Town’s ECS funds go up; Coming budget still difficult

By Rob Glidden
Staff Writer

As part of his budget proposal announcement last week, Governor Dannel Malloy announced additional Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funds for districts in the state. The news came as a relief to many school administrators, although the coming budget year is still expected to be difficult.
In the midst of another tough state budget process, local education leaders heard rumors that the ECS funding could be reduced. School districts rely heavily on these funds and would struggle to make up the difference if the amount decreased.
Southington is expected to receive $20,278,567 in the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of about $87,000, or 0.43 percent. In the second year of the two-year state budget, that amount would increase to $20,365,939.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Erardi welcomed the news, but was concerned that the ECS gains could be compromised by other issues within the planned state budget, including the already controversial proposal to cut municipal car taxes.
“I am both pleased and concerned with the proposed funding package for Southington,” Erardi said. “Pleased that the ECS funding took a small step forward, however, deeply concerned that the larger picture for Southington shows significant hardship on the local community which is best illustrated by the loss of revenue in public school transportation and the loss of revenue pertaining to the car tax proposal. Garry [Brumback, Town Manager] and I will continue to work in partnership and make consensus recommendations to our respective boards.”
Plainville is expected to receive $10,379,837 in ECS funds for the coming fiscal year, an increase of about $30,000 (0.33 percent). In the following year, the amount is set to go up to $10,413,535.
“It’s certainly a much better starting point than we had anticipated,” said Plainville Superintendent Jeff Kitching. “Compared to what we had heard, this paints a better picture for Plainville.”
However, the governor’s plan still has to survive negotiations in the state legislature, which are not expected to be concluded until well after municipalities finish their own budgets. School districts have become used to incorporating expected ECS funds into their budgets without knowing for sure if the numbers will hold.
“We try to plan accordingly, but at the same time it can’t drive all our planning,” Kitching said. “We take a leap of faith that the funding won’t be catastrophically reduced.”
Bristol is expected to receive an additional $4.2 million over the next two years.
School officials at last week’s finance committee meeting said they were pleased to hear about the additional funding. However, it comes because of administrators and boards of education’s hard work.
Bristol’s current level of ECS money is nearly $43.1 million. Malloy is proposing a $1.4 million increase for the next fiscal year, which would bring that total to a little over $44.4. For the following year, the governor has proposed an additional $2.8, to bring the total over the next two years to a little over $45.8 million, or a 6.55 percent increase.
According to a press release from the governor’s office, under the proposal “a $50.7 million increase in ECS aid for fiscal year 2014 and a $101.5 million increase in fiscal year 2015 will provide enhanced education aid to 117 cities and towns, as well as focusing aid to Alliance Districts — 30 schools districts that educate approximately 41 percent of all Connecticut students.”
“We have an obligation to each and every student in our schools to provide them with a quality public education so they can compete in the 21st Century economy,” Malloy said in the press release.  “By recommitting these resources, we are taking a giant step forward toward achieving that goal.”
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the additional funding will be able to help the state’s school districts “to advance key reforms, such as teacher evaluation, implementation of the Common Core, and turnaround of low-performing schools.”
Reporter Kaitlyn Naples contributed to this report.

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