A Baffling Decision By The Board Of Finance
This online letter has been updated to include a comment from the letter writer.
To the Editor:
Given the anticipated $1.5M COVID-related expenses in this coming school year, it is baffling that last week the Board of Finance (BoFinance) denied the Board of Education (BoEducation) the ability to save last year’s education surplus in the education savings account (also known as the Education Non-Lapsing Account).
The notion that not even part of $1.3M of education money should be allocated to education savings to address the COVID crisis is perplexing. That the money should instead revert to the town’s savings account, known as the Fund Balance, makes even less sense when one considers that in the past 5 years, over $2.3M from the state’s Education Cost Sharing Grant has bolstered the Fund Balance — notably, it has not decreased taxes nor added to education — and that this town savings account now surpasses the policy-imposed limit.
Additionally, the BoFinance has dismissed the existing controls and procedures that both the BoEducation and BoFinance have followed since the inception of the education savings account. The Connecticut Constitution, statutes, and Newtown Charter provide important checks and balances that ensure tax dollars are well spent. The BoEducation has sought BoFinance approval on each disbursement from the account, and any assertion that statute or BoEducation policies have recently changed the process is specious.
Denying the district access to the education savings account to pay for health and safety precautions and instead requiring the BoEducation go through a lengthy process to access money that taxpayers voted to allocate to education is completely illogical. The resulting process: 1) impinges on the Legislative Council’s appropriating limit; 2) is not even defined in the Town Charter; 3) will therefore require a four-board approval process instead of two (oversight is good, but there is a point of diminishing returns); and 4) will require additional time and effort from district staff during a time when the massive changes in education have everyone operating at capacity.
There are seven duly elected volunteers who sit on the BoEducation; a Superintendent who oversees the education of thousands of students and the management of the largest employer in Newtown; and many knowledgeable professionals who have worked throughout this crisis in the best interest of Newtown’s students. For six months, this team has worked endless hours to ensure that schools open successfully and safely — a monumental task. Yet at this time of crisis, and as parents beseech decision-makers to keep schools open, the BoFinance has failed to give the district access to a financial tool normally available. Instead, the BoEducation has been assured that the district would be taken care of by the other boards. Respectfully, the BoEducation and the district administrators need to be given the ability to do their jobs efficiently and without burdensome processes. These conditions do not serve the best interests of the town or district. If we want successful schools that can effectively manage a crisis while educating students, the district needs the financial tools to do so and the support of the community.
Although I am chair [of the Board of Education] I am not speaking on behalf of the Board.
Michelle Embree Ku, Chairperson, Newtown Board of Education
28 Platts Hill Road, Newtown September 23, 2020