Amid debate surrounding the distribution of funds to New Haven Public Schools for the 2016–17 school year, Mayor Toni Harp requested $185,219,297 from the city’s general fund for the Board of Education budget Monday.
At a Feb. 16 BOE meeting, New Haven Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Victor De La Paz presented a preliminary budget with an increase of $7.5 million — included in the total funding request of $185,219,297 — from the city to cover six core investments and initiatives, including wage increases for some NHPS employees and alternative school redesign. While the BOE voted unanimously to accept the $7.5 million increase at a Feb. 22 meeting, Darnell Goldson — the new co-chair of the BOE Finance and Operations Committee — argued that the BOE and New Haven community needed more time to determine the specific allocation of funds from the proposed budget. The final BOE budget, included in the city budget, will be submitted to the Board of Alders for approval in June 2016.
“My suggestion was to give this more time — we should at the very least have a community discussion,” Goldson told the News on Monday. “Our statute clearly outlines that one responsibility for the BOE is to have community and stakeholders’ input and involvement in the budgeting process.”
Following Harp’s calls for increasing paraprofessionals’ wages, the preliminary budget proposed Feb. 16 allocated $3.7 million of the total funding for proposed salary raises for educators districtwide. The proposed salary raise would increase paraprofessional wages by 40 percent. The initial budget also allocated funds to redesign alternative high schools for NHPS students with behavioral or mental disabilities preventing them from attending traditional high schools.
BOE Vice President Alicia Caraballo said she does not feel she has sufficient information regarding funding distribution at this point. As a former principal, she said she knows the value of paraprofessionals’ work in classrooms, but she feels the recommendation to raise salaries by 40 percent was “arbitrary.”
Goldson said the BOE will “start from scratch” in determining the fixed costs of proposed initiatives. He said while the six initiatives De La Paz and NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 originally proposed are not eliminated from consideration, these items will not be included in the budget until the BOE determines collectively what its priorities should be for the upcoming school year. The rest of the initiatives include continuing Saturday reading and math academies, expanding pre-K services and hiring six IT technicians.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Harp is standing by her calls for increases to paraprofessional salaries, adding that setting the budget is an ongoing process.
De La Paz’s preliminary budget followed a controversial “hybrid” funding model that would make funding weighted so that schools which have more low-income students or those with special learning needs — including students with disabilities and those learning English as a second language — would receive more funding.
While the model proposed on Feb. 16 aims at increasing equity across NHPS, Goldson and other BOE members questioned the model, which they felt required further discussion. Goldson said the equity model was “flawed” from the beginning because it targeted selected demographics but neglected others. He voiced concern that schools and programs that have proven successful across the district would lose funding under the new model, since these funds would be redistributed to schools whose students may not be performing as well.
“My argument is that we have to first determine whether the equity model actually leads to equity,” Goldson said. “Right now we want a traditional funding model.”
Harp was elected president of the Board of Education last September.