Towns unsurprised by cuts to state education funding
DARIEN — In the unveiling of his latest budget plan, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy revealed any town whose Equalized Net Grand List Per Capita was over $200,000 would lose all education funding. This includes many affluent communities in Fairfield County, including Darien and New Canaan.
No one was surprised.
In fact, towns like Darien and New Canaan have been preparing for cuts like this for years as state aid has dwindled with the decline of Connecticut’s financial situation.
“That state grant has been declining over the last few years, so for the past few years on the town side, we budgeted zero because it was uncertain,” said Jennifer Charneski, Darien finance director.
Specifically, Darien and New Canaan would lose Education Cost Sharing grants, which go to the town budget to make up for education costs. Both towns would lose over $300,000 in funding.
However, Charneski said the town has been prepared for getting no aid from the state since Fiscal Year 2017. When Darien did, in fact, get $500,000 in ECS grants in 2017 and then $343,000 this year, the unexpected funds were set aside by the town for revenue in case they were to go over budget. A potential loss in the next fiscal year would mean less savings for the town.
“We’ve already captured it in our tax rate,” Charneski said. “But if we truly didn’t get anything, we’d just have less revenue than we have gotten in the prior years.”
Charneski said over the past several years, the town has lost over a million in educational aid from the state, which has trickled down to the rising of taxes in town.
While the ECS grants are not part of the school budget, district officials are still frustrated by the loss. New Canaan received $282,276 from the state this fiscal year, down $50,000 from the year prior, according to Superintendent Bryan Luizzi.
“I think it’s very unfair,” Luizzi said. “I think education is the responsibility of the state and I think Connecticut should be meeting its responsibility by providing resources to deliver education to the students. I understand there’s variability in the amount of aid, but I think every town should receive something from state.”
Luizzi added since the state creates mandates about education that require expenditures on the part of the town, they should either reduce mandates or give the money to carry them out. Specifically, he mentioned mandates regarding student privacy and special education.
Luizzi said while the state did try to reduce its mandates last year, he thinks it should be up to the schools to find best practices to meet the state-set goals, without having to spend funds on state-required mandates without aid.
“(The cut in mandates last year) was appreciated by all of us,” New Canaan’s superintendent said. “But each year when the Legislature goes into session, we all watch nervously as potential mandates are discussed and considered, each of which will require more resources for us. ... I’d like more control to individual districts, same goals and expectations, but allowing districts to find the best way to distribute it.”