Worried about shortchanging school budgets, statewide groups representing teachers, superintendents and school boards are calling for a compromise to a measure that would allow school districts with dwindling enrollments to cut school spending by $3,000 a student.
In a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the groups said they strongly opposed the measure, which would only apply to districts that have had a sizable drop in enrollment and are not considered to be failing under federal No Child Left Behind standards.
To qualify for state aid, all communities are required to spend at least the same amount on their school budget as the year before. Some towns, particularly those with declining enrollments, have complained that this requirement is unfair.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities proposed the measure as a way to give cash-strapped communities a break in the sputtering economy. Originally, CCM proposed that any community with declining enrollment could reduce its education budget. Legislative leaders later restricted the eased-up spending requirements only for communities that had passed the NCLB benchmarks.
While this resolves problems in some towns, it still leaves the "odd consequence" of allowing 92 communities to reduce their education spending by more than what they currently receive per student in state education aid, said Joseph J. Cirasuolo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. The association, along with the two statewide teachers unions and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, sent the letter to Malloy earlier this week.
The education groups are proposing that districts instead be allowed to reduce their budget either by $3,000 per student or by the amount the state pays per child in education funding - whichever is lower.
Cirasuolo said districts have already been hurt by flat funding from the state at a time when costs have gone up about 7 percent. He also pointed out that even with dwindling enrollment, spending usually doesn't drop enough to cut a teaching position.
But Malloy's budget officials pointed out that municipalities actually spend a lot more than $3,000 per student on education and need some relief.
"In an era of very tight budgets and high property taxes, it's difficult to make the argument that towns should be required to spend more on a declining number of students," said Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs at the state Office of Policy and Management.
"Their proposal doesn't make sense," Casa said. "We appreciate where they're coming from, but this is a particularly bad year at the local level."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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