Without state budget: Darien officials weigh in on school cuts
Governor Dan Malloy unveiled a revised plan on Friday for the shifting of education aid across the state. The order would cut education aid statewide by 28% if no state budget is adopted by October.
Under Malloy’s plan, the money Darien was to receive from the Education Cost Sharing grant, just over $400,000, will be cut to zero. Darien is one of 85 districts in the state to see the ECS aid amount drop to nothing. While some of the 85 are the more affluent towns in the state, others include towns that do not typically see cuts aimed at the wealthy. The plan has caused waves all over the state, as 30 districts are slated to receive their full ECS grant money, and all others will see some, if not all, cut
The Board of Education adopted a budget for the year assuming that the town would get nothing in ECS money in preparation for a cut such as this. However, the Board did budget to receive Excess Cost Reimbursement money, which covers special education costs. The special education funding could see changes as well.
State Senator Bob Duff, who represents Darien and Norwalk, released a statement following the announcement, praising Malloy’s plan. Malloy’s order would keep Norwalk’s ECS grant completely intact, cutting none of the $2.8 million that the city is slated to get. Norwalk is one of just 30 districts in the state to see no cuts to ECS aid. These are the 30 lowest performing districts in Connecticut.
“The Governor’s announcement today that Norwalk will receive its full education aid payment is welcome news and will secure our investments in our students, and provide a level of budget clarity and certainty prior to the start of the school year. Democrats in the Senate have been working hard to produce a balanced budget that meets the needs of our cities and towns. We intend to caucus with our members next week and continue the progress we have made toward reaching a final agreement,” said Duff via press release.
However, a situation where the Governor is running the state via executive order has been publicly criticized, and Duff would add to his statement, saying, “It is in not in the best interest of anyone for the Governor to continue to manage the state through executive orders. Democrats in the Senate have been working hard to produce a final balanced budget that supersedes the Governor’s executive order and meets the needs of our cities and towns. I am particularly concerned about special education funding and the impact potential cuts would have on cities and towns, especially Darien.”
State Senator Carlo Leone, who represents Darien and Stamford, weighed in as well. The budget impasse is the cause of this situation, but the hope is that this move from Malloy will spur on positive budget talks. While Stamford is another city who would not see an ECS cut, Leone said he would fight for aid to Darien.
“The ongoing struggle continues due to the fact their are still opposing views on how to move forward. There are many wants, more needs, but key essentials that must be provided. Education dollars are an essential responsibility and I will continue to fight to obtain every available funding dollar to assist our community. Until a budget agreement is passed, the Governor has the responsibility to pay for essentials as best he can,” said Leone.
Leone also leveled criticism to both sides of the aisle, saying that changes have to be made on both sides if the budget talks are to go forward.
“The reality is there are uncomfortable decisions to be made, and both Democrats and Republicans need to review their normal talking points. Democrats need to reduce past spending practices, but Republicans also need to review their simplified strategy as the party of only saying no, and consider other options that could include revenue increases, because removing 3.5 billion from our economy will be devastating, including hits to education. Negotiations can't continue if neither or one side is willing to move the needle from traditional views,” said Leone.
Leone closed by saying, “The best way forward is together.”
State Representative William Tong also said he would fight for every dollar for Darien, and was clear about his opposition to the cuts as they stand, particularly when it comes to special education funding and the Excess Cost grant.
““I do not support these cuts to Darien’s education funding. In particular, the state’s commitment to fund special education should not depend on a family’s zip code; we have a moral obligation to support Darien’s special education students just as we support kids in our cities and other communities across the state,” said Tong, adding,
“I have been very clear with my colleagues and the leadership in Hartford – I am going to continue to fight tooth and nail to make sure that Darien gets what it needs for special education through its Excess Cost grant.”’
State Representative Terrie Wood offered an opinion on the situation as well. Wood clearly is disappointed in the fact that the legislature still has no budget, saying, “We are in this situation with Governor Malloy running the state budget by executive order because the legislature has not passed a budget. Our biggest responsibilities as legislators is to develop and set a budget that is reasoned, respectful and well balanced. Period. We have had since the beginning of January to set a budget and by state constitution need to have set a budget by the end of session which this year was June 7th. The Democrats are the majority in both chambers and have yet to put forward a budget for the biennium,” said Wood.
Wood further blamed Democratic leadership for the lack of budget progress.
“This is deeply irresponsible of the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. With our state's fiscal challenges our children, families, businesses and municipalities deserve the predictability and stability of of plan and a budget. Republicans offered a fully vetted and viable budget — in April — that does not raise taxes, and funds our school and municipalities and respects our citizens and businesses. Our budget brings the state union salaries and benefits closer in line with other states, one of the areas Republicans and Democrats differ on policy,” said Wood. Wood also added that, “The majority party controls the legislative calendar and they have refused, so far, to call our budget for a debate and vote.”
Wood mentioned Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky and credited them with anticipating the possible of an ECS cut and budgeting for it.
“However, the potential cut of special education funding is deeply problematic. How to you discriminate against a student with special needs based on their zip code?,” said Wood.
There is also the looming issue of teacher pensions, and the move by the Governor to attempt to push off a portion of those costs onto municipalities, despite the fact that the cities and towns in the state were never part of negotiating those pensions.
“Pushing the teacher pensions onto the towns is also problematic. There are rumblings that both of these are being discussed by the Democrats in their budget discussions. Again, we need a budget that is sustainable and predictable. We can do this,” said Wood.
Stevenson also weighed in on the potential cuts. “While we strongly disagree with the the Governor's action, Darien anticipated the loss of ECS funds. What concerns us greatly is the redraft of education funding policy in the yet-to-be-drafted budget that may jeopardize special ed excess cost reimbursement funding. I, too, am eager to understand how our delegation will respond to this possibility,” said Stevenson.
On Wednesday afternoon, a budget proposal from Democrats was released. The proposal restored a great deal of ECS and education funding. In the proposal, only $10 million of the $200 billion ECS grant would be redistributed to the 30 lowest performing districts. It was unclear at press time exactly how Darien’s aid levels would be changing in the proposal. The Democrats budget also includes a sales tax increase to 6.85% which will help with the aid as well as the cost of teacher pensions.
Should a budget be adopted before October, before the first ECS payments are scheduled to be sent out, these numbers could change again. However, it remains prudent to not expect any ECS funding for Darien. There was some speculation in Hartford that the Governor’s proposal was really way to pressure legislators into more urgent and bipartisan budget talks. The soonest a budget vote could feasibly happen is mid-September.