New London school budget editorial missed an important point

The Day’s Oct. 19 editorial − "New London school cut was unnecessary" − presented a reasonable explanation of the predicament that the city is in as we formulate a revised budget in the face of an unprecedented lack of direction from the General Assembly on state municipal revenues. 

It is easy to understand how knowledge of a city reduction of $4.2 million to the education budget would be interpreted as the city’s lack of support for our schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. The message that has not been well communicated is that the reduction in the city’s education appropriation is not expected to translate into an actual loss of revenue to the schools.

What was missing was an understanding that a proposed reduction in $4.2 million from the city’s education appropriation does not represent a loss of $4.2 million in funding to the schools. The reduction in the city’s appropriation simply represents the $5 million reduction in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) that was contained in the only budget that has thus far passed with majority support in the General Assembly. However, that same budget restores that loss in ECS revenue by providing supplemental grant revenue paid directly to the schools.

The editorial board has always championed the city’s use of realistic revenue projections. Predicting ECS revenue based on the only budget that has gained majority support in the General Assembly is realistic. If the council is forced to adopt a revised budget before a state budget is adopted, because of the limit against spending more than 25 percent of last year’s budget, then a reasonable estimate of likely state revenues must be made. It was not an arbitrary decision to use the budget that passed, despite the governor’s veto. It is simply prudent, albeit conservative, budget planning.

Under the City Charter, once the City Council adopts a revised city budget, it is precluded from decreasing the appropriation to the Education Department. It would be devastating to base the education appropriation on anticipated ECS money that is never paid to the city. The city would have no way to pull back its $4.2 million, resulting in devastating losses of services and personnel citywide. I am not willing to take that chance.

On the other hand, if the eventual state budget reverts to the traditional state funding through ECS paid to the city, the council will be able to appropriate the additional revenue to the schools. Under either scenario, the schools were never anticipated to lose significant revenue, since the state money is paid either directly to the schools as a grant or to the city as ECS that is passed on to the schools.

As we await adoption of a state budget, there is good reason to be optimistic that, based on seeming bipartisan support in the General Assembly, state funding for New London schools will remain at least level or hopefully increase over the next two years.

Michael Passero is the mayor of New London.

 

 

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