Schools request additional funding

Halfway through its construction and renovation projects, the New Haven Public Schools system needs more money.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell placed eight of the 10 construction projects originally approved for budget increases by the City of New Haven on a priority list to be approved by the state legislature during its spring session. The two sites left off the list — the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School and Benjamin Jepson Multi-Age School — may be approved separately by the legislature during the spring, or may wait for the 2007 priority list, School Construction Program Coordinator Sue Weisselberg said.

“We have regular conversations with the state,” Weisselberg said. “We will re-file in the fall for both [schools].”

The projects are part of the City Wide School Construction Program, a renovation initiative that launched in 1995. Weisselberg said the legislative pre-approval process is essential to the construction projects, because the funds expended by the city will only be reimbursed up to the amount pre-approved by the state senate.

Construction costs have increased since the legislature’s original approval due to an unexpected rise in steel costs and design changes implemented to upgrade the plans, Weisselberg said. Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison said the number of construction projects currently being executed simultaneously in New Haven, including the extensive renovations on the Yale campus, have also contributed to rising building costs.

“We have no mechanism for making our construction projects all fit together,” Mattison said. “I think we are in a period of construction inflation costs over a long term.”

Mattison said the estimated cost increases submitted for Cooperative and Jepson may not have been approved by the governor because the estimates were not supported by complete proposals. He said the exclusion from the list is not particularly significant for the projects’ future approvals.

Rell could not be reached for comment.

State Sen. Leonard Fasano ’81, a Republican from North Haven, said he is skeptical of the necessity of the New Haven schools’ grant increases. He said he is concerned about the accuracy of the enrollment numbers quoted in the NHPS requests, and said he would like to see more detailed data explaining why the projects are running over cost in order to ensure the city uses the money responsibly after the grant’s approval.

“The state just walks away, and we leave it to the towns to make sure the money is used adequately,” Fasano said. “I think we need more accountability.”

The governor’s priority list will be presented to the legislature during the spring and is likely to be passed, David Wedge, manager of the state Department of Education’s school facilities unit, said.

“Historically, the legislature has authorized new commitments or changes to existing commitments,” Wedge said.

But Fasano said he wants to see numbers proving that the grant increases are necessary before supporting the requests for increased funding. Such grant increases are often bundled into one bill with many other items, Fasano said, which may influence whether or not he will approve it.

The City Wide School Construction Program has committed $500 million to the renovations since its inception, making it the largest school construction program in the state and one of the largest per capita in the nation.

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