Education department reluctantly identifies $4.5 million in cuts

The directions to state agency leaders from the governor’s budget chief were clear: Don’t ask for additional state funding and identify cuts.

On Wednesday, officials at the State Department of Education shared where they propose cutting $4.5 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

State funding would be eliminated for a program that provides about 300 New Haven elementary students from low-income families with after-school homework help and access to extracurricular activities, such as African drumming, cooking and archaeology.

Funding for separate after-school and summer camps that focus on engineering would also be eliminated. That cut would affect programs in Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Hartford, Meriden, Milford, Newington, New Britain, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford and Waterbury.

Other programs for which funding would be eliminated include:

  • A family literacy program at John C. Clark Elementary and Middle School in Hartford.
  • A dental clinic at James Curiale School in Bridgeport.
  • The extended day program at Lincoln-Bassett School in New Haven.
  • The mental health supports at Walsh Elementary School in Waterbury.

In addition, some programs would sustain substantial cuts:

  • Funding provided to suburban districts to enroll Hartford residents would be reduced by $500,000.
  • Funding for reading instructional supports in some of the state’s lowest-performing schools would be cut by $250,000.

“They’re all heartbreakers,” said Stephen Wright, a member of the state Board of Education from Trumbull. “But I understand the way it works.”

As the state heads into a difficult fiscal year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief  wrote all state agency leaders in August requesting they provide him with places to cut. The cuts will be up to the legislature and Malloy to act upon.

“You should explore opportunities to eliminate, scale back, or achieve significant efficiencies across all budgeted areas,” Ben Barnes, the Democratic governor’s budget secretary wrote state agency leaders. “We expect that agencies will not request any new funding for fiscal 2017.”

The state is expected to provide $2.78 billion in education funding to municipalities this school year, an increase of $37 million over education funding levels in 2010.

Education department leaders told the State Board of Education Wednesday that the cuts were difficult, but the department was expected to offer them.

“We were at the bone already,” Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell told the board, but she said the cuts will not impact the “core mission” of the agency.

The department recommended preserving the primary education grant that funds municipalities — the Education Cost Sharing grant — at the level lawmakers approved in the two-year state budget earlier this year. Cuts were also avoided in various department grants to districts that promise to make certain reforms.

Several board members felt the proposed cuts struck at the heart of what the department should be responsible for.

“We are going backwards,” said Theresa Hopkins-Staton of West Hartford.

Read the budget proposals here and here.

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