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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Schools seeking to hire lobbyist

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Citing stiff competition for limited state funds, Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo has secured Board of Education approval to hire a lobbyist to represent the district.
"The smaller the pot gets, the more important it is to have a lobbyist on hand," said Mayo, shown at right. "We don’t want this board to be left behind," he said, playing on the title of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The board’s lobbyist would push legislation in Hartford and work with state leaders to increase New Haven’s funding.
The board did not discuss the new position’s salary.
"If we expect to get someone than can jump right in … we may have to pay a pretty decent salary for someone," Mayo said Tuesday. "I’m hoping to find someone that would jump feet first into the legislative session that is about to begin."
Mayo said he’s in Hartford once a week or every other week, but that’s not enough to push legislation.
"Dollars are going to be so tight this particular time," he said.
Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said his agency advocates for "boards of education as a whole but not for any one in particular."
He did not know how many school boards statewide have sought individual lobbyists, but said "I would assume some of the districts, if it was the right issue, might decide to hire somebody."
Mayo said that, specifically, New Haven needs to push for a change in magnet school funding.
"We have the largest, best magnet school program. To see that go down the drain, we need to try to get that repealed," Mayo saidNew Haven magnets stand to lose millions in state aid as a result of legislation passed last June. Lawmakers voted then to increase state funding to local schools and magnet schools, but also voted to phase in major reductions in Educational Cost Sharing grants for districts sending students to magnet schools. The legislation applies to students attending magnet schools both in and out of the district. The law goes into effect for the 2009-10 school year.
Mayo also noted $2.3 million in lost funding for the district’s literacy mentors.
"We need to lobby legislators to get that decision repealed," he said.
City Hall already has its own lobbying team, former state Rep. Chris DePino of DePino and Associates, and City Hall-based legislative liaison Laoise KinCQg.
Mayo first mentioned his desire to bring a lobbyist on staff earlier this month during a conversation charging the education non-profit Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now with pushing inaccurate data about charter school success.
Citing the strength of lobbying efforts put forth by charter schools, which city educators have charged with pulling funds away from other public schools, Mayo said the district "probably needs to hire a lobbyist."
"My thing is, when the total dollars start to dry up, and other people have the advantage of lobbyists, and you don’t have anyone, the power goes to the squeaky wheel," Mayo said. "We better get smart and do the same thing."
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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