Jon Greenberg

The New Haven Public Schools district is currently running a $4.6 million deficit, Chief Operating Officer William Clark said at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

In 2014, NHPS had a $4.5 million budget deficit and began cutting the budget to close the gap. Education budgets are getting tighter statewide, said several people at the meeting. Board of Education member Michael Nast said it is not unusual this time of year to have a small deficit, but he is still concerned about the steps that the city will have to take to make up for the deficit.

Clark told the News the district went through its first quarter analysis over the past few weeks and was able to confirm where the budget now stands. Board members also expressed concern about funding for the coming years under Donald Trump’s administration, school leaders fear his administration will not prioritize education.

“We are going to have some stormy days ahead,” said Board of Education member Edward Joyner. “[This] means we need to bear down and make some hard decisions, but make sure those hard decisions don’t affect kids.”

Interim Superintendent Reginald Mayo said that the district would likely have to make cuts to respond to the deficit, adding that both personnel and nonpersonnel lines in the budget will be scrutinized.

Grants that have run out are particularly harmful for the district as they leave staff with salaries that must be transferred to the operating budget. One such grant that paid for five staff members ran out this month, Mayo said. He added that a protocol must be established for handling the end of grants.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has done a good job with education funding, but the state government will have no choice but to cut funding next year, he added.

But Mayor Toni Harp, who sits on the Board of Education, said now is not a time to panic and pointed out that $4.6 million represents only about two percent of the $182 million budget.  She said she is confident Mayo and his team will be able to handle the deficit.

Other members of the board expressed faith in Mayo’s ability to navigate the financial situation.

Board of Education member Darnell Goldson said he was disappointed but not surprised by the deficit, adding that he was also frustrated it only now came to light. But Goldson said he was still pleased that Board of Education members finally got a financial statement. He added that he would fight “tooth and nail” for teachers to not bear the brunt of budget cuts.

Board of Education member Carlos Torre said he is worried the president-elect’s administration will prioritize private education, citing the recent appointment of the school privatization activist Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Torre added that a system of school vouchers is not a sustainable alternative to public schools as vouchers do not foot the entire bill of a private education. More vouchers would also leave the neediest kids in public schools, which would receive less funding, he said.

Board of Education meetings are held at the L.W. Beecher Museum School of Arts & Sciences.