Projected state deficit elicits school funding concerns

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With the state facing a projected deficit of over a billion dollars for the coming fiscal year, educators have begun to wonder what it might mean for their state funding.

“With the current budget situation at the state level, a projected enormous deficit, everyone in the education community is real concerned that the ECS budget will be cut,” Naugatuck Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said during a Board of Education meeting on Dec.13.

The Education Cost Sharing grant is a major source of funding for school districts across the state.

According to Tindall-Gibson the ECS grant funds approximately 50 percent of the school district’s budget, which is approximately $58 million.

The legislature approved a bill last week to reduce spending in the current fiscal year by $252.3 million. The reduction and cuts announced earlier in the year by Gov. Dannel Malloy are believed to be enough to nearly wipe out a projected deficit this fiscal year.

However, the state is facing a projected deficit of between $1.1 and $1.2 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Tindall-Gibson said that if there were cuts to the ECS funding next fiscal year, the first thing that would have to be cut from the schools would be teaching positions.

“Eighty-one percent of the budget is staff and benefits,” Tindall-Gibson said.

Tindall-Gibson explained that the reduction of teachers would have a direct impact on the students in the schools.

“It means two things, the possible elimination of programs and increased class sizes,” Tindall-Gibson said.

After repurposing Central Avenue Elementary School into a preschool, the five remaining elementary schools saw an increase in their class sizes. These increases drew parents’ ire during the district’s budget hearings, with many parents feeling that children will not receive enough individual attention in larger class sizes.

Tindall-Gibson said that the school board does not have specific programs at the moment that it will cut in case it receives significantly less funding from the state.

“Usually the administration and board weigh a lot of options and try to spread the impact so we don’t lose programs,” Tindall-Gibson said. “Generally we try to reduce programs rather than eliminate them.”

However, this means that many of the programs, such as music and arts, would not be as accessible to students as they are currently, he said.

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Tim James said that, while he believes this is an important issue facing the district, he is waiting for all of the final numbers and reports to come in before his district has a conversation on what it means for the future.