Merlone and Cassetti make their arguments as education lawsuit heads to court
ANSONIA-As lawyers gear up for the $600,000 legal question involving the city’s schools, the Superintendent and the Mayor made their contrasting positions known to residents in statements issued Thursday night..
“I did not go looking for this fight,” claims Superintendent of Schools Carol Merlone. “However I will never stop fighting for our kids and I will always protect the rights of our students.”
Mayor David Cassetti fired back taking issue with Merlone and the Board of Education.
“...Instead of being honest with community she has threatened to close the schools and not pay the teachers—none of which has happened or will happen,” the mayor said. “Instead of having an intellectually honest discussion with my administration, the Superintendent and her Board have chosen to bring this issue to the Courts at the taxpayers’ expense and sensationalize this matter by spreading misinformation throughout our community.”
The contrasting positions come just days before Superior Court Judge Theodore Tyma, a former Ansonia resident, tries to mediate a resolution Monday afternoon in the case of the city’s Board of Aldermen’s pulling $600,000 from the school board’s 2017-18 budget on Jan. 9
If Tyma is unable to mediate a settlement that is approved by both the Board of Education and the Board of Aldermen Monday, then a hearing on the lawsuit will begin Tuesday morning before Superior Court Judge Barry K. Stevens in the Derby courthouse
Cassetti said all this stems from last year’s state budget crisis.
“My administration stepped up to assist the school district by adding $600,000 to offset the anticipated grant cuts from the state,” he said.
Eventually the state sent $1.8 million in aid to the city’s schools which Cassetti said was “$800,000 over that which was anticipated.”
He said the state also “passed special legislation to allow communities to take a second look at their municipal budgets to account for the unanticipated state aid.”
As a result, the mayor said the $600,000 modification takes into “account the substantial amount of state aid that was unanticipated.”
Merlone said school officials began meeting with the city in late April and said they needed $500,000 to cover their expenses through the end of the year.
“If the city restored the full funding of $600,000, the school district would take the appropriate measures to return the estimated balance of $100,000 after the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2018,” Merlone said. “That offer still stands.”
Meanwhile, Fred Dorsey, the school board’s lawyer has two opinions from the State Board of Education’s legal department which claims the city’s action is prohibited.
He also cites state law which prevents a municipality from reducing except under certain circumstances, which he believes s do not apply here.
So now he’s asking the courts not only to force the city to return the $600,000 taken from the 2017-18 school budget but also include it in the 2018-19 school budget.
Cassetti claims that Richard Bshara, the city’s comptroller, Thursday “made several attempts to communicate with the Board of Education but his calls were not returned.”
As a result the mayor said the city’s lawyers are seeking a court order requiring the school board to denote how much remained in its budget and how much was spent since June 1 and their projected expenses through the end of June.
Dorsey claims the motion is designed to harass and distract the court from the issues. He said the school board previously complied by filing up to date information that projects a $570,000 deficit.