With gov’s budget, schools face cuts

By LISA CAPOBIANCO

STAFF WRITER

If passed by state lawmakers, Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed two-year budget could have a major impact on Bristol Public Schools, school officials said last week.

Malloy’s $20 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2017-2018 shifts over $400 million in teacher pension costs to municipalities while revamping the education funding formula, reported the Associated Press

. His proposal also shifts some state education grants from wealthier towns to struggling communities, including Hartford and Waterbury.

During this fiscal year (Fiscal Year 2016-2017), Bristol Public Schools received $41,407,314 in the Education Cost Sharing grant funding and a $3.4 million Alliance Grant, as well as a $306,457 grant for adult education and about $4.2 million in the Special Education Excess Cost grant, reported school officials during a Board of Education meeting last Wednesday.

“That leaves us with about a $49 million level of support from the state,” said Board of Education Chairman Christopher Wilson.

If Malloy’s proposed budget is passed, however, this $49 million support from the state could drop down to a total of $45 million for Bristol Public Schools during FY 18 and FY 19.

Malloy has proposed to take 22 percent of the money that was in the ECS grant and place it into a new grant—the Special Education Grant. Under Malloy’s budget proposal, the district would receive $13,025,426 for that new grant.

“His proposal is to rank all towns from zero to 54 percent…zero being Greenwich, and the 54th town being Hartford. Greenwich would get zero in the special education grant and Hartford would get 54 percent,” said Wilson. “We will fall some place within that range.”

Malloy previously stated that his revised education funding formula will use more accurate information on student poverty and enrollment while considering municipalities’ ability to pay, as reported by the AP. Last September, a state judge declared the state’s education funding system unconstitutional, ordering for a complete overhaul of how Connecticut’s public schools are funded. The state then appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Wilson said Malloy’s revamped education funding formula, if passed, will create a “whole different way of funding special education costs in Connecticut.”

“What I think the governor was trying to do was make the resources as they’re allocated to different municipalities more rational and logical. But unfortunately by doing that, he is zeroing out about 130 towns not getting any money.”

If Malloy’s budget proposal is passed, municipalities have concerns about raising property taxes, as they would have to pay about one-third of the $1.2 billion annual cost of teacher pensions that the state currently bears.

Wilson said this is the “most controversial part of Malloy’s proposal.” In FY 18, Bristol would contribute $5,994,524 to the Teacher’s Retirement Fund. In FY 19, the city could end up contributing $6,189,347 to the fund.

While the district faces uncertainty in the next two fiscal years, school officials are discussing ways to offset the current funding loss of $250,000 in the district’s Alliance Grant, which serves as a targeted investment in the state’s lowest-performing school districts.

During the board’s recent finance subcommittee meeting, school officials discussed.

Board of Education Commissioner Karen Vibert said district administration presented some ways to fill that gap to the board’s finance subcommittee, but more solutions are needed. School officials were scheduled to discuss the issue further during a finance committee budget workshop last Saturday.

Last week, district administrators made a presentation to the Connecticut General Assembly’s education committee to share all of the initiatives they accomplished through the Alliance Grant over the last several years. From talent development and academics to school climate to operations, the district has been able to focus on different priorities through this grant funding.

“We were very pleased for our administrative team to be able to show off all of the great things we’ve been doing in the district,” said Wilson.

Since Malloy announced his budget proposal on Feb. 8, a lot of activity has spurred at the capitol, said Wilson, who recently attended education hearings at the capitol.

“I don’t know if the governor’s budget proposal will go through as it’s stated here or if there will be some compromises,” said Wilson. “The capitol has had a difficult time making cuts in the past, so it will be interesting to see if they can figure out a way to make cuts, so we’re not harmed so much.”

Connecticut faces a $1.7 billion deficit for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The projected deficit for the following fiscal year, which starts on July 1, 2018, is $1.9 billion, according to the AP.

“As we move forward, it’s very difficult for us to make a budget, not knowing exactly how this is going to play out,” said Wilson.

Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.