When members of the Middle School Building Committee began exploring routes of funding in an effort to bring the project back to budget last fall, they found an unexpected surprise – Southington’s participation in Project Choice made the town eligible for additional state reimbursement.
Thanks to Project Choice, along with changes in the project that increased reimbursement from the state’s bonding committee, the request for an additional $4.725 million that voters will be asked to decide on during a special referendum Tuesday will actually mean less money coming from local taxpayer wallets.
But misconceptions have some residents concerned that the district could be in it for financial gain – a belief that largely comes from a misunderstanding of what Project Choice is.
“Southington has been involved in the program for nearly 20 years now,” said Southington School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. “Is an adjudicated program and new legislation made the additional funding possible.”
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Project Choice, also known by several names, is the Hartford area version of the Connecticut Open Choice program. It was first established following the Connecticut Supreme Court decision in the Sheff v. O’Neil case.
"The Open Choice program was established by legislation and is intended to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation among students. Through Open Choice students who are residents of Hartford area have the opportunity to attend school in participating school districts when space is available,” according to the state’s Cooperative Educational Services website.
Southington is one of 29 participating districts in the greater Hartford area, with the town hosting a number of participants attending local schools. According to Erardi, there are approximately 30 choice students currently enrolled through the program at an elementary school level. There are 6,500 students enrolled in Southington’s schools.
The program was first established in 1997 and is a mandate overseen and administered through the Capitol Region Education Council. In 2012-2013, there are approximately 1,800 Hartford Region Open Choice students enrolled in 130 schools.
Under the state program, the district receives an average of $3,500 per student, funding provided by the state as part of the Sheff v. O’Neill decision. Erardi said in Southington, the district currently spends an average of $13,200 per pupil each school year.
When Southington first voted on the renovation of DePaolo Middle School and Kennedy Middle School, there was no additional funding available to assist in these projects. The establishment of new legislation in 2012 has allowed school upgrades such as the proposed renovations to fit within the criteria to receive funding through an academic and social support grant, however.
Now the town will be eligible for funding that, even after the additional costs, would result in $900,000 to $1.8 million in savings to the taxpayer based on current choice enrollment of choice students in Southington schools.
“There’s a formula to how many students we have, Erardi said. “We’ve graduated students from Southington High School; the program is not something new or connected to saving money. The new legislation provided an unintended outcome and we are thrilled to bring this to the public.”
For more on what Project Choice is and how it works, see the full PDF above.
Still want more information before you head to the polls? Be sure to read “Do You Know the Facts on the Upcoming Middle School Referendum?” for more.
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