Cities and towns would have to shoulder more of the cost of new school construction under a bill that would reduce the state's share of construction costs.
Currently the state reimburses part of the cost of new construction on a sliding scale from 20 percent to 80 percent, paying the wealthier districts 20 percent of the cost and the neediest districts 80 percent.
The bill would reduce the reimbursement formula to 10 percent to 70 percent of the cost, depending on the community.
As a result, municipalities would lose an estimated $10,000 to $100,000 of eligible construction costs, while the state would see significant savings, according to the state's analysis of the bill.
The bill, originally proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, would not change the 20-percent to 80-percent reimbursement for school renovations.
If the school district can demonstrate that building a new school is cheaper than renovating, it would be reimbursed using the more generous scale, said Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee.
"I think this will simultaneously save state money and encourage localities to be as efficient as possible," Fleischmann said.
As a result, local school districts planning to build new schools have been scrambling to get their architectural renderings and other paperwork in by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, to qualify for the more lucrative formula, said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education.
The measure is part of a huge budget implementer bill being debated in the legislature that also would allow cities and towns with declining student enrollment to cut school spending by $3,000 a student.
The measure would apply to districts that have had a sizable drop in enrollment and are meeting federal standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act.
To qualify for state aid, municipalities are required to spend at least the same amount on their school budget as the year before. Some towns, especially those with dwindling enrollment, complain that the requirement is unfair.
The new measure has other restrictions as well. A school district's budget couldn't be reduced by more than one half of 1 percent. Also, if a district permanently closes schools, the state education commissioner would have the authority to adjust the education budget, Fleischmann said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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