Updated, 11:55 a.m.: Comment from Mayor Harry Rilling.
NORWALK, Conn. – The pressure is on for Norwalk Public Schools funding, as state legislators struggle to agree on a biennial budget and Gov. Dannel Malloy’s promise of a $4.4 million cut to Norwalk next year remains on the table.
“We worked mightily and agreed with the unions to avoid layoffs on the local budget, but if we get hit with cuts of this magnitude layoffs will be inevitable,” Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons said Monday on Facebook. “We figure we can wait a few more weeks for a budget, but after that we may have to start taking protective actions (as other towns already are).”
The $4.4 million cut would be for Fiscal Year 2018. Lyons in mid-July said that Malloy’s order, which would be negated if the legislature agrees upon a budget, includes eliminating Norwalk’s Alliance District grant and a reduction in November’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula payment. The Alliance grant was factored into this year’s budget as $1.1 million, and the ECS payment would be $800,000 less than expected.
“We won’t have specifics until the final numbers come from the state,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in a email. “Any cut in our already inadequate ECS funding would have a significant impact. Once we have details, we will have to meet with the Superintendent and the Board of Education. Hopefully, the legislature will craft a budget and our cuts will be minimal.”
While state Democrats promise that the cuts will not be enacted as outlined, Malloy last week indicated that he may shift his cuts, saying that he can no longer protect municipalities.
Lyons on Monday took to Facebook to protest Malloy’s possible cut and express outrage over the deal made last week by state Democrats with state unions.
“Just received the latest executive order from Gov. Malloy – it cuts Norwalk’s ECS funding by $4.4 million,” Lyons wrote to the Facebook group Norwalk Parents for Education, speaking of the executive order signed by Malloy on June 30.
Lyons did not respond to an email asking why he called the June 30 order “the latest executive order” that had been “just received,” although he had commented on it in July.
Earlier, he had forwarded an email from James J. Finley, Jr., president and founder of Finley Government Strategies, to Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) members and CCJEF legal team, announcing the possible cut and treating it like new information.
“The governor would enact a $506 million cut in overall ECS funding – a cut of 25%. In the absence of a state budget the governor is expected to order deeper cuts to many school districts. I will keep you apprised of further (developments),” Finley wrote.
Finley included links to news stories, including one posted Monday on NPR, “Connecticut School Districts In Limbo As State Budget Stalls.”
Malloy on Aug. 2 asked Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary Ben Barnes for information on “municipal aid, local tax levels, expenditure trends, fund balances, and any other criteria that could better inform our decisions.”
“In recent years, I have made it a priority to protect aid to municipalities,” Malloy wrote to Barnes. “In contrast, we have made drastic changes to how we fund other areas of state government – both in total funding and in our rationale for how limited dollars are allocated. …. Throughout all of this, we’ve held town aid harmless. In fact, it could be said that we have sacrificed state services and raised re venues in order to shield town government from facing difficult choices required of state leaders and implementing reforms.”
Changes must be on the table, Malloy said, explaining, “If we fail to recalibrate aid based on shifting local demographics, economies, and need, we risk perpetuating an inequitable distribution of burden among our communities.
CT News Junkie on Aug. 3 quoted House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, as saying that any final budget proposal is likely to look different than Malloy’s when it comes to municipal funding and asserting that there’s bipartisan consensus to mitigate the cuts originally proposed by Malloy.
“(W)hen a budget is finalized I believe we will not see these cuts at the level of the governor’s plan,” Aresimowicz is quoted as saying.
News Junkie on Monday reported that Democrats are predicting a “70/30 budget,” with 30 percent of the budget being items that legislators don’t like, but said that Malloy had indicated that he would not sign a budget without municipal aid cuts.
Lyons in the Monday Facebook thread said, “The die was cast when the legislature made the deal with the state unions. By guaranteeing them no layoffs for 4 years and no benefit changes for 10 years (something absolutely unheard of in the private sector or even in local union contracts), they left the state with nowhere to go for many years except big tax increases (again) and municipal aid cutbacks.”
The union deal is said to save taxpayers more than $1.57 billion over the next two years. The remaining budget deficit is $3.5 billion.
Lyons directed readers to an opinion published by State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), saying that the deal “doesn’t go far enough in making the structural changes necessary to eliminate Connecticut’s massive unfunded liabilities and persistent deficits.”
Lavielle on Facebook said, “The governor has said that while he is making decisions, he is going to help just a small number of towns by pulling money away from the others. This is one of the many reasons why the majority party’s inability or unwillingness to release a single budget proposal this year is unconscionable.”
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) did not respond to numerous attempts by Facebook posters to get him to respond to the thread.
NancyOnNorwalk’s attempts to contact Duff were not successful.
Last week, Duff released a statement regarding the state union deal:
“This agreement is the latest step toward making government more affordable and more efficient for taxpayers. Outside independent analysts confirm that the new SEBAC agreement makes important long-term changes to our state employee pension and benefit programs resulting in significant savings for taxpayers—roughly $24 billion over the next 20 years.
“These savings are another important step toward reaching a final balanced budget that protects taxpayers, vital services and the important economic gains made here in Connecticut.”
A parent on the Facebook thread asked what could be done.
Barbara Meyer Mitchell, founder of the parents’ Facebook group and a Democratic candidate for the Board of Education, urged readers to write to Malloy, Duff and Aresimowicz.
“Demand a mini budget to maintain services until a biannual budget can be negotiated. Demand equitable ECS funding,” she wrote.
“(W)e’ve made every call we could, testified, written letters, visited Hartford. All we can do now is wait and watch,” Lyons wrote.
Another parent asked Lyons about the state’s minimum budget requirement for education, which requires municipalities to maintain school funding at the same level it was at in the previous school year.
“There is a minimum funding obligation regarding LOCAL funds … but if the State cuts our funding, we’re not legally obligated to replace THAT,” Lyons replied. “Bottom line to all of this — we need the State to get a budget done, and get it done fast. At this point I’ve given up on getting any significant additional ECS funding, probably for years. I’m just hoping we can get level funding rather than a cut.”