To the Editor
With budget time arriving the city’s share of the state Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) is always a good discussion topic raising questions about why the city’s Democrat legislators can’t shake the Democratic super majority Legislature for some more funding. According to Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) estimates for 2014 the city will receive a modest $300,000 raise (about 3 percent) to about $11 million.
Over in Stamford they did much better with a 10.5 percent increase of almost $1 million to $9.8 million. (Having a former mayor as governor seems to help.) Even Danbury did better with a $2.7 million raise to $27.3 million or 11.2 percent raise.
Norwalk looks like the odd man out. Maybe its Democratic legislators have to work harder. Even if Norwalk’s Democratic legislators worked harder the ECS gravy pot is limited. Overall, about one-half of the $51 million ECS pot goes to just 5 welfare wards of the state – Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury and New Britain. Together, those five cities have enough legislators in tow to keep the ECS more or less unchanged. Forever.
The original purpose of the ECS formula was to boost school teacher salaries in the state’s welfare wards – our major cities – and that purpose has largely been met, with half the total funding allocated to those five cities. Norwalk has done even better, using ECS funding to give its teachers the fifth-highest salaries in the state. Spread over 1,000 or so teachers, Norwalk’s ECS funding amounts to about $11,000 per teacher. That’s not a good case for boosting Norwalk’s share of ECS funding. Odds are pretty good that the public school unions would demand higher salaries from any increased ECS funding.
It’s also worth noting that the ECS formula spreads the gravy to rich and poor alike. While the five surrounding towns weren’t scheduled for increases, next year all together they will receive about $7.7 million in ECS. So here we have some of the wealthiest towns in America with roughly the same school population as Norwalk (but incomes two to three times larger on average) receiving all together about 30 percent less school aid than Norwalk. Norwalk’s legislators could, but haven’t, made the case that ECS for wealthy towns ought to be sharply reduced or even eliminated.
Here the ECS politics are pretty clear. Both Stamford and the surrounding towns largely fund major Connecticut politics. So it’s not surprising that the five surrounding wealthy towns plus Stamford receive about a third of total ECS funding. The rich get one third while the welfare ward cities get half with the rest left over for everyone else.
The ECS formula is Connecticut politics at its best. Hopefully, during the current round of school budget discussions, we’ll not be sidetracked into discussions about sending the mayor (or whoever) to Hartford to grab some more ECS funding to pay our already embarrassingly overpaid school teachers. The ECS formula is set in stone.
Peter I Berman