State education board eyes closing 2 vo-tech schools, other cuts

Mike Varonka teaches students at Emmett O'Brien Vocational Technical School in Ansonia.

CTMirror.org File Photo

Mike Voaronka teaches students at Emmett O’Brien in Ansonia.

The State Board of Education Wednesday endorsed a proposal to close two of the state’s vocational technical high schools and end all athletic programs at the remaining ones if the department’s budget is cut by 10 percent in the next fiscal year – an amount the governor’s budget chief has told agencies is likely.

These state-run schools enroll 11,000 students and have steadily been cut over the last several years as state legislators worked to close budget deficits. The board did not pick which two schools would be closed.

With the state facing at least $1.3 billion in red ink again in the fiscal year that begins July 1, the governor’s budget office has asked every state agency to start planning for a 10 percent cut to discretionary spending.

For the education department, that’s $82 million.

“It’s painful. It’s simply painful,” Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell told the state board Wednesday. “We have to present a 10 percent reduction. If an agency is unable to do that, they will do it for us.”

The $16.3 million cut to the technical schools isn’t the only line item being hit.

Here’s a rundown of where the remaining $65.7 million would be cut;

  • $1.2 million to the Commissioner’s Network, a group of 19 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. Funding for this program, one of the state’s chief initiatives for intervening in failing schools, has been regularly cut even as additional schools have joined the network. The proposal says this cut would be accommodated by “close monitoring” of “the level of resources required to provide critical supports to those schools.”
  • $1.6 million for six programs that largely provide after-school tutoring or other supports in the state’s worst-off schools. Those programs include: Leadership, Education, Athletics in Partnership; the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program; Bridges to Success; the Alternative High School and Adult Reading Incentive Program; and CommPACT Schools.
  • $4.2 million for Priority School District grants, which help the state’s 19 worst-performing schools pay for tutors, extended school day programs and other supports.
  • $1.3 million in reimbursements to schools that provide school breakfast and healthy foods.
  • $3.1 million for the department’s Talent Development Office, which largely provides professional development to districts and oversees the state-mandated teacher evaluation system.
  • $2.9 million to the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford.

In addition, numerous grants would be combined into one competitive grant, and overall funding would be cut by 10 percent.

The governor’s budget office was noncommittal about whether they would move forward with closing two trade schools.

“We’re developing the budget for the FY 2018 and FY 2019 biennium. The proposals submitted by SDE are for planning purposes only, and we will take the time to thoroughly and diligently work with the agency to determine which options will be included in the governor’s budget proposal in February.

“Prudence and statute require OPM assess each agency’s budget for FY18 now to craft the best possible budget for the upcoming biennium,” said Chris McClure, a spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management.

Earlier this year, the legislature’s nonpartisan budget office pegged the deficit for the upcoming fiscal year at $1.3 billion.

And there already are signs that the current budget’s revenue picture is not stable. The Malloy administration reported in late June that it had downgraded expected income tax receipts for the outgoing fiscal year by $75 million, and sales tax revenues by $28 million. And since prior year’s tax receipts are a crucial factor used to project likely revenues in the following year, the new forecast probably lowers expectations for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

In June, Ben Barnes, the governor’s budget chief, warned agency leaders more cuts would be necessary.

“Most agencies will likely face discretionary spending reductions of at least 10 percent below fiscal 2017 levels in fiscal 2018. As a result, we will be significantly challenged to provide all of the services and programs that many have come to expect,” Barnes wrote all state agency leaders.

In September, Barnes again wrote agency leaders to inform them cuts will be needed, and estimated the state deficit for the upcoming fiscal year would be $1.2 billion.

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