Trumbull Superintendent Iassogna presents budget cut list; includes freshman sports

TRUMBULL — When Trumbull students return to school, they will enter a school system with fewer choices than the one they left in March, top school officials said.

Gone are freshman sports, 28 teachers and four custodians.

“In 16 years as a superintendent, I have never ever had a cut-list like this one,” said Interim School Supt. Ralph Iassogna after delivering a budget report to the Board of Education last week. “It will be a different school system.”

Assistant Supt Jonathan Budd was equally gloomy, declaring that “there’s going to be important work and important services not happening.”

The budget report came after the Board of Finance voted to allocate $108.8 million to the school system next year. That is a 2.53 percent increase over the current year but $500,000 less than First Selectman Vicki Tesoro had recommended and $2.2 million less than the board had requested in January.

School Board Chairman Lucinda Timpanelli called the reductions “very extensive.”

“It’s quite a bit and it’s quite devastating,” she said.

Before making his presentation, Iassogna said he had tried to limit cuts to items that would not have a direct impact on students.

“But this was impossible due to the magnitude of the cuts,” he said.

At the top of the cut list are non-tenured teaching staff. The school administration cut 25.4 positions. With some of the positions being part-time, a total of 28 people received pink slips. These people ranged from eight elementary school teachers, two history teachers at Hillcrest and two math teachers at Madison.

“All of them are excellent teachers,” Iassogna said.

In addition to the teaching positions, Iassogna presented a list of certified staff cuts that included eliminating the math and language arts chairs at the middle schools, library staff positions, math and music and special education positions.

“This was the most disheartening,” he said addressing the board and the members of the public watching the meeting on Zoom and on Trumbull Community TV’s live stream. “This is far from perfect. You won’t like this. We don’t like it. But the scope of the cuts are so deep we had to go into staff as much as you see.”

In addition to staff reductions, Iassogna also laid out a series of cost-saving measures involving program cuts. These included the elimination of freshman sports, eliminating some clubs and activities with low participation, cutting four custodians and three secretaries, and closing the elementary school buildings at 4 p.m.

Another option that Iassogna mentioned but did not recommend was increasing the athletic pay-to-participate cost from $185 to $200. Trumbull’s participation fees are on the low side compared with comparable towns, Iassogna said. He called $200 “about the going rate.”

All of the cuts are necessary to get to the bottom line approved by the Board of Finance, Iassogna said, although he stressed that the budget process is not over. School officials are working with the town’s finance team to see if there is any way to free up additional funding, he said. Also some state and federal assistance could come Trumbull’s way, he said.

“Hopefully, there’ll be more leeway,” he said.

Finally, the Town Council, which has the final word on the budget before sending it to Tesoro for her signature or veto, has not completed its review. The council could make further reductions, leave the budget as-is, or could add funds back — up to Tesoro’s recommended level — by a 2/3 vote.

“There is so much still unknown,” Iassogna said.

Board member Jaqueline Norcel, a former principal in the Trumbull schools, agreed with Iassogna that the schools were facing an unprecedented situation.

“I’ve lived through many budgets,” she said. “This is the worst I’ve seen.”

One possible saving grace, albeit a partial one, could come from furlough days. Board member Marie Petitti asked about the potential savings if the Trumbull Education Association and Trumbull Administrators Association agreed to take an unpaid furlough day.

Iassonga in reply said the request had been made and that the administration was awaiting the unions’ decision. If the two unions both agreed to a furlough day, the school system would save about $326,000, he said.

Petitti, who said she is philosophically pro-union, said she hoped the two groups agreed to make a sacrifice to help retain some of their coworkers.

“We’re asking for one day to try to save staff,” she said.