AP NEWS
Related topics

ansonia City gets help bridging divide between officials, school board

April 9, 2019

ANSONIA — Jen Magri may be taking on her biggest challenge during her eight years of school board work.

Magri, the Seymour Board of Education chairwoman and a 1984 Ansonia High School graduate, has agreed to try to mend fences between Ansonia city officials and its Board of Education.

“I’ve got a connection,” Magri said. “My first selectman already is working with Ansonia.”

Seymour First Selectman W. Kurt Miller has spent several weeks meeting with Ansonia department heads as the city’s consultant on a 2019-20 budget. He is being paid $30,000.

Magri would not be paid for her work intervening between Ansonia’s school board and Mayor David Cassetti’s administration.

Magri said she talked to Miller about this and is hopeful to start talks in Ansonia. Her own term on the Seymour school board ends in November, and Magri said she is not seeking re-election.

She said she believes that with her help, and through Miller’s conversations with school officials, they can cool the animosity that exploded when Ansonia’s Board of Education sued that city over the removal of $600,000 from the school district’s budget. The city recently settled the suit by providing $800,000 this year and upping that figure to $850,000 as the minimum budgetary requirement in 2019-20.

“I have no problem with accepting their help and sitting down with the city as long as it’s at a neutral site,” said William Nimons, the Ansonia Board of Education chairman.

Magri’s proposal was one of three that came out of the second phase of a pilot project involving Equity in Education in Ansonia. The discussions involving students, parents, politicians, teachers and community leaders have been taking place at the Boys and Girls Club. It is part of a pilot project sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education’s Diversity Committee.

Mary Broderick, a CABE consultant, and John Ramos, a former Bridgeport superintendent of schools, have been leading this discussion since November. Thirty people including State Rep. Kara Rochelle, D-Ansonia, Phil Tripp, a Republican 2nd Ward alderman, John Izzo, a Republican member of the Board of Education, Diane Stromen, a community activist and Lisa Glazer, of Friends of Ansonia Education as well as parents like Luis Rodriguez, attended the session.

Magri said her mother, Laura Lane, a retired Ansonia teacher, convinced Magri and Magri’s daughter, Melissa Boneski, a Bridgeport kindergarten teacher, to attend a Diversity in Education session.

Boneski offered to conduct a professional development day on the subject next fall for Ansonia school staffers.

“We have no more professional development days remaining this year, but it’s something I would like to see happen next school year,” said Carol Merlone, who is retiring June 30 as Ansonia’s school superintendent. “It’s a topic we need to do right through the system ... kindergarten through high school with all our staffers.”

Magri, who frequently attends Ansonia Board of Education meetings with Lane, took on the difficult task of trying to reopen lines of communication between the school board and city.

Cassetti said he welcomed open communication and believes “our city departments have acted independently from one another” for “far too long.”

Magri said her eight years of experience on Seymour’s Board of Education and working on budgets would be helpful. Unlike Ansonia, where a budget only needs the Board of Aldermen’s approval, in Seymour residents vote in referendum separately on the municipal and school board budgets.

“Hosting a roundtable discussion would be effective in determining what the underlying issues are and why the two sides are so far apart,” Magri said.

She added that it also would determine what each side perceives as the values in education.

“Very often, we say and do something in a room like this and it stops there,” Magri said. “Stating intentions publicly provides more accountability in getting things done.”

So she suggested making more use of social media, conducting strategic planning sessions and leveraging local business leaders to assist in educating the community about school related topics.

“You have such a diverse culture of restaurants in downtown Ansonia,” Magri said. “We could have restaurant night, celebrating diversity and use those opportunities to spread information and educate.”