From the Associated Press
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to encourage small Connecticut school districts to regionalize or else risk losing some state aid is raising concerns among some
local leaders who argue that their towns are being unfairly penalized for just being little.
The legislation, starting fiscal year 2016, cuts state education aid — ranging from about $100 to $500 per student — for school districts with fewer than 1,000 students
and per-student costs that are at least 10 percent higher than the statewide average.
Malloy’s revised $20 billion budget plan sets aside $300,000 to help the districts in the meantime come up with ideas for regional cooperation and efficiency.
The Democratic governor argues that his proposal is a common-sense approach to sharing expenses and reducing burdensome local property taxes, which help cover
the lion’s share of local education costs in many small towns. Officials maintain they’ve already considered regionalization and it doesn’t always make sense.
“School districts already have an incentive to look for ways to consolidate and reduce costs because their budgets are stretched thin,’’ said Betsy Gara, the public
policy director for the Connecticut Council of Small Towns. “To penalize them simply for being a small school doesn’t make sense.’’
Malloy’s proposal was tucked into his sweeping, 163-page public education overhaul bill unveiled last month. It has been largely overshadowed by more high-profile
aspects of the legislation, such as revamping state teacher tenure rules.
In an interview on Friday with The Associated Press, Malloy read off a list of towns across the state he has identified with small student populations and well-paid
school administrators. In Norfolk, for example, he said there are 160 students, grades K-6, complete with a superintendent, principal and school board. Malloy estimated it costs about $19,000 a year to educate each child. “Everyone’s complaining about property taxes and for a lot of the communities that we’re talking about, the biggest expense is education. And I’m trying to generate a discussion about this subject,’’ Malloy said. “What we’re saying is, we’ll give you money, we’re going to give you money to sit down and have some serious discussions about how you save taxpayers money.’’
That’s just reality.’’According to Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs at the Office of Policy and Management, the governor’s budget office, there are currently 18 towns that have fewer than 1,000 pupils and spend over 110 percent of the average student expenditure. OPM’s list includes Bridgewater, Canaan, Chaplin, Cornwall, Goshen, Hampton, Kent, Lyme, Morris, Norfolk, North Canaan, Preston, Roxbury, Salisbury, Scotland, Sharon, Warren and Washington.