Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this story:
After years of hard work, struggling to improve the city’s schools, the effort paid off – and resulted in a huge cut in state funding.
Superintendent Phil Streifer said Tuesday that he recently learned from state officials that Bristol is no longer considered a “priority” school district.
“Our achievement is so high they’re taking away our priority school district status,” said Streifer.
That’s great news as far as academic improvement, but the loss of the special designation means that the city will also lose almost $2 million annually in extra funding that goes along with it.
The hit won’t come all at once, but the bulk of it is coming in the next budget, when Streifer is already searching for how to cope with reductions in the regular state aid.
The three-year phase out of priority school district funding starts with a loss of more than $1 million in the coming year, Streifer said. By the third year, the loss will reach $1.7 million.
Streifer said he’s not sure how he can maintain the higher test scores without the funding that’s supported them. He said the percentage of children living in poverty is up, as is the number of students who are moving in and out of the district.
But that’s a problem for another day. At 7 tonight, the superintendent presents his budget to the school board for approval.
Because his budget has been in the works for awhile and the news about the city’s priority school district status just arrived, it’s not even figured into the budget yet, Streifer said.
Not counting a $1.28 million increase in special education costs, Streifer said, he’d be at a 2.4 percent increase.
“We’ve really held the line,” Streifer said.
As it is, the increase is 3.69 percent, he said, or $3.7 million.
“I’m asking the board of education to approve my budget, which funds all programs,” said Streifer. “They’re voting on a full budget.”
But if enough state and city funding doesn’t materialize, Streifer said, the district will turn to his recommended cuts, which will reduce the numbers of teachers, increase class size and eliminate some programming.
“People are concerned,” said Don Currie, president of the Performance Arts Booster Club at Bristol Central High School. He said he’s worried that music will take a bigger cut than other programs.
If cuts are to be made, Currie said, the district should be fair.
“They should be even across the board,” said Currie.
Kathy Brodeur, co-president of the Parent Action Committee at Chippens Hill Middle School, said she and other parents are worried about enrichment programs losing funding and about increased class sizes.
“We’re taking more and more away from our kids,” said Brodeur, who said she’s afraid that her middle school daughter will not have the same choices of courses as her high school daughter had.
In the long run, Brodeur said, any change in the school district will be reflected in the housing market, which she said will impact all homeowners, not just those with kids in school.
Federal stimulus money, if it comes to the district, may be “very restrictive,” said Streifer. He said it’s too early to know how much might come to Bristol or how it could be used.
The possible program cuts, said Streifer, are “still real.”
He said whether those will need to be implemented won’t be clear until April or May – after the city budget is set.
Bristol school board members present the school budget to the city finance board on March 18, said Streifer.
That’s when Streifer hopes to see parental support for school programs.
“I want them there on March 18,” Streifer said.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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