Connecticut Towns Raise Red Flag On School Budgets
April 09, 2009
Municipal leaders and education advocates used a lot of metaphors Wednesday to describe state and local budget problems.
"You can't squeeze blood from a stone."
"We're facing a tsunami."
Public education is a ship in troubled water, heading straight toward an iceberg without radar or binoculars.
The bottom line: We need more money from the state or we need relief from unfunded mandates. And we need it now.
"The governor and General Assembly must recognize that the bulk of education costs cannot continue to be passed on to cities and towns," said Dianne Kaplan deVries, the project director for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding.
DeVries was one of several speakers at a press conference hosted by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. Municipal and school leaders from across the state gathered at the Legislative Office Building to urge lawmakers to give more relief to towns and cities that don't feel they can raise taxes any higher to balance budgets.
Education leaders argued that municipalities need more money from the state's Education Cost Sharing grants. In their budget proposals, both Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democrat-led legislature proposed keeping funding the same as last year for the grants.
"We appreciate flat funding," said Cal Heminway, president of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and a member of the Granby Board of Education. "But understand that flat funding is actually a cut on a local level."
That's because, education leaders say, school staff will continue to get raises as part of their contracts, which were often negotiated before the economy soured. But for the most part, districts have yet to ask for concessions from unions representing teachers and administrators. Several mayors at the press conference Wednesday said it's too early to ask teachers' unions for givebacks because the budget numbers aren't firm yet.
"If we had a bottom line, we could have an honest discussion," said Melody Currey, mayor of East Hartford. "To hang the teachers out to dry because they're not at the table yet is not fair."
Some school districts, like Hartford, don't plan to ask their teachers to give back. Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who is also the chairman of the board of education in Hartford, said the district recently bumped up teacher pay in the city to be more competitive with other districts.
"Asking for concessions on teacher compensation when we just finished that discussion is disingenuous," Perez said in an interview after the press conference.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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