Updated 9:47 p.m., quote from Mike Barbis; updated 9:27 p.m. with reporting done from a state video.
NORWALK, Conn. – Prospects for rebuilding Norwalk Public Schools look bleak, given the reconfiguration of the state’s ECS (Educational Cost Sharing Formula) that happened Thursday in a state committee meeting, Norwalk Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said, using colorful language.
“Norwalk gets screwed again!” he said in an email. “Despite valiant attempts by State Rep. (Gail) Lavielle and Gov. (Dannel) Malloy to right the unfairness, upstate powers that be are once again perpetuating the travesty of ECS. Thanks to this outrageous situation we will have no funding for restoring positions or rebuilding our school system.”
Under the new bill passed by the General Assembly’s Education Committee, Norwalk’s 2014 ECS grant will be $10,999,197, state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton) said. That is more than $10,672,607 Norwalk got in 2012-2013, but less than the $12,376,887 proposed in Malloy’s bill.
That is far from being set in stone.
“I want to stress that nothing in the legislature is ever definitive until it has passed in both chambers, the House and the Senate,” Lavielle said in an email. “And even then, the governor has to sign any bill before it becomes law. So this bill from yesterday is not necessarily definitive. Norwalk’s various allocations could still change, and they could still go in any direction. It is up to the legislature, not the governor, to develop a final budget and vote on it.”
Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons emphasized that the new figure is $1.4 million less than expected.
“With the $1.4 million the city already took from our budget to cover their state budget cuts, this is a significant hit, if it stands,” he said, in an email. “We’re trying to get together with our legislative delegation to do something about it. Gail has been fighting the good fight for Norwalk, but the upstaters keep sticking it to us.
The ECS formula was revamped recently by a task force formed in 2011 to study the issue. The new formula weighed income more heavily in determining town wealth than under old formula, using Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) eligibility to determine student need and raises per-student foundation amount while freezing aid to the wealthiest towns.
Lavielle said committee members got the new version of the bill about an hour before the meeting began.
“The bill that passed yesterday in committee had originally been introduced as a governor’s bill and articulated points laid out by the governor’s budget proposal,” she said in an email. “Yesterday, we got a whole new version to vote on which was largely developed by the Education Committee chairs.”
It was the committees final meeting of the legislative session to vote on its own bills, she said.
There was some good news, Lavielle said.
“In the governor’s budget proposal, PILOT (Property in Lieu of Taxes) grants for all towns were moved into their education grants,” she said. “They weren’t part of the ECS formula; they were just included in each town’s ECS line item from the state. The bill passed yesterday puts the PILOT grants back where they’ve always been. Norwalk’s PILOT amount is $347,706. Under the governor’s proposal, there was ambiguity as to whether that money had to be used for education purposes or not. So with yesterday’s bill, that ambiguity is now eliminated. The PILOT money is no longer in the education grant.”
Mayor Richard Moccia has complained that Malloy’s plan eliminated state grants to towns for school transportation. The bill passed yesterday reinstates them, Lavielle said. Norwalk is now expected to get $69,624 for school transportation.
Lavielle argued on Norwalk’s behalf, and introduced an amendment that would readjust the formula to bring Norwalk’s 2014 ECS grant to $12,015,658. The amendment did not pass.
“The various changes in the formula had to do with how town wealth is calculated, and principally with the weighting of grand list vs median household income,” she said in an email. “Norwalk has always been shortchanged by the ECS formula because its property values are very high relative to its level of median household income. The governor’s proposal’s weighting was 50/50, as was the weighting in my amendment. The weighting in yesterday’s bill was 90 percent grand list/10 percent median household income.”
Lavielle said she doesn’t think the two chairmen of the committee, state Rep. Andrew Fleischman (D-West Hartford) and state Sen. Andrea Stillman (D-Waterford), have ever been to Norwalk and have the impression that the city is rich.
Lavielle’s attempt to get more money for Norwalk and Stamford is shown one hour and 27 minutes into the video on CT-N (Connecticut Network). Fleischmann described Norwalk as one of the “wealthy grand list community” in his reply, and called Lavielle’s amendment unconstitutional.
Stillman also urged a no vote on the amendment.
“I understand Rep. Lavielle is trying to capture more dollars for her community,” Stillman said. “I would venture to say all of us would do that. Certainly if you change the base you’re going to raise the base then everybody gets a few more dollars.”
Lavielle did not let that sit.
“I don’t, as Sen. Stillman implied, live in Norwalk,” she replied. “I happen to live in Wilton, which is a neighboring town. I feel I need to say one thing, because it has come up at various times in our discussions. Wilton is a wealthy town. Westport, the other town I represent, is a wealthy town. Norwalk by all kinds of measures, is not a wealthy city. I would not presume to simply try to give Norwalk more because I represent it. Norwalk is not a wealthy city – it has 44 percent of its children on free and reduced lunch. It has quite a number of measures of poverty that are substantial, and for quite some time the ECS formula has been recognized that the ECS allocation is somewhat inequitable.”
Stillman fired back, politely.
“I’m not going to belabor this, but, based on the fact that you are always out there championing Norwalk I thought that you lived or at least represented it,” Stillman said. “I give you kudos for your championship but I still can’t support the amendment.”
Those who voted against the amendment (at 1:35:10) shouted their “no” votes.
The process continues.
“Although I am not sure and won’t know definitely for a few days, I believe that the next step for this bill is for it to be referred to the Appropriations Committee (I sit on that too), where it will be brought up for a vote,” Lavielle said in an email. “Then it might go somewhere else, or it might go straight to the House.”