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Bridgeport School Board starts making “disgusting” cuts

May 12, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — The nasty task of cutting millions of dollars from the city school system has begun and will advance to the school board on Monday.

After a 1.3 million increase in funding from the city council and a projected $2.5 million increase from the state, the district is faced with cutting at least $10.1 million because of rising salary, special education and health care costs.

Board member Joseph Sokolovic called the cuts disgusting.

“I feel like vomiting with these cuts,” Sokolovic said at a board Finance Committee meeting held last week. “We were put in this situation because of the lack of funding from the City Council and state... We’ve got to do what we got to do.”

On some of the cuts there appears consensus.

Because of a projected enrollment decline, the committee, chaired by Board Vice Chair Jessica Martinez, will recommend the elimination of 6 teaching positions, saving $420,000.

Two-thirds of planned curriculum renewal will be put off, saving $400,000.

The committee will recommend students in grades five through eight get busing only if they live 1.5 miles or more from their school, saving an estimated $1 million in transportation costs.

Marlene Siegel, the district’s chief financial officer, is also planning to continue a hiring freeze for all but shortage teaching positions that she said could save about $1 million.

In other areas, there is disagreement.

Siegel’s budget gap plan cuts two assistant principals and one clerical position from the Fairchild Wheeler School campus.

Board member Maria Pereira favored the idea, suggesting the campus would get to stay as three separate science high schools and keep its principals, separate class rankings and scholarship opportunities.

Martinez worried it could jeopardize the inter-district magnet school status of a 1,500 student school, 30 percent of which come from the suburbs. The district gets extra state funding for suburban students attending the school.

“Who in the suburbs would want to go (if the school was diminished)?” Martinez asked.

Another area of contention is a proposal to close Hall School and move the 200 students who go there a half mile away to Edison School.

The plan would reportedly save $1.1 million by cutting 12 teachers, a custodian, security guard, secretary and principal in the merger.

Pereira opposes the closure and said there is board policy that requires a study and process before any school can be closed.

Martinez said her mind was made up and she is prepared to bring the proposal to the full board.

“If parents are upset, they can talk to the city council,” Martinez said. “Next year, hopefully what we have to face this year will be a smack to (the city council’s) face so we can make better decisions. What else can we do?”

Hall School is in the 139th City Council District, represented by Ernie Newton and Eneida Martinez. Both voted against reducing a proposed tax break or reducing a police overtime budget increase to shift more funding to the school district.

Martinez said she refuses to touch arts or athletics. She recommended eliminating the Chief of Specialized Instructional Reform, a contract position in central office, since the district just hired a permanent special education director.

Pereira wants to revisit an effort to get the city’s after school and summer Lighthouse Program to pay $500,000 in rent. She also wants a by-school study of referrals to special education.

Sokolovic wants to take another look at assistant principals, arguing that the magnet school his son attends gets along well without one. He also said other school closures should be explored.

Two items on the cut list that few hold hope of becoming a reality are two furlough days for teachers and delaying longevity payments until they leave the district. They have been booted off every budget gap plan for the past four years because the unions won’t agree to them.

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck