Shifting State Obligations To Local Municipalities Is A Poor Solution

Published: March 06, 2019 at 01:00 pm


To the Editor:

This week, the state legislature is hearing testimony regarding the Governor’s budget proposal. Within the proposal is a plan to bill municipalities for part of the teacher’s pension cost. The pension fund has been a state obligation, negotiated by the state and financially managed and mismanaged by the state for decades. Now, standing at a fiscal cliff, the solution appears to be to shift the burden to local municipalities.

Meanwhile, in Newtown, we have a contingent who decry the local school budget and ask fellow Newtowners to vote the budget down. These two situations — one at the state and one local — are not unrelated. At first glance, people are understandably alarmed by a local budget that increases even as enrollment decreases. But what this quick assessment misses is that Newtown’s budget is largely determined by unfunded state mandates and growing education costs that outpace inflation.

Recently, the Newtown Board of Finance discussed ways to take into account these multiple factors: the growing costs in all districts, the rise in special education costs in Newtown, and the local decline in enrollment. The results indicated that when these factors are considered, Newtown’s rise in costs is not surprising when compared to other districts in Connecticut and that declining enrollment has been accounted for within the budget.

In the last ten years, we have seen mandates that require money and time: computer-based testing that requires upgrades in technology, a teacher evaluation system that mandates thousands of hours of observations and conferring, student data privacy laws that require hundreds of hours of negotiations with vendors, alternative education mandates, and a whole host of new training and reporting requirements that add up to thousands of hours of staff time. And this does not even address circumstances unique to Newtown. We now have added security, increased mental health and social-emotional support systems, full-day kindergarten, and rising special education costs.

We are lucky to live in a state that demands a lot of education. The quality of public schools in Connecticut is a draw for people who consider moving here for work. Yet when the state continues to pass extensive mandates while reducing financial support, the economic burden leads to local tensions. In a recent letter to the editor, Mr Magnan addressed a meeting he has organized and to which he invited me. I am unable to attend due to another Board of Education obligation. I hope, though, that this topic of shifting costs is discussed. In my opinion, preventing the shift from the state obligation to the local districts should be the focus of our efforts. Whether you oppose the reduction in Newtown’s share of the state’s Education Cost Sharing Grant, the capping of the special education Excess Cost Grant, or the requirement that towns contribute to the teacher pension, there are many worthy targets for one’s ire. The state should be maintaining its investment in the state’s crown jewel, not looking to pay off its debts with it.

Michelle Embree Ku

28 Platts Hill Road, Newtown         March 6, 2019


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