In a late session bid to trim a massive budget gap, Gov. Jodi Rell proposed Thursday to close the Bristol Technical Education Center this summer.
The move would save $2 million for taxpayers while eliminating 30 jobs and close the doors for 108 students, according to Rell’s new spending plan.
The suggestion shocked school employees attending a teacher of the year celebration Thursday night.
Without the Bristol school, “the students we have wouldn’t really have anywhere to go,” said teacher of the year Steve Donaghy, the department head for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
Donaghy, a Bristol resident who’s been teaching at the school for a decade, said enrollment is growing and students are finding jobs when they graduate in fields such as manufacturing, electronics and culinary arts.
The closure plan drew immediate criticism from Bristol lawmakers who have fended off efforts to shutter the Minor Street school in the past.
State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat, said that “to shut it down would be a travesty.”
“I will fight tooth and nail to keep that school open,” said Nicastro, who represents the 79th District.
State Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat who represents the 31st District, said he will also fight to preserve the school because it teaches students “new careers” and skills that the state needs.
The school teaches high school juniors and seniors – who hail from 31 towns between Berlin and Torrington – and offers trade certification and high school credits. It’s the only trade school in the state that doesn’t require students to decide to attend as freshmen, which Donaghy said may make it an easier target because it’s unique.
Among those learning new trades are adults who have lost their jobs or are looking to better themselves, Colapietro said.
Nicastro said shuttering the school would “hurt immensely” because the state needs more tradesman and skilled workers.
Rell didn’t address the closing of the Bristol school specifically in her comments about the new spending proposal, but maintained that the $1.3 billion in cuts she proposed over two years “were not easy, but I had to make them to meet these economic challengers head-on with courage and vision.”
The state faces a budget shortfall of at least $8 billion dollars during the next two years.
Figuring out how to close that gap – with some sort of mix of spending cuts, fee hikes and tax increases – has been at the top of the agenda for months, but it’s not clear that the legislature and governor are on the same page. Democrats are resisting many cuts while Rell refuses to consider higher taxes.
Closing the Bristol school would eliminate 19 full-time jobs and 11 part-time positions, according to the governor’s proposal.
Donaghy said that politicians are going to need to save the school. He said he hopes they can.
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