Hartford’s black cloud looms over New Canaan budget talks
Updated 4:01 pm, Wednesday, April 26, 2017
NEW CANAAN — Uncertainty is in the air: In Hartford, over the state budget, in New Canaan over where this budget could hit schools and with parents as the town faces a nearly $4.2 million bill for teacher pensions, as well as cuts to state and special education grants.
“We have to make hard decisions based on the budget we have,” Superintendent Bryan Luizzi told parents and residents at a “Brown Bag Lunch” discussion held at New Canaan Library April 20. “Our goal is to keep reductions as far away from the student experience as we can.”
However, with the state budget still uncertain, the district could only speculate as to where the schools’ $87.6 million budget could be hit. Luizzi said as of now, the district is not planning anything and would be able to get through the next year on savings, if the proposed budget passed.
As of April 25, key committee leaders spoke out against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan and proposed a new plan that would keep the state funding the same for the next two years.
“I’m concerned about the budget and where they’re making cuts,” said Maria Magliacano, a mother of two students in New Canaan public schools. “I still have questions. Superintendent Luizzi was great and it was nice to hear that he’ll make cuts that won’t affect students.”
Under the current proposed budget, New Canaan is facing a $339,000 loss in educational cost sharing, $116,000 loss in special education grants and a $800,000 loss in special education excess cost reimbursement where the state pays back 70 percent of the cost for any special education student who requires more than 4.5 times the average student budget. Iin New Canaan, this comes out to compensation for students who require more than $100,000 for their yearly education.
In addition, the district would have to pay $4.2 million in teacher pensions. Luizzi said higher pensions are the result of higher salaries which the state is trying to shift the burden to over to the district.
“Our salaries attract talent, bring in different people and considers cost of living,” Luizzi said. “The cost of living in New Canaan can’t be compared to the cost of living in Canaan, Connecticut.”
Luizzi also said he’s been working with the town council to determine that in the unlikely event the budget passes as is, the town has enough excess funds set aside to get through the 2017-2018 school year without adjustment. However, cuts would have to be made in coming years should the schools lose their state funding and have to start paying teacher’s pensions.
The town council approved the school’s budget with a 3.66 percent increase over the previous fiscal year at the end of March.
“Nothing will be decided until June,” said school board chair Dionna Carlson. “It’s a ways away. I encourage people to reach to their legislation. It’s going to hurt most towns in the state.”
In wake of the cuts, Luizzi said the district is going to focus on their goal of sustaining excellence while also improving results. New Canaan has consistently ranked among the top districts in the country by the likes of Forbes Magazine and Niche.com, something Luizzi hopes to keep by adhering to goals set by the school board.
“That’s one way we protect the district from external forces,” he said. “They’re there every day and they’ll pull them off track if we let them.”