Malloy administration wants to make vo-tech schools a local responsibility

The Malloy Administration plans to shift responsibility for running the the 10,600-student vocational-technical school system to local and regional school districts, the governor’s budget director said Tuesday.

“We believe having a whole statewide school system creates a disconnect within the local districts and regions,” Secretary of Policy and Management Ben Barnes said. “We recognize that we’re going to have to undertake a very long-term process of turning over the financial responsibility for those districts over to local governments and incorporate that into our funding formula in a way that’s fair.”

The state currently pays $140 million to operate the 17 vocational-technical schools across the state. Their total budget is $159 million, which includes funding from tuition, school lunches and $5 million in one-time federal stimulus dollars.

Barnes said the shift in financial responsibility for these schools will not be included in the biennial budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will release today, but moving towards reducing the statewide central office will.

“We don’t see the need to have an administration here at the state level to service those schools,” Barnes said.

Tom Murphy, spokesman for the State Department of Education, said there are currently 66 full-time state employees in the central office. About 1,200 employees work in the schools.

“Vo-techs are a big item and expense in our budget,” Murphy said. “In most other states these schools are funded by regional councils and not by the state. Connecticut is unique in that.”

The state’s vocational-technical schools have been operated and funded by the state since the first one opened in New Britain in the 1940s, Murphy said.

Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said it’s a bad idea to put more responsibility on local districts that are already operating on a “bare bones” budget.

“If the funding falls back on the school districts, this is a cost districts can neither afford nor take on. This would be an extra burden,” he said. “At a time when districts are cutting programs, laying off teachers, this is just not a good idea.”

Local schools have cut 2,700 teaching jobs in the last two years and have signaled there are more cuts to come.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, and co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said “local districts are in no position to take on these costs.” But, he said, “it may be reasonable to seek some sort of financial responsibilities” from towns.

He added that the support of the schools by the state has not been adequate

“We need to improve the way our technical high schools are managed. They have really been neglected by the previous administration,” he said.

The vo-tech schools have received much attention for having aged school buses and outdated equipment. Numerous vo-tech school administrators testified last year on the deteriorating conditions of the schools, which led to a new law aimed at improving the system. That law requires the State Bond Commission to vote twice a year on whether to allocate money for maintenance and equipment, retires all school buses 12 years and older and requires the vo-tech superintendent compile an annual report on the adequacy of funding and resources.

In that report delivered to lawmakers in December, Superintendent Patricia Ciccone, wrote “disrepair and hazardous conditions” remain at the vo-tech schools and “While the CTHSS is meeting the needs of our students as well as those in Connecticut’s business and industries, it is with less and less resources.”

Sharon Palmer, head of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut who represents the teachers at the vo-tech schools, said she agrees the management needs to change.

“I think there’s a general consensus that these schools need to be moved out from the SDOE because these schools don’t get the attention they deserve,” she said. “I am not sure where they belong but we need to talk about it and decide. They’ve fallen behind and they’ve been neglected.”