Superintendent Shares Message With Parents On Governor’s Budget Proposal
Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue shared a letter with school district parents on February 25 reacting to Governor Ned Lamont’s recently delivered budget proposal.
The following is Dr Rodrigue’s letter to parents.
As you know, [Gov Lamont] released his budget and implementer bills recently that will have an impact on municipalities, school districts, and ultimately families across the State of Connecticut. Superintendents and educators, as well as taxpayers, have been asking questions and speaking out since this information hit the press. It is imperative that as community members and educators, we stay informed and take the opportunity to voice our thoughts and concerns regarding the bills outlined below:
Regionalization of School Districts
The governor’s budget bill (SB 874) addresses the concept of forced regionalization of small districts, along with [Senator Martin M. Looney’s] bill (454/738) on this same topic. The intent is to create efficiencies for small districts when they regionalize and consolidate services. The small district has been primarily focused on districts with less than 2,000 students. However, there are some bills being proposed that include town populations less than 40,000 residents.
In much of the research, there is a lack of evidence that this kind of regionalization or ‘consolidation’ leads to cost savings or efficiencies. In fact, some information suggests consolidation models can more often create negative results, including higher transportation costs. In a policy brief by NEPC (National Education Policy Center), researchers at Ohio University caution policymakers in their attempts to consolidate districts, encouraging them to do the following:
• Closely question claims about presumed benefits of consolidation in their state. What reason is there to expect substantial improvements, given that current research suggests that savings for taxpayers, fiscal efficiencies, and curricular improvements are unlikely?
• Avoid statewide mandates for consolidation and steer clear of minimum sizes for schools and districts. These always prove arbitrary and often prove unworkable.
• Consider other measures to improve fiscal efficiency or educational services.
Examples include cooperative purchasing agreements among districts, combined financial services, enhanced roles for Educational Service Agencies, state regulations that take account of the needs of small districts and schools, recruitment and retention of experienced teachers for low-wealth districts, distance learning options for advanced subjects in small rural schools, smaller class sizes for young students, and effective professional development programs. (NEPC 2011)
Newtown is already working alongside other neighboring districts to create efficiencies that can lead to realized cost savings, including shared transportation for out-of-district students, consortiums for purchasing, and exploring options for shared alternative and special education programming.
In addition, the governor’s proposal would require municipalities to fund a portion of the cost related to teacher pensions. Unfortunately, this is a direct result of years of failure by the state to fund the teacher pension plan. The governor’s plan calls for municipalities to contribute to the plan. The base contribution would be approximately 25 percent of the normal cost, and this would be phased in over three years. These contributions would be higher for towns in which the average salaries for teachers are higher than the state’s median pensionable salary. Newtown would lose $250,000 in 2020 and $660,000 in 2021. If we had to absorb these costs in the local budget, the growing cost would certainly consume other important objectives.
Just to clarify my own position — our teachers are certainly worth the investment after dedicating years to the service of our children. Throughout my presentations during this current budget season, I have made the point that the future of any town relies heavily on the quality school system in place. However, shifting the burden in this way to municipalities shirks the state’s own responsibility.
Excess Cost Grant
Another section in the governor’s proposal would make the spending cap on excess cost grants (special education) permanent. As you know, the rising (and often fluctuating) numbers of special education students and the supports they need to be successful is a priority. State aid is relied on as a means of ensuring resources are accessible as special education needs arise.
As superintendent, I would be remiss not to convey this information to you as members of our school community. We pride ourselves not only on having a strong district with dedicated teachers but a community that supports the educational services and resources provided to students and families. We need to critically review the details of these new proposals, which may have an adverse impact on our District and the community-at-large.
I encourage families and staff to reach out to local legislators and share your thoughts on these proposals: [Senator] Tony Hwang, email@example.com; [Representative] Mitch Bolinsky, firstname.lastname@example.org; [Representative] JP Sredzinski, email@example.com; and [Representative] Raghib Allie-Brennan Raghib.Allie-Brennan@cga.ct.gov
The Education Committee is holding a public hearing [this] Friday, March 1, at 1 pm. You can submit written testimony no later than Thursday, February 28. Testimony should be in Word or PDF format attached to an email. You must include your name, your town, and the bill number in the subject line and email testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Lorrie Rodrigue, Superintendent
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