New state ECS formula could mean $1.4 million less for Norwalk

General Assembly Education Committee Gail Lavielle 032813
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton) pleads Norwalk’s case to the General Assembly’s Education Committee Thursday.

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.”


12 responses to “New state ECS formula could mean $1.4 million less for Norwalk”

  1. David

    So, let me see if I have this right. The BET reduced the education budget by $1.4 million recently because it expected Norwalk to get that amount in additional ECS money.

    Norwalk will now NOT be getting that money.

    Will the BET be adding back in the $1.4 million to the school budget?

  2. I asked Mike Lyons what the reaction of city officials had been. He said, by email, “The reactions I’ve gotten so far are a mixture of amazement and anger; we’ve been talking with the City folks about closing a few hundred thousand dollar gap, but no one has a solution at this point to a sudden $1.4 million jump in that gap.”

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    This is really sad. We spend months crafting an operating budget in the midst of a slowly recovering economy. We desperately want to figure out how to provide the BOE with sufficient funds. We desperately want to provide the city with sufficient funds. We’re dong all this despite benefit costs rising between 15-20%. AND NOW THIS! I just hope the governor and our other representatives in Hartford overturn what just happened. Talk about a mess: The governor’s big deal task force spends months and months devising a new version of the ECS formula (which could have been done in two days) and all that work goes down the drain.

  4. Mike Lyons

    Remember that the City took a $1.4 million cut from the State, and took it out of the BoE budget because our budget was supposed to get a $1.7 million increase, which the two education co-chairs have taken away from us. Fleischman’s calls Norwalk as a wealthy community so that’s why the money was taken from us. Fleischman represents West Hartford. This is from an article last year on then-BoE Chairman Chiaramonte’s trip to Hartford to lobby for more equitable ECS funding for Norwalk: “‘When you do a search on West Hartford, you’ll find their median family income is close to $99,000. Norwalk’s is only $83,000,’ said Chairamonte, who also cited figures that West Hartford’s cost of living was 31 percent lower than Norwalk’s and that they receive $2.26 per dollar sent to Hartford while Norwalk receives 13 cents. ‘They make more money than us, their taxes are lower, it’s cheaper to live up there. Kiplinger’s also rates it as one of the best cities to live in in the next decade. Connecticut Magazine says it’s the third best educated district behind Greenwich and Fairfield,’ he said. ‘I called up their school district and I asked (Director of Finance and Planning for the West Hartford Public Schools) Mr. Charles Ward, I called him up and asked if he had any cuts this year. He said no. Did you have any cuts last year? None last year. They have about 1,000 students less than us. Talk about inequity. That district up there is 86 percent white. We’re getting peanuts. We’re getting crumbs. That’s what’s being brought back to Norwalk.’

  5. oldtimer

    That explains why Chairamonte was so angry. He found out how Norwalk has been treated by the state for many years and learned what it was like to not be able to get anybody to really listen. The people with the votes know nothing about Norwalk and are not interested in learning. Norwalk is on the “gold coast” in Fairfield County, so it must be rich.

  6. LWitherspoon

    Rep. Fleischman was rude, condescending, and mocking of Jack Chiaramonte when Chiaramonte went to Hartford to advocate for more money for Norwalk schools. I can’t wait for the day that Rep. Fleischman runs for a statewide office, it will be a great pleasure to vote against him.

  7. David

    But wait, the State didn’t *take away* $1.4 million – that would imply it was our and was taken back. There was an expectation that $1.4 million EXTRA would be given to Norwalk to fund education. The BET *removed* that same amount from the BoE budget in anticipation of getting the money.

    That hasn’t happened. So, the BET counted the proverbial chickens before they were hatched.

    In short, it’s time for the City to reinstate the $1.4 million it took from the BoE.

  8. LWitherspoon

    I believe what Mike Lyons is saying above is that the State reduced year over year funding to non-education City programs by $1.4 million. That was money that the State gave Norwalk last year that it will not give this year.
    Then the State said it was increasing funding to Norwalk by $1.7 million, but the $1.7 million had to be spent on education.
    The net increase in funding to Norwalk was a paltry $300,000. In order to fill in the hole created by the $1.4 million reduction in state aid for non-education programs, the budget reduced City funding to schools by $1.4 million. This seemed reasonable because the State said it was increasing funding to Norwalk by $1.7 million.
    Now the State has changed its mind and is reducing its extra aid to Norwalk schools by, coincidentally, $1.4 million.
    The result is that year-over-year State funding to Norwalk will now drop by $1.1 million.
    The difference in state aid for Norwalk versus West Hartford is outrageous, especially when you consider the information in Mike Lyons’s comment above. I see Gail Lavielle doing her level best to correct the inequity and get more funds for Norwalk schools. Where are our other state representatives in all of this?
    Paging Bob Duff, are you there Bob?

  9. David

    @LWitherspoon: No, I don’t believe that is what Mike Lyons is saying – perhaps if Mike is following the story he could clarify. I’ve re-read the reporting from the Hour and it appears to me that the $1.4 million cut to the BoE budget by the BET happened *after* news of a $1.7 million increase to education via ECS was announced. (of course, this was a proposal, not a promise).

    Someone from the BoE was quoted at the time as saying they wished the state did nothing, because the extra money would come with extra strings.

    Now, of course, the money isn’t coming. And the BET, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t made any move to re-instate the $1.4 million it took out of the BoE budget in anticipation of state funding that hasn’t materialized.

  10. David

    Can I also just add my general thoughts on the ECS situation.

    It’s unfair, and it’s not going to change.

    If we change ECS, we’ll essentially be asking politicians from the rest of the state to give up their share, and force higher taxes on their constituents. That’s not happening.

    IMHO, we should really start to focus our energy on the things we can change. ECS is not one of them.

    The only hope for change would come when the aggrieved cities (Norwalk, Stamford and ???) make a conscious decision to form a special interest voting block, regardless of which party they belong to, and then exercise that power in Hartford. I’m talking about filibusters of all bills from the mundane to the important. The citizens of all aggrieved cities should vote *out* incumbent governors, Lt. gov’s, DA’s, Secretary of State, etc. Nothing will get the attention of those politicians like knowing that they enter office as a one-termer.

    Of course, in order for that to happen it will require cooperation and focus from the aggrieved cities elected reps and citizens.

    The other alternative is to just get rid of ECS.

    IMHO, of course.

  11. piberman

    What remains puzzling is why Norwalk’s Democrat legislators and local elected officials haven’t been able to convince their super majority Democrat colleagues in Hartford for a more equitable cut of the ECS $2 billion pie. Maybe is time for Norwalk’s Democrat politicians to hire a bus and go to Hartford and speak with the Governor whose seeking support for his re-election. After all Democrats are supposed to take care of Democrats.

  12. Don’t Panic

    Been there. Mr. Chiarmonte brought back the T-shirt. If politics really is the issue, perhaps voting out Mr. Moccia will improve our bargaining position. But I doubt it.
    Perhaps Mr. Cafero could help us too?

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