Aid in flux as budget stalemate drags on

REGION 16 — The Region 16 Board of Education will have a decision to make if a state budget isn’t adopted soon.

Beacon Falls and Prospect, the two towns that comprise the Region 16 school district, are among the 85 municipalities that will get no education equalization payments under the latest executive spending plan issued by Gov. Dannel Malloy.

The state is operating under executive order because Malloy and the legislature failed to approve a two-year budget before the 2017 fiscal year ended June 30. Malloy last week vetoed a Republican spending plan that passed the state House and Senate with the support of some Democrats.

The state typically issues the first education aid payments, the largest of which is the Education Cost Sharing grant, to municipalities in October.

Region 16 Director of Finance and Business Operations Pamela Mangini said the region’s budget that was adopted in May anticipates that Beacon Falls and Prospect will receive just over $2.2 million combined in state education funding in October.

The state aid is then given to the region. Historically, the region has alternated which town has to pay its state aid to the district in October, Mangini said. This year, it’s Prospect that is scheduled to make the October payment.

Mangini said the school budget anticipates Prospect’s October payment at $1,211,888. The $993,804 Beacon Falls is estimated to receive in the budget isn’t slated to be paid until December, she said.

The figures don’t include the payments made to the region from local tax revenue.

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said the school board has three options if the towns don’t receive the funding in October. The board could defer the state aid payments, go through the budget process all over again, or tell the towns they have to pay since the region’s budget has been approved, he said.

“There’s a lot of things we can do, but one thing we are in Region 16 is we’re collective and we’re collaborative. So whatever decision we make we’re going to make in the best interest of kids and the community,” Yamin said.

The school board is expected to decide how to proceed at its Oct. 11 meeting if there isn’t a state budget in place by then.

Region 16 officials have met with Beacon Falls First Selectman Christopher Bielik and Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield to discuss the issue, and school officials have said they can get by without the funding in the short term.

“That will not last forever, but it is manageable in the short term,” Bielik said.

Bielik said the towns will work with the region to develop a plan that doesn’t impact Region 16 and unnecessarily burden taxpayers.

Chatfield said the issue will get complicated after October if the towns don’t get the funding. He said the people who are going to be impacted are students across the student, which he added are being held hostage by the budget stalemate in the legislature.

Overall, Malloy’s executive order would cut about $9 million combined in education funding to Beacon Falls and Prospect.

Bielik said losing all the state aid would be devastating to the region and the towns.

“Hopefully, the action taken (Sept. 28) is the stimulus necessary to get a state budget that can be passed and signed,” Bielik said about Malloy’s veto of the Republican budget plan.

Under his executive order, Malloy is taking education aid away from more affluent municipalities with higher achieving schools to maintain last year’s funding levels for the Alliance District program that provides targeted investments in Connecticut’s 30 lowest-performing school districts. Naugatuck is an Alliance District and safe under the executive order when it comes to education funding.

Even if the October state aid doesn’t come, it’s possible the money is eventually given to Beacon Falls and Prospect when a state budget is finally in place. However, when that will happen or how education aid will be distributed remains a question.

“I don’t think anyone knows — even Hartford — where we are,” Yamin said. “However, the outlook is getting even more dismal than it was before.”

Board of Education Chair Sheryl Feducia said it’s impossible to answer what the next step for the region will be because no one knows what’s going to happen next. Whatever comes, she added, the towns and the region will face it together.

“We’re all working together,” she said. “Unfortunately, we just don’t know what we’re working against.”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.