Ansonia cuts 22 teachers in budgetary battle
ANSONIA-The war between the city and its Board of Education finally took a toll Friday—22 teachers lost their job.
And that impact will change the way the city’s schools operate in the 2018-19 year.
“This was one of the most devastating days of my life,” said Matt Hough, president of the teachers’ union. “I personally spoke with each teacher involved. Do you know what its like telling someone they no longer have a job? I feel sick to my stomach.”
Hough said all of this could have been avoided if the city gave the board its full $1.3 million request. But even adding the $600,000 the city is accused in a lawsuit of illegallyremovingd could have significantly reduced the impact, the union president said.
For the past four days the school administration has been whittling away costs to meet the $31.2 million it gets from the city’s $60 million budget.
Neither Superintendent of Schools Carol Merlone, Eileen Ehman, a spokesman for the school system, or William Nimons, president of the Board of Education, returned requests for comment late Friday.
“This is ugly, scary, heart-breaking,” claimed Vincent Scarletta, a member of the Board of Education. He put the blame on Mayor David Cassetti and his administration.
“This administration is all about control,” said Scarletta, a Republican who has been at odds with the mayor for the past several years. “The Board of Education finances are the last piece of the puzzle they want to get their hands on.”
For months, Cassetti has been demanding a forensic audit of the Board of Education finances as a way to find cuts. Richard Bshara, the city’s acting comptroller, approached the school board during their Wednesday night meeting and offered to help look for cuts.
“I’ve been doing this work for 30 years,” Bshara said. “I know things I can help with. In a closed environment we can discuss alternative ways to do things....If you can sell me, I’ve done a good job at selling others,” he said referring to the administration.
His offer was never accepted.
John Izzo, a school board member speaking for himself, said while such cuts “are not popular” they are a sign of times as school districts grapple with “unfunded state mandates.”
“The state is broke and Hartford is funneling less and less state aid to cities and towns to fund education,” he said.
So he suggested looking at everything from “furlough days to changing the walking distance to schools” which would eliminate some transportation costs.”
He also recommends the district share services with the city or another district “and seriously look at the benefits of regionalization.”
A study committee will meet next week to begin looking at regionalizing, some, if not all, of the aspects of Ansonia and Derby schools.
Friday’s teacher cuts will force Ansonia’s two elementary school to reduce from eight to six classes in nearly every grade.
“This means every class will have about 30 kids, Hough said.
Two more teachers were cut from both the Middle School and the High School. Three high school teachers were re-assigned to the Middle School.
The Middle School losses will force the system to change from the universally accepted team approach where a specific number of students are assigned to a group of four teachers.
“We’ll be returning to the antiquated traditional Junior High School approach which has not been used in most places for many years,” Hough said.
That approach involves teachers instructing both seventh and eighth grade classes and leads to a lot of student movement through the school.
Hough said all of the teachers let go were in the first four years on the job. However, he noted that several would have been tenured during the first day of school in August.
“Now they’ll have to start all over in their new job,” he said.
As of this fiscal year which ends June 30, the city employed 185 teachers.
Hough said there were also cuts among administrative and custodial staff as well as monetary cuts in custodial and sports. He said a plan to force student athletes to pay to play was rejected as unworkable.
“About 70 percent of our kids received free or reduced lunches,” he said. “So a huge number would be exempt. It’d be very little money.”