June 24, 2008

Education Needs Clash With Council Desires?

By Ann DeMatteo

By Ann DeMatteo Assistant Metro Editor

HAMDEN -- For a short time this week, the special education funding needs of the Board of Education got hung up because Legislative Council members were sore over an apparent lack of progress on the board's move to the Hamden Government Center.

The school board was to appear before the council's Finance Committee Tuesday night to ask for $821,079 to fill a deficit caused by more special education students being sent to the district, but shortly before the meeting, the request was scuttled.

Council members were upset when they saw minutes of a recent school board Operations Committee meeting, which stated that the move of school board offices from 60 Putnam Ave. to the government center at Dixwell and Evergreen avenues wouldn't take place until 2009.

Council members and Mayor Craig B. Henrici were under the impression the move would take place this summer, especially since $178,500 was allocated for the school board relocation in a capital appropriation last month.

So when it came time Tuesday night for the Finance Committee to discuss the school board's request for the additional $821,079, the committee chairman, Councilman Curt Leng, D-6, said the item was being "pulled for additional information."

The matter will be back on the agenda Monday night, and school officials will be making a presentation about the progress in moving to the government center, officials said Wednesday.

Moving the school department from 60 Putnam to the government center has been something Henrici has promoted for close to two years in an effort to increase communication between school and town officials. The change was also recommended by the town's auditors.

"They wanted more information on the move, and we supplied it to them today," Superintendent of Schools Frances M. Rabinowitz said Wednesday.

While the school board hasn't yet voted on the move, Rabinowitz said she would like to first move special education offices that are in the basement at 60 Putnam to Alice Peck School this summer.

"At the same time, we're looking at Alice Peck as a possible location for STEPS and REACH," she said, referring to special education programs for older children. Renovations to Alice Peck will be necessary, and funding for that is not included in the $178,500 allocation, she said.

She also said she hasn't seen final engineering plans for the move. Rabinowitz added that while the committee minutes said the move wouldn't take place until 2009, she said she doesn't know if it will take that long. But, she wants to make sure the special education children and her staff have the right accommodations.

Council leadership and Henrici Wednesday talked to school board Chairman Michael C. D'Agostino, who answered their questions.

Henrici said that by Monday, the council will receive a "time line that can be adhered to and a plan as to who goes where and the needs of the Board of Education."

Said Henrici, "Some members thought they were getting the run- around. I don't think that was the case, but sometimes you have to use the power of the purse to get people's attention.

"We need to get some better communication and work harder to make this come to fruition," he said.

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