MERIDEN, CT — School superintendents from throughout Connecticut gathered Tuesday in front of Maloney High School for a press conference to highlight the problems they’re facing because the state has yet to pass a budget.
The beginning of the school year should be a time for celebration, but without knowing how much education aid their schools will get the superintendents — members of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents who had just completed their annual meeting — said they are filled with a sense of dread and concern.
Milford Superintendent Elizabeth Feser said under the governor’s budget proposal they would lose $10 million in education funding from the state.
“Kids are coming a week from Monday and we don’t know how much money is coming into the city,” Feser said. “… If the governor’s proposal came through it would be devastating to the city, as well as the school system.”
Part of the problem is that the General Assembly failed to adopt a two-year budget. As such, there is no education cost sharing formula at the moment, so it’s unclear how money will be distributed to schools.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been running the state by executive order since July 1. He has said he would make sure the neediest school districts get enough funding to start the year.
Malloy’s executive order cuts $515 million in Education Cost Sharing funds.
Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said she’s spoken with legislative leaders who have told her they are getting closer to finalizing a two-year state budget, “but closer isn’t good enough.”
“They need to sit down and come up with a budget before school starts,” Rabinowitz said.
Bristol Board of Education Chairman Chris Wilson said they are frustrated with how long the budget process is taking.
He said they were one of the school districts last year that received a mid-year cut, so they know how difficult it is to manage.
While admitting that schools aren’t businesses, he said that no business would want to run itself without knowing its revenue sources.
He said it’s time for all the stakeholders to get in a room and give communities some cost certainty moving forward.
But the fight isn’t about just education funding.
Rabinowicz said it’s her understanding that the budget debate is much larger than education funding, but that doesn’t mean the education part of it doesn’t need to be resolved.
Superintendents, school board members, and teachers called on state legislators to fulfill their constitutional duty to adopt a state budget that funds free education for all the state’s children.
Most communities have adopted their local budgets, including their school budgets.
Rabinowitz said that in the 30 suburban, rural, and urban districts that she surveyed Monday, 67 positions were eliminated and 372 have been placed on hold.
Meriden Superintendent Mark D. Benigni said they’re concerned they might have to collapse classes, cut teachers, and move students around in the middle of the year.
“This should not be occurring and it’s time to come together, come up with a budget that recognizes the great gains we’ve made in this state,” Benigni said.
Meriden is one of 30 “Alliance Districts,” which receive more support from the state because they have a student population with greater needs.
Meg Green, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said they agree with the urgency of the situation.
“As Governor Malloy has said many times, the Executive Order Resource Allocation Plan was not his preference, but unfortunately, the legislature did not elect to take up the mini-budget that would have made drastic cuts to municipalities less severe,” Green said. “We will be re-evaluating how aid to communities is distributed under the executive order in the coming weeks to ensure we honor our constitutional requirements.”
Green said they have advised municipalities not to make assumptions about their level of education funding in the absence of a state budget.
But many communities have been forced to adopt budgets and set tax rates.
In Westport, one of the wealthier towns in Connecticut, town officials assumed they wouldn’t be getting any education funding from the state.
In Malloy’s executive order, 163 towns would see a cut in their education cost sharing grant. Westport was among the 34 towns that would receive zero education cost sharing funds under Malloy’s order.
Last year the town received $465,000 in ECS funding.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said the education funding isn’t necessarily holding up budget negotiations. He said he doesn’t trust a proposal that would ask all municipalities to contribute to teacher retirement costs for the first time.
“We don’t trust the state to not increase that amount,” Steinberg said.
Democratic legislative leadership in the House has been trying to find ways to make up for the loss in funding the proposal would create. However, their proposal to increase the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 6.99 percent hasn’t won over enough Democratic lawmakers to finalize a budget that’s unlikely to receive any Republican votes.
Steinberg said he thinks legislative leaders are getting closer to a budget deal and he’s encouraged that Republican legislative leaders are part of those conversations.
“As fleeting as that might be, it’s encouraging,” Steinberg said.
Meanwhile, education officials said they are doing what they can to pressure legislative leaders to reach an agreement.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Tuesday that their priority is to make sure they are providing the necessary resources for all students.
“We have been in contact with superintendents, teachers, and school administrators throughout this process as we continue to work tirelessly to finalize a budget agreement as quickly as possible to limit the negative impact and provide stability to our municipalities and school systems,” Aresimowicz said in a statement.
Senate Democrats did not respond to requests for comment.