State backs Bridgeport on magnet tuition
Updated 4:54 pm, Friday, November 3, 2017
Bridgeport has won the latest — but perhaps not the last — round in a fight to charge suburban districts tuition for students attending city magnet schools.
The state Department of Education on Thursday declared that the commissioner of education’s 2016 decision allowing Bridgeport to charge sending districts $3,000 each for non-resident students was consistent with state statutes.
The school districts of Stratford, Trumbull, Monroe and Shelton went to court to stop the charge, but were told they didn’t appeal the decision administratively, as required.
Several of the towns have not included the projected charge in their 2017-18 budgets.
On Friday, Shelton Schools Superintendent Chris Clouet said there would be a return to court over the issue of magnet tuition.
“We should be thinking of the well-being of students,” Clouet said by email. “Instead, this is a Band-Aid approach to solving economic issues. The state needs a rational plan for funding schools.”
Bridgeport school officials, who built a $1.5 million tuition charge into an already precarious 2017-18 budget plan, were elated by the state’s decision.
“Now we can rely on the collection of the revenue,” Marlene Siegel, chief financial officer for the district told the Board of Education’s Finance Committee this week.
There are 511 students from 20 communities who attend either Bridgeport’s Discovery Magnet School or the three science high schools on the Fairchild Wheeler campus. That is 67 students fewer than last year, but still within the 25 percent requirement for magnet-school funding. Shelton, Stratford and Trumbull send the most students to the city magnet schools, a total of 353 students this year.
In addition, some 1,370 student from Bridgeport attend those four schools.
Until now, the Bridgeport school district has relied on state funding to supplement costs at the magnet schools. That allotment has shrunk in recent years, and a start-up grant for Fairchild Wheeler has ended.
In their fight against the charge, suburban districts have maintained the district intended to use the tuition to fill budget gaps unrelated to the magnet schools, or even to filter money to the city. The district has denied that.
Bridgeport Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson said she remains optimistic the tuition will be collected.
“This was just a speed bump, but not a barrier,” she said. “We climbed over it and were victorious, so are going to move forward.”