the prior year that matched the increase for the $50.46 million general government budget, was more than $750,000 less than what the school board had requested.

Councilors at the time of the vote pledged better communication and a push for transparency when it came to the next budget.

Making good on the promise, council President Efrain Dominguez recently announced the formation of a joint committee or task force composed of school board members and councilors to tackle the budgets together.

“This will be the start of something new. This has never been done, as far as I know, in the city of New London,” Dominguez said at a recent council meeting.

He said the committee will sit and talk from the start of the budget process to organize dates, set goals and prepare recommendations for the mayor. He thinks it will lead to less infighting and a better understanding of each side’s budgets and limitations. The City Council can alter the bottom line of the school budget but it's up to the school board to direct spending.

The move is being widely praised as a way to get rid of misunderstandings that exist on the city and education sides of the budget, Board of Education President Regina Mosley said.

She argues the education budget has been underfunded for years and thinks part of it is due to a perceived lack of transparency.

“I feel like this is an amazing way for the city and school district to finally work collaboratively,” Mosley said. “It’s time for the city to stop working in silos. The best way to do that is to hold each other accountable.”

While a sizable chunk of the school district’s more than $70 million overall budget is funded through grants, Mosley said those grants are subject to change, leading to a “fingers crossed” approach come budget time.

School board member Elaine Maynard-Adams, selected to serve on the committee, said the school board tends to be myopic when it's budget time, focusing its attention on the needs of the district “and not necessarily the needs of the fire department,” for instance.

“I don’t think it's a bad idea for board members to understand more about the city budget,” she said.

Maynard-Adams, who also served on the school board from 1991 to 1999 and 2007 to 2009, said she also has heard the same refrain from critics condemning the board for a lack of transparency. She said she still doesn’t understand it but agrees a better understanding of the budget process is likely to translate into more support.

Committee members will include Dominguez, Councilor Curtis Goodwin and council President Pro Tempore Alma Nartatez. Mosley and Maynard-Adams will be joined by school board Vice President Jefferey Hart.

Nartatez, at a recent council meeting, said she was looking forward to the dialogue. “We want to collaborate. We don’t want to be divided,” she said.

Dominguez has said Mayor Michael Passero and schools Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie were both informed of the formation of the committee, as were the city and school finance directors.

g.smith@theday.com

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