Towns keep school aid, but budget plan cuts other education funding

Though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy kept a pledge not to reduce the $1.9 billion Education Cost Sharing program that provides school aid to towns, his budget-cutting plan slashes funding for other education programs, including the state’s technical high school system.

That system would trim nearly $13 million this year — shutting  down adult education programs, eliminating more than 100 jobs, and ending art, music and sports programs under Malloy’s proposal.

In addition, the proposed cuts to education programs would reduce support for charter schools, inter-district after-school and summer programs, and regional services such as special education technical assistance and professional training programs.

The 17 technical high schools, with about 10,000 students, took some of the hardest hits among education programs Friday as Malloy called for sweeping budget cuts affecting services in virtually every sector of state government.

“The good news is we’re not closing any schools,” said Patricia Ciccone, superintendent of the technical high school system. “The bad news is the cuts are so deep, we have to consider how do we continue to operate effectively?

“We’re going to find a way to deploy peoople, but in the end what is the quality of programs you’re offering?”

The system has struggled with tight budgets and unfilled vacancies for several years, and officials have complained of a shortage of modern equipment in the schools’ trades programs. Despite a trend of academic improvement in recent years, some schools saw a decline in this year’s statewide test results.

 The governor submitted the budget-cutting plan after public employee unions failed to approve a concession package designed to save an estimated $1.6 billion over the next two years.

“Those kinds of deep cuts to the technical high schools would be a crying shame,” said State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee. “We’ve worked so hard over the last decade to bring that system around. Their scores are going up, graduation rates are going up.

“I’m sure the administration feels as I do, that this is a last resort.”

Fleischmann said he hopes the coalition of unionized public employees will find a way to accept the concession agreement.

“All of those [technical school] teachers who are getting pink slips are part of the coalition. Hopefully, they’ll be talking to their friends and colleagues to make them aware of the reality,” he said. “I expect the legislature will do what it can to mitigate the parts we find most troubling, but no matter what we do, there will be painful cuts…

“That’s why I’m imploring every state employee I know to do what they can to support the concessions.”

Under the governor’s plan, two adult education centers — aviation programs in Hartford and Stratford — would be closed, according to Ciccone, along with an array of adult programs including:

  • Dental at centers in Hartford and Windham.
  • Surgical technology in Hamden and Hartford.
  • Certified nurses aide in Bridgeport and Hamden.
  • Medical assistant in Milford.
  • And the licensed practical nurse program throughout the system.

Charter and magnet schools, as well as other efforts to promote inter-district diversity, also would face several cuts.

Malloy would cancel $405,000 for a new marine science magnet along the Connecticut River in East Hartford, another $195,000 for all magnet schools and most of the new per pupil funding for charter schools, about $500,000

The CommPACT Schools program, designed to help correct achievement gaps in struggling Connecticut schools, would lose $112,500 starting in 2012-13.

Cooperative programs between school districts, except those needed to address racial disparity issues defined in the Sheff v. O’Neill decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court, would lose $7.2 million.

Efforts to address other inequities in education, as well as learning disabilities, also were targeted.

Another $200,000 budgeted in the next fiscal year to help Connecticut address a federal class action lawsuit regarding adequate services for children with intellectual disabilities would be cut, while $88,200 would be trimmed off of special education programs.

And family resource centers — which provide an array of support services to needy families, particularly in poorer school districts — would lose 15 percent of their funding this year, more than $906,000, while after-school program aid would drop $2.3 million.

About $1.4 million, representing all funding for the regional education service centers except for $50,000 budgeted for a regional transportation and school calendar study, would be cut this year.

And more than $1.6 million for youth service bureaus, a leadership program and neighborhood youth centers would be taken out of the current budget.

Both basic grants to public libraries as well as library sharing programs also would be cut, falling more than $550,000 this year.

Despite the cuts, educators and municipal officials were relieved that Malloy did not propose reducing the Education Cost Sharing grant, which accounts for the bulk of state support for public education.

“Absolutely, we continue to be appreciative of the [governor’s] recognition of the significant negative impact a reduction would have,” said Patrice McCarthy, general counsel for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.