WNPR

Connecticut School Districts In Limbo As State Budget Stalls

Aug 7, 2017

If state lawmakers don't pass a budget, then Governor Dannel Malloy said he plans to cut overall state contributions to schools by 25 percent through executive order. But the cuts won’t be distributed equally.

Wealthier districts would get no money, and some districts, like Cheshire, could see a significant chunk taken out of its spending plan.

"It would devastate our school system," said Jeff Solan, Cheshire's school superintendent. "We wouldn't be able to eat an $8 million reduction without dramatically reshaping our school system."

He said there are 50 open positions they're not going to fill -- many of them teachers.

"If we further reduce teachers, we could be looking at class sizes near 30," he said. "And that's, you know, individual attention that students no longer receive."

It's a situation that districts across the state are facing, said Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of School Superintendents and former superintendent in Bridgeport. She said staff decisions are usually made far in advance of the school year.

But now, districts don't know who to hire, how big class sizes will be, if the state will even pass a budget, or if they'll have to rely on Malloy's executive order, which includes some significant cuts.

Superintendent Solan said he won’t hire more staff until there’s a budget. But some districts are planning on getting what they got last year, and staffing accordingly. However, that could be risky, Rabinowitz said, and proposed a scenario.

"So I hire all the first grade teachers I believe I will need," she began, "open school, the budget comes through and it's not what I believed it was going to be, and I now have to lay off that teacher because I don't have the funding to pay her. Now I'm pulling that first grader out and putting him or her in another classroom with a larger class size and he's got to re-establish a relationship with the teacher and learning time is lost."

Cheshire has gotten the same amount from the state -- around $10 million -- since 1990. Solan said the town is considering raising taxes to fill the gap. But that might not be an option in many Connecticut cities that are already struggling with local budgets, such as Hartford, which is teetering near bankruptcy.