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Norwalk’s 2016 ECS ship has sailed – despite BoE cry, it’s too late

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), left, and State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) confer last year at a press conference in Norwalk.

State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25), left, and State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) confer last year at a press conference in Norwalk.

Updated, 5:50 p.m., comment from Sen. Bob Duff.

NORWALK, Conn. – It is too late for Norwalk’s state legislators to do anything this year about Connecticut’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, widely considered in this area to be unfair.

This came to light late Wednesday after State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) called NancyOnNorwalk to say that, although multiple citizens have contacted him to urge him to support State Rep. Fred Wilms’ House Bill 5670, there is no House Bill 5670.

An excerpt from the Legislature's joint rules states, on page 24, the deadline for joint committees. The Education Committee is in Group A.

An excerpt from the Legislature’s joint rules states, on page 24, the deadline for joint committees. The Education Committee is in Group A.

The Board of Education on March 1 passed a resolution asking Norwalk’s legislative contingent to bring forward a bill that would correct the inequities in the ECS formula, to be considered in this legislative session. Wilms (R-142) and State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) spoke at the Board meeting in support of the resolution, but the Legislature’s joint rules specify a Feb. 17 deadline for any new bill to be submitted to the Education Committee.

Wilms and Lavielle did not return emails sent at 10:53 p.m.

The Board was originally scheduled to discuss the resolution at its Feb. 23 meeting – six days after the deadline; the agenda for that meeting mentions HB 5670, in the drafted resolution:

  • WHEREAS, the Board believes that Rep Wilms’ proposal is a reasonable first step to correcting the inequity in Norwalk’s treatment by the State.
  • NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE NORWALK BOARD OF EDUCATION, that it hereby requests that the co-chairs of the Education Committee exercise their authority to bring forward House Raised Bill 5670 for consideration in the current session of the Legislature; and
  • BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board requests that all of the members of Norwalk’s legislative delegation join in requesting the co-chairs to bring forward said legislation.

The Feb. 23 meeting was cancelled. The agenda for the March 1 meeting had a new version of the drafted resolution.

  • WHEREAS, the Board believes that Rep Wilms’ proposal is a reasonable first step to correcting the inequity in Norwalk’s treatment by the State.
  • NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE NORWALK BOARD OF EDUCATION, that it hereby requests that the co-chairs of the Education Committee exercise their authority to bring forward a relevant Raised Committee Bill for consideration in the current session of the legislature
  • BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board requests that all of the members of Norwalk’s legislative delegation join in requesting the co-chairs to bring forward said legislation.

 

That resolution was voted on and unanimously passed, with no mention made of HB 5670.

HB 5670 was filed by Wilms in the 2015 legislative session. Unpassed bills expire at the end of each session.

“We originally thought we were going to endorse that bill,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in a Wednesday night email. “Before the meeting where we voted, Wilms corrected us and we changed the wording of the resolution (the resolution itself, not the cover sheet you’re referencing, is what was adopted by the Board, AND what was sent to the legislators (they weren’t sent the cover sheet, so they’d have no reason to believe we were endorsing that bill (at least if they bothered to read the resolution I sent them)).”

Duff said Wednesday that “everybody kept telling me” to support HB 5670.

He has gotten multiple emails asking him to support HB 5670 and it’s been reported in The Hour, he said, producing a multi-part PDF to back up his assertions.

Duff on ECS HB 5670 16-0317

On March 7, Jessica Garnett emailed Duff to ask him to support HB 5670, copying all the Norwalk legislators, including Wilms.

A March 7 post

A March 7 post on the Facebook page, Norwalk Parents for Education.

She posted the email on the Facebook group, Norwalk Parents for Education. The only comment from a politician came from Lyons, who wrote, “So – is he going to support the ECS reform proposal or not?”

Lyons is quoted in the Hour’s Sunday edition as saying, “Legislatively, both Gail Lavielle and Fred Wilms have been pushing legislation to reform the ECS formula. … For some reason, Sen. Duff and Reps. Morris and Perone have not responded to the Board and apparently are not supporting the reform legislation.”

The March 2 email from Lyons to Duff and the other legislators states, “The Board requests in the Resolution that ‘all the members of Norwalk’s legislative delegation join in requesting the [Education Committee] co-chairmens to bring forward [Wilms’] legislation.’”

Duff’s PDF includes a note he sent to the Senate Clerk’s Office on March 2, asking to co-sponsor HB 5670, and a reply saying there is no HB 5670. Duff subsequently asked State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, Senate chairwoman of the Education Committee, if there was a bill.

Duff said Wednesday he had numerous people in his office check the database for an ECS bill from Norwalk, in case the number had been wrong, and they found nothing.

He said he had read a quote from Wilms at the March 1 BoE meeting:

“All I am asking for from any of my colleagues at this point is even if someone could write a four-sentence letter that just says, ‘Hey, I support your bill.’ I understand my colleagues have many other responsibilities. I can appreciate maybe I take the lead on this, maybe they take the lead on other items. So a half-page letter is all we need right now.”

“I’m being asked to support a bill that doesn’t exist,” Duff said. “I think parents certainly thought there was a bill out there and it’s been perpetuated by the media and by others without any kind of clarification that there is no bill.”

An excerpt from the Legislature's joint rules states, on page 25, the deadline for joint committees. The Education Committee is in Group A.

An excerpt from the Legislature’s joint rules states, on page 25, the deadline for joint committees. The Education Committee is in Group A.

Lyons, in a Wednesday night email to NancyOnNorwalk, said that HB 5670 “was the number of the Bill that was the MODEL for what we wanted to do this year. Fred told me that because of the rules we couldn’t endorse that bill, but had to request that the co-chairs raise a committee bill that would do the same thing.  The final two paragraphs of the Resolution the Board adopted – which is the one we sent to Bob – makes very clear that we weren’t asking them to support Bill 5670, but to RAISE a bill that would do what that original bill would have. If Bob didn’t read our Resolution, that’s not our fault.”

Told the deadline for a new bill has passed, Lyons said, “Apparently both Wilms and Duff THOUGHT a bill could still be raised (Duff said to The Hour that he wrote to the committee co-chairmen on March 11 asking them to raise the bill).  If it was too late without our knowledge (or theirs), we’ll just do it again next year.”

“I never said to The Hour that I asked the Education Committee to ‘raise a bill,’” Duff wrote in a Thursday email. “I said in my letter to the Education Committee that if there was a bill or if they were planning on doing a bill then I would be supportive. ‘Raising’ a bill is a technical word in the legislature. I couldn’t ask the committee to ‘raise a bill’ so late.”

Duff’s March 11 letter to Slossberg, included in the PDF, states:

“Is the Education Committee currently considering any bill regarding the Education Cost Sharing formula as it affects Norwalk and other similarly situated communities? I couldn’t find one introduced, authored, or co-sponsored by Representative Wilms this session. If, in fact, no legislation on this issue is before the committee, I would request that the Committee duly consider this issue and all avenues available this session that would help these communities.”

Lyons posted The Hour’s story about Duff’s HB 5670 comments on the Norwalk Parents’ Facebook page at 5:59 p.m. Wilms responded, “As The Hour article states, I will keep submitting an ECS bill for Norwalk every year. I am hoping that all the Norwalk legislators can work together as a team.”

A Wednesday post on the Facebook page, Norwalk Parents for Education.

A Wednesday post on the Facebook page, Norwalk Parents for Education.

Former Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) wrote, “I’m very confused as to why our state senator, who is one of the top ranking democrats in Connecticut, cannot have an impact beyond the handful of dollars that by his own admission were brought back several years ago. He can’t even get people to talk??”

“Funding for our schools has never been a partisan issue,” Duff said on the phone with NoN. “It has always been non-partisan and we have always worked really hard together, all of us. When Bob Genuario was there, Larry Cafero was there, others, we have always worked hard together, we have always shared the credit when more money has come to Norwalk for schools or virtually anything. This is a first.”

“There’s two strategies to tackle ECS,” Duff said. “The first strategy is to try to change the formula. When I first got to the legislature the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader were both from Stamford and they couldn’t change the formula. The governor of Connecticut tried to change the formula and he couldn’t change the formula. There’s a lawsuit that’s been hanging around for 15 years – that’s probably the only thing that’s going to help change the formula. So if I wanted to spend all my time trying to change the formula I could do that, but we can see where that has led.”

He continued, “The second strategy is just trying to work within the system in different ways and trying to bring back additional money.”

Education funding also comes from the Priority Schools program, through Alliance District funding and through transportation funding, Duff said, producing a chart to show how much Norwalk’s educational funding has increased over the years (see the pdf link above).

“I am a graduate of the public schools,” Duff said. “I’ve been realtor for 20 years in town, championing the public schools and defending the schools even when there were five superintendents in four years.  I have been a long-term substitute teacher, I am the state senator and I have two kids in the public schools. So for anybody to imply or outright say that I don’t care what happens in the Norwalk public schools, it is insulting. That’s really why I am responding because at some point it gets to be enough is enough. I have worked very hard over the years to bring back funds for Norwalk, we have worked with the delegation to do that and it’s always been our number 1 priority.”

“They were saying that I wasn’t supporting a bill that doesn’t exist,” Duff said. “… Fred is new. If he wanted help, I would have been happy to help him, he could have just asked for help.”

Wilms made the ECS formula the centerpiece of his campaign two years ago. In January, he vowed to press a differently worded bill as soon as the session started Feb. 3.

This chart was contributed by State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25).

This chart was contributed by State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25).

20 comments

John Levin March 17, 2016 at 7:13 am

What is the ECS formula? How does it disadvantage Norwalk? By what statute is it established, and who administers it? Was there an ECS teach that I missed?

Mike Lyons March 17, 2016 at 7:40 am

Most of this kerfuffle could have been avoided if Bob had (1) actually read the Resolutiion the Board adopted and sent to him, instead of just reading news accounts and Facebook posts, and (2) responded to my email on behalf of the Board instead of ignoring it. No one had any idea what Bob was doing because Bob didn’t TELL anyone what he was doing.

And to be clear, I did some additional checking into legislative procedure this morning, and it turns out it is NOT to late to get some legislative action this year. First, language can be entered into any bill at almost any time. It can also be done through an amendment on the House floor. You can get legislation passed in any way without a special bill for it. Also, the Education Committee usually passes 3 or 4 “dummy bills” that exist specifically for the purpose of being vehicles that accommodate language about anything related to education that can be introduced any time during the session. In fact, Fred or Bob could introduce an amendment on the House floor even later, and that would be like a bill, because people can actually sign onto it. So there’s still life here! Hopefully Fred will find an opportunity to propose such an amendment, Bob can then sign on to that, and we’re back in business!

Mike Lyons March 17, 2016 at 7:55 am

John, the Educational Cost Sharing formula calculates how much state aid for education cities get. It is weighted 90% on grand list, 10% on income. This grossly shortchanges Norwalk, because our land values are high because of our location in Fairfield County, but our citizens’ income is not. Norwalk’s median family income is around $80,000. There are towns upstate with median incomes of $110,000 or higher than get three to four times as much state aid per child as Norwalk does. If we received the average allocation of socioeconomically comparable cities, we’d get about $23 million more in state aid each year.

Here’s a suggested reading list:

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/03/norwalk-boe-rings-ecs-bell-at-state

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/04/guest-opinion-skewed-ecs-hits-norwalk-in-ways-well-beyond-the-operating-budget

http://ccjef.org

Andrew March 17, 2016 at 7:56 am

Isn’t the State broke. I just wonder where this money is going to come from. Reading the news these days it would seem that trying to get more blood out of stone that has been sucked dry is a non-starter. Not sure it makes much difference in who does what, there is no money at the end of the rainbow.

Mike Lyons March 17, 2016 at 8:14 am

Andrew, there is money – but a good chunk of it is going to wealthier upstate communities rather than Norwalk, because of this ECS formula.

Susan Wallerstein March 17, 2016 at 8:54 am

John Levin’s suggestion is a good one. Besides helping everyone understand the flawed ECS formula, it is also important to understand the history as it relates to the Horton v Meskill and Sheff v O’Neill lawsuits. The BIG issue is Connecticut’s (the land of steady habits and local control) over-reliance on LOCAL PROPERTY TAXES to fund education. ECS was a response – a way of allocating more state $ in a more equitable way. However the formula is flawed with too much weight given to property value vs. income. So Bob Duff is absolutely right – in the absence of any political will to fix the formula (in large measure because this would mean allocating more $$$ overall to education since wealthier towns are not going to agree to anything that takes $ away from them) the Norwalk delegation members have gotten $ for Norwalk in other ways. It seems naive for some well-intentioned BOE members, rookie state legislators, and parents to suggest this can be fixed through legislation. Trash talk and political posturing only distract from the need to deal with a very real problem.

Susan Wallerstein March 17, 2016 at 8:58 am

@ Mike Lyons. It isn’t just “wealthier upstate communities” that are benefitting from the flawed ECS formula. Are the current state legislators who represent Norwalk and bordering suburbs willing to vote for a new ECS formula that would reallocate $ from one town to another??

Mike Lyons March 17, 2016 at 9:52 am

Actually, Susan, we know the answer to that question already — ALL the Republican legislators from the surrounding communities voted in favor of Gail Lavielle’s bill a couple of years ago to reform the ECS formula to benefit Norwalk, while ALL the Democrats voted against it. Why wouldn’t the Republicans vote for it? Their towns get practically nothing from the State on ECS. The wealthier upstate towns I was referring to (like West Hartford), BTW, are represented by Democrats. Now THAT’s politics in action!

Bryan Meek March 17, 2016 at 9:55 am

ECS is a fraud. Ponzi schemes have more positive outcomes than this current scam of us sending $500 million to Hartford and getting back a few crumbs. West Hartford gets double what Norwalk gets for one from ECS. There are dozens of other towns getting a disproportionate share. The legislature can do what is right, or it can do what it does now. Cities like Bridgeport get almost $200 million vs our $11mm. We are effectively paying their property taxes too when you boil it down.

Norwalk needs our money back for new schools and adequate funding, not a $17 million rail yard that benefits no one in they city. That could have been built in Danbury since that’s who uses this train line, but then Danbury gets also 2x in ECS funding that we do. We just keep getting the same story.

EveT March 17, 2016 at 11:22 am

Sorry to be cynical, but good luck holding a teach-in about the ECS. The only people who will come are those who already know how it works.
Most people just know that Norwalk receives much less than its fair share of education money, and complain that nobody fixes the problem. There’s plenty of opportunity to read up on ECS, but people don’t.
Here’s the political reality. In order for Norwalk and similar towns (e.g. Stamford) to get more education money, other towns would have to get less. No legislator from another town is going to vote to reduce their own town’s education money.
Hence the lawsuit, which Gov. Malloy was all for until he became governor; now he’s against it.

Mike Lyons March 17, 2016 at 1:47 pm

You’re right, Eve, but there is a tactical aspect of Rep. Wilms’ proposal (and the Board’s support for it). If we win the CCJEF lawsuit, typically the courts don’t actually write the legislation to implement the court’s ruling. Rather, the court sets parameters that need to be met and leaves it to the legislature to figure out a way to get there. By putting this legislation in the hopper — again and again — we get a mechanism in front of the legislature that could be implementing legislation for a win in court. So its a two-pronged attack: 1) pursue the lawsuit (Norwalk is a participating partner in the suit), and 2) keep pushing the corrective legislation every chance we get, to be in front of the pack if and when (hopefully!) we succeed in the lawsuit.

Sara Sikes March 17, 2016 at 3:30 pm

The ECs funding imbalance was explained to me years ago by a legislator as a geopolitical problem without a plausible resolution. the majority of Ct residents live in the northern part of the state, so most of the legislators do also. Add to this the reality that Fairfield County contains most of the wealthiest towns, along with a few middle class and one very poor city.
that is why, as Bob Duff stated, even when the leadership positions were held by two Dems from lower Fairfield County, they were unable to change the funding. a sitting governor from Stamford was unable to change it.
As long as most of the legislators are from places other than Fairfield County, they are not going to vote to take funding away from their own towns. maybe Susan is right, and the most recent lawsuit can bring about change, but I am not hopeful.

Debora Goldstein March 17, 2016 at 5:00 pm

I’ve said in the past, and I will say it again.

Norwalk is its own worst enemy when it comes to ECS money. Witness our recent history of superintendent musical chairs. Shortfalls of millions found AFTER the budget is set for the year. Two years of crowing about “fully-funding” the BOE, followed by the announcement that, whoops, we haven’t been administering SPED correctly all along and its going to cost millions more to fix.

If I were a state legislator from another town looking at Norwalk’s chronic dysfunctional state, I sure wouldn’t vote to send more money our way.

The school system really is no place for politics.

Mike Lyons March 17, 2016 at 9:39 pm

Your point is valid, Sara; our goose was cooked when the formula was set. The only way to overcome the ‘geopolitical’ problem is for the court to blast through it on constitutional grounds. But we need to be prepared for that with appropriate legislation if we succeed. The lawsuit may indeed be a long shot, but its our only realistic shot.

Mike Lyons March 17, 2016 at 9:46 pm

Debora, the ‘chronically dysfunctional’ Norwalk schools are the best-performing of all urban communities in the State as measured by student performance, and special education spending is a huge problem just about everywhere (cf. Darien). Bridgeport’s schools have vastly greater problems than Norwalk’s does, but the legislature gives them all the money they want. The Norwalk school system isn’t where the politics of ECS is; Hartford is.

MarjorieM March 17, 2016 at 10:23 pm

Mike, just wondering what administrators you credit for Norwalk’s “best performing” status? I kept hearing how dysfunctional Norwalk was with the past long-term administrators. I’m confused. What is the truth? And are you willing to credit all those administrators who we’re chastized and raked over the coals publicly? Did you notice all those administrators who achieved “best performing status” are no longer around?

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