Gregory B. Hladky Contact Reporter
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration announced $50 million in new cuts in state aid to municipalities Thursday, including a $20 million reduction in education funding that local officials said could result in school layoffs.
The announcement comes as a bitter New Year’s gift for financially hard-pressed cities and towns that are already halfway through their fiscal and school years. Administration officials said the cuts had to be made now to achieve the savings goals included in the current 2016-17 state budget.
Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, said he doesn’t believe the school funding cuts will result in local layoffs. “Certainly there is nothing about this that will force any of these communities into layoffs or cuts that would significantly affect students,” Barnes said.
Barnes added that he expects cities and towns will see “minor adverse consequences” as a result of the loss of state aid.
The school aid cuts for Connecticut’s 48 most distressed cities and towns, including Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, are capped at $250,000, and the funding reductions represent less than 1 percent of what those cities and towns are receiving in total state education aid.
Connecticut’s wealthiest towns are taking the biggest hits in school aid: Greenwich is losing more than $1.3 million, or 90.5 percent of its education cost-sharing money. Salisbury will see its school funding reduced by 81.9 percent and Sharon will suffer a 76.3 percent cut.
“What’s going on is a redistribution of the burden,” Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei said. “The perception of Greenwich is that it’s a super-affluent community. And yes, there’s affluence, but there’s also citizens living at or below state poverty levels.”
Darien’s school aid was chopped by $368,850, a 47.6 percent reduction.
“They’re whittling us down to zero, I’m pretty sure,” Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said. “It’s challenging for Darien, like any town that drafts a balanced budget for July 1 every year and then to have to try to make midyear adjustments.”
The move was criticized by Senate GOP leader Len Fasano.
“This is yet another example of the Democrats’ budget continuing to fail our state and the need to change our approach to budgeting and begin addressing problems now,” Fasano said. “The administration has known since August that they would need to hold back these funds from municipalities. But they chose to wait until now to let towns know how much they would lose … making these cuts more difficult for towns to absorb.”
A similar budget reduction plan was floated earlier this year in which education cost-sharing grants for 28 of the state’s wealthiest school districts would be eliminated with many others being reduced. Under the plan, pitched by Malloy, the funds for the 30 lowest-performing school districts would have been spared. It was never approved after intense criticism from legislators and school officials.
“This is really horrible timing,” said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is also president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. He said that reducing aid in the middle of a fiscal year means layoffs may be the only way many communities can immediately deal with the loss of funding.
“Education is one of the most important things we do,” Boughton said. “I was shocked to see that.”
Danbury is losing $250,000 of its $31.5 million in education grants.
“I’m going to have to tell our school superintendent he’s going to have to cut $250,000 or start laying people off,” Boughton said.
Barnes said he doubts Danbury will need to lay off school employees, noting that the aid reduction is .8 percent of the $31.5 million the city receives.
Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said, “Towns facing cuts in municipal aid will have little or no choice but to delay or suspend critical projects and/or lay off personnel.”