Shelton Officials Want School Mandate Relief [Valley Independent Sentinel]

March 31, 2011

By Jodie Mozdzer
Valley Independent Sentinel
Story as it appeared in the Valley Independent Sentinel on March 30, 2011

Unfunded state mandates are killing local school districts and the state needs to do something to help.

That was the message from Shelton public officials to three Republican state legislators during a forum at Shelton City Hall Tuesday night.

State representatives Jason Perillo and Lawrence Miller and State Senator Kevin Kelly met with about 20 Shelton officials from the city’s tax board, school board and Board of Aldermen to talk state budget and city concerns.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said he asked the three lawmakers to meet with public officials to talk specifically about education spending — especially as the city puts together its 2011-2012 budget.

“I think it’s critical for you to get the background and the specifics” of the obstacles facing the school board, Anglace told Perillo, Miller and Kelly.

Among those obstacles — a “burden of proof” law for legal battles over whether students qualify for special education services. The law says school districts — not the parents — have the burden to proof in the cases.

Connecticut and New Jersey are the only two states with that requirement, according to school board member Arlene Liscinsky.

Liscinsky and Superintendent Freeman Burr said the “burden of proof” requirement means high legal costs for school districts, and more out-of-court settlements that might provide expensive services to students who don’t necessarily need them.

Burr asked the three lawmakers to oppose any new unfunded mandates, and to do what they can to hold steady state education grants to towns. The state gives districts money for schools in the form of Education Cost Sharing grants.

“As a superintendent, I feel we have to provide some stability in the next two years,” Burr said.

Anglace said with fewer restrictions, cities like Shelton could come up with creative ways to save money while still teaching all the children.

The legislators also held a separate question-and-answer session with dozens of Shelton residents after the public official session Tuesday.

That discussion was dominated by state budget information, and questions about taxes, the business climate in Connecticut and what residents can do to help make changes.

The three lawmakers urged residents to contact their representatives and the governor’s office with concerns about the state budget.

The mood was grim — with talk of increased taxes and a poor business climate. One woman even told the three legislators: “You guys sound defeated.”

Kelly — a new senator for the 21st district — responded by saying he feels energized, not defeated.

“We’ve got to change the way we look at government,” Kelly said.