Thursday, October 28, 2021

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East Haven Schools, Town Coping with State’s Mid-Year Education Cost Sharing Cuts

The new year didn’t get off to a great start for Connecticut schools as superintendents across the state received a letter from Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, on Dec. 29, 2016, announcing cuts in municipal aid.

The state cut $50 million in grants to municipalities, $20 million of which was education funding cuts. East Haven’s original $19,740,645 Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant was cut by 0.7 percent. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Portia Bonner and the Board of Education (BOE) are now working to reduce the budget by the $145,230.

“We are already in a budget freeze for the current fiscal year and I am sure the board will discuss further reductions at its next meeting,” said Bonner. “Let’s hope that there will be no mid-year cuts at the board level. Is it a possibility? Yes. We are already freezing any vacancies that are occurring due to resignations or retirements. In order to reduce the budget, it will ultimately affect personnel.

“There really is nowhere else to cut as the board’s budget is lean,” Bonner continued. “The first priority the board is to maintain classroom teachers.”

These cuts come in the middle of the 2017 fiscal year, which ends on July 1. The legislation allowing ECS cuts to be made was passed in 2015. The cuts affected both the January 2017 and April 2017 ECS payments. The Town of East Haven had allocated more than $47 million to the BOE for the 2016-’17 fiscal year and, while a spending freeze was announced for both the BOE and the town, cuts to the allotted money have not been discussed.

“At this point, I believe the town will honor their allocation of $47,410,357 and we at the board level will be fiscally responsible in our spending,” said Bonner. “The bigger concern is what the board’s budget will look like next year with the uncertainty of the state’s funding and the changes to both ECS and the Alliance District grant.”

State Senator Len Fasano (R-34) commented on the budget and “poor planning” of the cuts on his webpage

“This is yet another example of the Democrats’ budget continuing to fail our state and the need to change our approach to budgeting and begin addressing problems now,” said Fasano. “The administration has known since August that they would need to hold back these funds from municipalities. But they chose to wait until now to let towns know how much they would lose, after half the fiscal year has already gone by, making these cuts more difficult for towns to absorb. This is poor planning at best, and at worst appears to be an attempt to bury bad news when people are focused on the holiday season. I hope with the start of the legislative session next week we can begin to change the way we budget to focus on a long-term strategy, instead of relying on last minute cuts that shift the state’s problems onto already overburdened taxpayers.”

Governor Dannel Malloy briefly addressed education in his State of the State Address on Jan. 4, calling for a “new way to calculate educational aid.” He went on to state that the budget he presents later this month will “outline a more equitable system for providing town aid. It will be based on the local property tax burden, student need, and current enrollment.”

Mayor Joseph Maturo, Jr., had recently announced the town is running a $1.13 million surplus and reducing its long-term indebtedness to $26.3 million. Despite the surplus, he announced a spending and hiring freeze and is requiring his approval on all purchase orders more than $30.

“It is hard enough that most municipalities pass an operating budget after the state passes its budget,” Maturo stated in a press release. “However, it’s repugnant and unfair for the governor to make these cuts and play this budget shell game midyear, especially since municipalities now have less than six full months to respond to the cuts.”

John Finkle, chairman of the East Haven BOE, plans to recommend using the town’s independent auditor to not only analyze the BOE’s financial data, but to also create a fiscal forecast for the future and help identify areas to cut costs.

Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .

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