NL council makes more education cuts while it awaits state budget

New London — The City Council on Monday night approved drastic cuts to the school budget in response to what councilors say is the likelihood of a reduction in state funding.

The council stripped the $41.7 million education budget of $4.2 million, a move that finance committee Chairwoman Martha Marx said reflects a possible drop in Educational Cost Sharing grant funds. She said she expected it would be a temporary move and that some if not all of it could be restored when the state finally passes a spending plan.

The council had also considered an $823,800 cut in the $48.7 million general government side of what had been a combined $90.05 million budget. The cuts would have led to the elimination of multiple city positions, including three public works employees and the assistant city clerk.

Assistant City Clerk Dawn Currier appealed to the council for her job.

“The impact of my termination would be devastating to me. I live alone and have no one else to share the financial burden of paying my bills including my ever-increasing city tax bills,” Currier said. “The job market is pretty bleak right now. I’m not just a line item but a dedicated city employee who would suffer greatly if I lost my job.”

The proposed education cuts elicited widespread condemnation from school supporters who packed the council chambers. Speaker after speaker asked councilors to reconsider the move.

Interim Superintendent Stephen Tracy called the proposed cut a “substantial threat to our schools.”

He said the district will be forced to operate with 11.7 percent fewer general fund dollars than last year despite a growing enrollment. The district has also assumed more than $500,000 in school building maintenance fees cut from the city side of the budget earlier in budget deliberations.

The school board recently approved $628,000 in reductions that includes freezing 18 unfilled positions through Nov. 30.

Councilor Don Venditto said it was not the city making the cut, but rather, “The state of Connecticut is cutting the funding by $4.2 million.”

“We have to position ourselves fiscally for the worst-case scenario,” he said.

The city is basing its cuts on a Republican-crafted proposal that was vetoed by the governor. Republican lawmakers disagree with the city’s reading of the vetoed proposal and say it would have increased municipal aid to New London by $1.76 million, and while it reduced educational cost sharing funds, it made up most of the difference in a special education fund.

The city is now operating on last year’s budget after it repealed its $90.05 million budget in early September to respond to a petition by taxpayers calling for relief from a more than 9 percent tax hike. The council has yet to vote on a final budget.

Finance Director Don Gray said if all of the proposed cuts were enacted it would reduce the tax rate hike from more than 9 percent to less than 8 percent.

Mayor Michael Passero reiterated to those gathered at Monday’s meeting that the $4.2 million is “not real,” and said he expected most of the ECS funding would be restored when the state finally approves the budget.

He also called it a false narrative that the budget cuts are disproportionality falling on the schools or that the city did not support the schools.

g.smith@theday.com

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