Education battle with Bridgeport pushed back a month in court

 

Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis moved to temporarily stop Bridgeport from charging out-of-district cities/towns for students attending its Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School in court on March 27.

The judge will now consider an injunction on April 24, which would give other communities a chance to get involved.

Bridgeport received $8,381,522 in 2015-16 from the state for the more than 600 out-of-district students that attend its magnet school. That same year, a law passed which allowed the city, to also collect a fee from the sending districts such as Monroe.

Last summer, Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell agreed to let Bridgeport charge an additional $3,000 per suburban student. The district maintains the $1.7 million it would collect altogether would offset operating costs and that none would go back to the city.

Monroe joins suit

During a meeting earlier this month Board of Education chair Donna Lane said that the school district has no intention paying $93,000 in tuition to Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School in the Park City.

“They can take us to court,” she said.

Last week the Board of Education decided to join a civil suit against the Bridgeport Board of Education in an effort to avoid spending $93,000 annually on magnet school tuition.

Lane said Monroe would be joining the school districts in Fairfield, Trumbull, Shelton and Stratford in the suit.

“The Bridgeport Board of Education is now going to be charging us for our students to attend magnet schools,” she said.

She said the district’s maximum exposure is $10,000 in legal fees.

Superintendent Jim Agostine said Bridgeport is the only city in the state charging towns for students attending its magnet schools.

Board member Shannon Monaco asked if they had a good chance of winning the suit, which Agostine said he couldn’t answer.

“I think that we have expended so much energy this year trying to fight the governor’s budget that I think this is the next logical step that we need to take,” he said.

Agostine did say that he wouldn’t move forward with the suit if he didn’t think they had a chance.

“Maybe there’s strength in numbers,” Monaco said.

Shelton jumps on board

The Shelton Board of Education voted to join the Stratford-led lawsuit against Bridgeport on March 23 to fight the estimated $350,000 tuition bill.

Bridgeport’s move would cost Shelton an estimated $350,000

“Essentially we feel that Bridgeport is trying to change the rules,” said Shelton Board of Ed Chairman Mark Holden. “When that school was opened up, the understanding was that since the state was paying to build the school, and the state was also providing considerable funding to run the school, that suburban communities, such as Shelton, wouldn’t be expected to tuition for their students. And now they’re looking to change the deal since we have a bunch of kids there.”

According to Shelton’s Board of Education Vice Chairman Arlene Liscinsky, Bridgeport must have researched a loophole with the state Department of Education which allowed them to bill districts that send students to the magnet school.

The Shelton school board approved the payment of $2,500 for the next two fiscal years, $5,000 in total, for attorney fees. According to Shelton Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet, the amount each community is contributing to the lawsuit has not been made public, but the agreed total Shelton will pay allows the city to participate in the case with little risk.

Stratford would receive the highest tuition bill, which would exceed $600,000, from Bridgeport due to the number of students attending Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School. Bridgeport is attempting to charge cities an estimated $3,000 for each student a community sends to its magnet school from out-of-district.

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