HARTFORD, CT — The state’s largest teachers union and three communities filed an injunction in superior court Wednesday hoping to prevent reductions in education funding they say will put “children’s futures at risk.”
The Connecticut Education Association, along with the towns of Brooklyn, Plainfield, and the city of Torrington argue in court documents that in the absence of a state budget Gov. Dannel P. Malloy does not have the authority to cut education spending.
Malloy has been running the state by executive order since July 1.
“The cuts to our students and schools are the worst in Connecticut’s modern history,” Donald Williams, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said. “Left unchecked these cuts to education will cause chaos in the vast majority of our towns and massive disruption and harm to students, teachers, and our public schools.”
He said the average cut in funding under the executive order is 27 percent, but for towns with higher poverty the cuts are even worse.
Brooklyn will see a 40 percent reduction in their ECS funding, Plainfield will see a 40 percent reduction and Torrington will see an 80 percent reduction from what it received this year.
If the state continues to operate under an executive order and Torrington is forced to use of all of its reserves to continue to operate, then it would still face an $11 million gap in funding in its local budget.
“We have already taken cost-saving measures including delaying the beginning of school, implementing a hiring freeze that resulted in reductions of services, and reducing office hours in the city’s recreation department,” Torrington Mayor Elinor Carbone has said. “With additional cuts, vital resources and critical services that our residents rely upon are all in jeopardy of being drastically cut or eliminated.”
Veronica Gelormino, a Torrington Middle School teacher, said Torrington is not a wealthy community.
“We have significant poverty in our town and as a teacher I see it every single day,” Gelormino said.
She said cuts of this magnitude jeopardize their ability to provide a high-quality education for all.
The first quarter of the ECS payments went out on Oct. 2 when they would normally go out at the end of October. The three plaintiff communities are some of the 54 communities that received less than they did last year.
There are 85 communities that didn’t receive any education funding under the revised executive order that went into effect on Oct. 1.
Earlier in the day Wednesday, Malloy said the lawsuit was premature.
He said he thinks the Connecticut Education Association and the plaintiff’s would “be hard pressed to say they have standing anytime before the check would otherwise go out.”
Malloy said he also thinks they’re going to have a hard time making an argument that the state needs to fund these grants when it’s operating under an executive order.
“They will also have to handle the fact that we have a lot less money to spend without a budget than with a budget,” Malloy said. “Their stronger argument might be that we can’t make any payments to communities in the absence of a budget. That one I’d be afraid of.”
Williams said the payments have already been made to towns and the towns are having to deal with the consequences of those spending reductions.
“It is absolutely ripe,” he added.
Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for Malloy, said they “have not yet reviewed the complaint and will respond accordingly in coordination with the Office of the Attorney General. With that said, the executive order has never been the governor’s preference.”
Williams said the plaintiffs are basing their arguments on State v. Staub, the court case that set the precedent used to determine how money should be spent in the absence of an appropriation from the legislature, was decided 125 years ago.
Williams said when the state faced a similar budget problem in 1991, then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal opined that it is not the governor who appropriates state monies, it is the legislature.
In the same June 7, 1991 opinion, Blumenthal warned that Staub has not been applied in modern times and “suffers from a significant lack of clarity.”
Williams said the opinion is clear that the towns should receive the same amount of education funding they received this year.
The parties are expected to meet with the judge on Nov. 6 to set a briefing schedule.