Falling enrollment could cost schools $18M under Malloy plan

Proposed legislation allowing cities and towns to cut their school spending when enrollment drops–part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s education funding package–could reduce the collective local school budgets by more than $18 million, the head of a superintendents’ group says.

“We’re talking major teacher layoffs if this is approved,” said Joseph Cirasuolo, head of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. “Those dollar amounts are tough to accommodate.”

A district-by-district list of potential cuts, circulated by Cirasuolo to local superintendents, has 20 districts losing more than $300,000 a year if members of the General Assembly approve Malloy’s plan. Those districts are responsible for teaching almost one-quarter of the state’s public school students.


Superintendent association’s Joseph Cirasuolo: ‘We’re talking major teacher layoffs’ (Chion Wolf, WNPR)

The bill — approved unanimously by members of the Education Committee last month — would allow municipal leaders to cut the amount they spend on education when their student enrollment declines.

“We just think this makes sense,” said Jim Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. “We just think in these tough times, if there are ways to decrease spending then towns should be able to see some of those savings.”

This proposal could certainly intensify the tug-of-war towns and local school boards face when determining how much of the budget will go to pay for education. Almost 70 percent of municipal spending currently goes to pay for education, according to CCM. And because tows are forbidden by current state law to cut school allocations, even if fewer students attend, that percentage is unlikely to dwindle.

“State leaders, in an effort to make themselves feel good for not fully funding their share of education, have this requirement that towns spend a certain amount,” Finley said.

Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford, wants to change that and give town the opportunity to cut the amount they spend on education. Stamford Public Schools would not lose money under his proposal because enrollment actually has increased, making it one of 42 districts immune from cuts under his proposal.

But school officials in districts that could lose money are concerned.

Abby Dolliver, the superintendent of Norwich Public Schools, is one of them.


Jim Finley, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities: ‘We just think this makes sense’

“We are the poster child,” she said. Year after year, her district has barely met the minimum state budget requirements. “This could be devastating… I think the city [leaders] would like the ability to lower funding because in years that they didn’t have the money then they could just cut.”

She said the $403,000 her schools would be at risk of losing would mean she may have to fire eight more teachers. Her district has had laid off almost 70 teachers and staff over the last two years.

“Right now we have pretty much just what’s mandated… We don’t have books to cut anymore. We don’t have any more programs to cut. And we don’t have any more federal [stimulus] dollars,” she said.

Hartford Public Schools would be vulnerable to losing the most, the according to the CAPPS report. City schools have lost 589 students, which means the city council and mayor could cut their budget by $1.8 million.

Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, said he expects this change to have a “minimal impact” on school budgets.

“I don’t expect they’ll see enormous declines,” he said, noting that only a handful of cities only spend the minimum amount required. Leaders of those cities — which include New Britain and Bridgeport — should be able to reduce funding if enrollment declines, he said.

“We look at it as being reasonable,” he said.

Finley also said he doesn’t believe many towns will take advantage of the full amount they are allowed to cut if the bill becomes law, but Cirasuolo said the proposal leaves too much authority in the hands of town leaders to do just that.

“They will have the final say in how much is cut,” he said.