Newtown’s school and municipal officials have a new piece to fit into the town’s annual budget puzzle this year — a new priority, a new expense, a new conundrum. As the town transitions from the various ad hoc arrangements it established in the wake of 12/14 to better secure local schools, the Board of Education, at the urging of First Selectman Pat Llodra, has proposed a security budget totaling just under $3 million that is separate from the school board’s proposed $71.5 million operating budget for 2014-15. This security budget will supplant those “short-term” arrangements for 2013-14, which have consisted largely of placing police officers in the schools and paying for the inevitable overtime for these extra services from the local police force.
There is a classic line from a Saturday Night Live sketch delivered by Chevy Chase portraying Gerald R. Ford in a 1976 presidential debate responding to a convoluted and complicated question on the economy: “It was my understanding there would be no math during the debates.” Since that sketch first aired, math has become a staple of political discourse because of — not in spite of — Chevy Chase’s everyman response to shifting facts and figures. Math is confusing, especially when you want it to be.
Keeping a growing community on course toward a promising future requires our elected leaders to engage in both short-game tactics and long-game strategy. The short game draws our attention each year at this time as the Board of Education, Board of Finance, and the Legislative Council try to hold down the tax rate without gutting services in ways that amount to negligence. It is a matter of getting out information and then getting out the vote. The long game, however, may ultimately affect the overall vitality of the community in more profound and lasting ways. With that in mind, the Board of Finance last week approved funding for the initial phase of a sewer extension project in Hawleyville that should help Newtown grow in a more balanced and productive way.
When the next legislative session begins in Hartford on Wednesday next week, Governor Dannel P. Malloy will outline his priorities in his formal budget message. The extent to which Newtown and the 12/14 tragedy in Sandy Hook has aligned priorities for the governor and legislators will be obvious. Building on a legislative package enacted last spring that brought significant changes to the state’s mental health system, the governor will once again be highlighting more than $7 million in new mental health initiatives over the next two years backed in principle by legislators on both sides of the aisle.
When Governor Dannel P. Malloy appointed the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission a year ago, he charged the panel with “taking a broad systemic approach in crafting the recommendations that will lead to comprehensive legislative and policy changes that must occur following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.” He explained that this included “ensuring that our mental health system can reach those that need its help.” Like everyone else who has tried to answer the ultimate 12/14 question — why? — the commissioners are keenly interested in Adam Lanza’s motivation and state of mind as he headed off to the Sandy Hook School that tragic morning. The panel last week secured a promise from the shooter’s father to turn over some of his son’s treatment records. Presumably, this narrow focus on Adam Lanza’s pathology has some relevance to the panel’s “broad systemic approach” to policy recommendations.
A hearing was scheduled for Thursday in Hartford Superior Court as The Bee went to press this week for arguments over whether a lawsuit challenging the equity of funding the state’s public schools filed in 2005 will finally go forward or be delayed for more than a year. The court challenge filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) and 18 plaintiffs, including towns, cities, elected municipal officials, and the state’s two teachers unions, alleges that state government underfunds local school districts by about $2 billion, according to a cost study conducted the year the suit was first filed. The state is arguing, however, that a trial should not commence using eight-year-old data that ignores recent school reforms and funding increases. Incidentally, the proposed 15-month delay would also push the trial to after this year’s state elections.
The State of Connecticut has banned flying ice this winter — and every winter from now on. The new law took effect last week just in time for the year’s first big storm. It will levy fines — up to $1,250 for drivers of commercial trucks — for failure to clean snow and ice from their vehicles. So-called ice missiles can pose significant hazards for motorists traveling at high speeds on the interstates, so the law seems like a sensible deterrent to those who need the prospect of stiff fines to focus their minds on safety — at least the safety of those in their rear view mirror. Still, the idea of legislating away the hazards of flying ice in Connecticut in the wintertime seems a bit quixotic.
“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” —Hal Borland
As a journalist, author, and full-time observer of rural Connecticut for several decades prior to his death in 1978, Hal Borland became an expert on the coming and going of years. Much of his wisdom and experience was derived from the vicissitudes of life on a small farm in Sharon, where natural processes preside and the status quo is defined by change itself.
The Newtown community has spent a lot of time in the past year thinking about how to define itself in the wake of an event that shattered nearly every notion the town had about the status quo...
Newtown begins 2014 next week with more momentum and resolve than any turning of the New Year we can remember. Coming off a year in which stock-taking was a daily priority and not simply saved for last days of December, the community is primed to get started.
First on the agenda is establishing the financial framework for getting things done. The Board of Finance, Legislative Council, and town administrators are already laying the groundwork for months of budget reviews and deliberations. The conversation tends to be numerical, transforming the real stuff of community — like snowplows, patrol officers, and soccer fields — into dollars and cents, return on investment calculations, and that oft-cited, never-quantified bang for the buck. That is to say, it is not the most stimulating conversation for those of us who are not budget wonks.
A panel of local officials hosted multiple press conferences this week, trying earnestly to satisfy the curiosity of the assembled media about all things Newtown as the community approaches the first anniversary of the deadly 12/14 attack on Sandy Hook School. In recent weeks, these same officials have been trying to reserve the actual anniversary date as a day of private reflection and commemoration for the community. The press conferences were an attempt to preempt a repeat of the media crush that swamped the town a year ago. “We can’t choose to not have this horrible thing happen to us. It happened. We cannot make it un-happen,” First Selectman Pat Llodra told the journalists. “But we can choose how we react to it.”