By SHERIDAN CYR
State Sen. Joe Markley (R-16) released a statement last week reporting a vote in support of a bipartisan bill regarding the State Department of Education’s minimum budget requirement (MBR). The vote offers relief from towns, including Southington, that were named in a lawsuit by Gov. Dannel Malloy after the governor slashed education budgets across the state.
The MBR states a municipality may not spend less on education than they did the previous year, unless certain criteria is met such as a decline in enrollment. It intends to secure the quality of the town’s education from one fiscal year to the next.
“Lawmakers and municipalities agreed that municipalities should to be penalized for reducing budgets in light of the governor’s additional withholding of funding beyond what was identified in the state budget,” the statement said.
The approved bill Markley voted in favor for would eliminate the penalty faced by towns that had to reduce their education funding following the budget holdbacks. It also makes conforming changes to statutes so the MBR moving forward is based only on Educational Cost Sharing entitlements.
According to the statement, lawmakers believed the MBR penalties “were unfairly imposed on towns as a result of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget holdbacks.”
Earlier this year, the State Department of Education informed multiple towns—including Southing-ton—that they were in non-compliance with the MBR because they reduced their FY 2018 education appropriations to reflect Malloy’s holdbacks in local education funding.
“This law is the first, and unfortunately temporary, step towards giving municipalities real control over their education budgets,” Markley said in the release. “Southington in particular had been targeted by Gov. Malloy’s education funding holdbacks, and had no tool to reduce its education budget accordingly.”
“This new law will give my hometown the option to reduce its education budget in FY 2018 to avoid a serious deficit which could only have been filled with a tax increase,” said Markley in the statement. “It is my hope that the legislature will soon authorize towns to permanently reduce their education budgets to reflect the reality of a shrinking state population and declining student enrollment.”
Though this is good news for Southington, Board of Education chair Brian Goralski was unhappy with the financial situation the board has been juggling since last year after the state failed to work in a timely fashion.
“The MBR issue for Southington was a consequence of our [FY 2017-2018] budget being put together with the information available at the time,” said Goralski. “Had the legislation done their job and passed their budget on time, we wouldn’t have had an issue.”
Goralski said that the BOE expected special education funding to be distributed to them directly, so they created their 2017-18 budget based on that expectation. Last November, that funding went to the town instead of the BOE.
“I support the principal behind the MBR. It prohibits the Town Council or Board of Finance from cutting the Board of Education’s budget, which is an easy target to reduce costs,” said Goralski. “We did what the governor proposed. Penalizing towns seems like a double kick in the gut. It’s counter-productive.”
The bill passed with bipartisan support on April 11 in both the State House of Representatives and Senate.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.