The holidays are behind us and the potential of 2017 lies ahead of us. We got off to a bit of a rocky start as Greenwich received some unfortunate news last week. You may have missed it, but the state delivered a quick one-two punch that has the potential to seriously upend the good work done at our schools.
The first punch landed when it was announced the state was reducing its state funding of the Board of Education by 90.5 percent. Wait! What? In the middle of the fiscal year, when budgets have been planned and partially spent, the state announced it was reducing the committed funding by almost 91 percent. This is more than any other community in our state. The overall amount does not seem too large, at $1.3 million, but when Stamford only lost $250,000 in funding, our reduction seems questionable. This is money that goes directly to providing services for our school children with special needs. Our schools are statutorily mandated to provide the services, so the money will need to be found elsewhere to cover those costs.
First Selectman Peter Tesei described the reduction as “punitive,” and we agree. We send a lot of money to Hartford through personal and property taxes. Each year, less and less seems to be returning to our community.
The second punch has the potential to leave a big mark on our community. Again, late last week, Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, informed legislators that he was not in favor of the New Lebanon School construction project, and urged the School Construction Committee in Hartford to reject it. Really? Perhaps most disturbing was his reasoning. He cited the current lack of racial balance at New Lebanon and that a new school should not be built until that issue has been addressed.
It has. Three years ago a Racial Imbalance Plan was developed and approved by the State Department of Education. It required that we build a new school for the New Lebanon school children that was a magnet school and would attract children from other parts of town. Much like Julian Curtiss. This was the state’s directive to us, and we were in the process of following it when Mr. Barnes made his unilateral decision.
The children at New Lebanon are currently going to a school that is too small for them. There are rooms being used at the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center for the overflow. That arrangement cannot be conducive to learning. We must move the New Lebanon School building project forward whether the state helps pay for it or not. Our children and their education are too precious to let languish.
Connecticut has a state constitutional obligation to provide for education for our school-age children. We do not understand why Mr. Barnes and Governor Malloy are shirking their responsibility. Unless it is politics. This week the newest session of the state legislature opened with a speech by the Governor on how to address the $1.5 billion deficit the state faces. He said we need additional concessions from unions, smaller government, and a refocusing of the state aid formula for education on local communities. We agree whole-heartedly. We just hope the educational funding formula will be fair to all (see punch number one) and not be discriminatory toward Greenwich.
Most troubling was the response from labor leaders, who say they have given up enough and it’s time for those who can pay more to do so. No! This is exactly the kind of thinking that allowed our state to fall into this financial crisis. If the state thinks taxing lower Fairfield County more is the answer, then it might as well hand out keys to new houses in Florida. Time to get your financial house in order, Hartford, and fund your constitutionally mandated requirements.