Connecticut Department of Education threatens penalty for towns who reduced education spending

The Connecticut State Department of Education may penalize some towns for reducing their education budgets after Gov. Dannel Malloy cut education funding for municipalities.

Groton, Southington, Canterbury, Killingly, Montville, and Watertown all received letters from the SDE informing them they will be in violation of the state’s minimum budget requirement if they do not contribute additional funds to their boards of education by July, 1st.

If the towns do not comply with the state’s minimum budget requirement, they will be penalized twice as much next year.

Connecticut’s minimum budget requirements means municipalities cannot reduce education funding to their school districts unless they receive a reduction in state education funding, show a declining school population or have been able to realize savings in other ways.

As part of the 2017 budget agreement, Gov. Dannel Malloy was instructed to find $182 million in savings. He did so, in part, by cutting $91 million in education cost sharing funds to municipalities.

The letter sent to superintendents by the SDE indicated they do not consider “holdbacks” made by the governor as a reduction in funding. “Thus, towns are not permitted to reduce education appropriations by holdback amounts.”

Montville, for instance, saw a reduction in state funding of $1 million, while Southington saw a reduction of $1.7 million, according the Office of Policy and Management.

As a result of the reduction in state funds, Montville was forced to lay-off two teachers and is privatizing its school bus service in an effort to save money. Montville’s education budget, however, was still slightly lower than the previous year, leading SDE to notify the town they were short by $177,506.

Southington also was forced to make some cuts to their education budget, but SDE says the town needs to increase its education funding by $1.5 million in order to meet the MBR and avoid facing penalties.

The two districts potentially face penalties of $355,012 for Montville and $3.2 million for Southington.

However, the Connecticut Council of Small Towns disagrees that the holdbacks do not represent funding cuts and says they are pushing to ensure that a town’s MBR reflects the governor’s cuts.

“Towns need to be able to better manage education costs to control property tax levels,” COST director Betsy Gara said in an email. “The MBR, unfortunately, makes it very difficult to budget within their means.”

Gara indicated that COST is working to eliminate the MBR mandate for towns that are not part of the Alliance District of poor-performing schools.

Alliance district schools are not able to reduce education funding under any circumstances, however Groton — part of the Alliance District — reduced its education funding by $1.5 million after closing one of its schools.

Despite the reduction in costs through closing the school, the SDE says Groton cannot reduce its education budget from last year and faces a $3.3 million penalty.

The SDE indicates that three of the six towns indicated they will remit the remaining funds. The SDE remains “confident” they can reach a similar agreement with the remaining three districts.

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