Groton education cuts go too deep
Whether the cause is political game playing or the use of a funding formula that fails to address the unique challenges a military community faces, the Appropriations Committee’s proposal to slash state education funding for Groton by $4.6 million is outrageous. We urge the legislature to restore the bulk of the funding.
The proposed cut in Education Cost Sharing funding for Groton schools accounts for 11 percent of the total reduction the committee is proposing statewide, said Heather Somers of Groton, the Republican candidate for state Senate in the 18th District.
In trying to find savings in this particularly difficult budget year, the Appropriations Committee took aim at the “hold-harmless” handling of ECS grants. Using hold-harmless, the legislature has continued to fully fund communities that under the funding formula should have long ago seen reductions in their state grants due to dropping school enrollments and/or higher property values.
To find savings, the Appropriations Committee voted to cap ECS dollars at the level called for by the formula.
Groton presents a unique situation in the state, however. One out of four students in Groton schools come from families living in military housing, which generates no local property taxes. To partially offset the cost of educating these students, Groton receives $3.5 million in Federal Impact Aid and $4.5 million in state aid above the $20.5 million the ECS formula would normally allot.
In strictly using the formula as a guide, the Appropriations Committee effectively removes that added state aid to help pay the education of the children of military personnel, most of whom are assigned to the Naval Submarine Base in that town.
While Groton schools may well have to sustain a reduction to help balance the state budget, it should be on a par with other school systems. This proposed cut is too much, too suddenly.
Groton is the largest town in state Sen. Andrew Maynard’s 18th District. Readers are well familiar with the unfortunate events that have confronted the five-term Democratic incumbent in the past couple of years.
When running for re-election in the summer of 2014, Sen. Maynard suffered a severe brain injury in a fall at his Stonington home. This past Jan. 14, the senator lost control of his car on Route 32, as it traveled into on-coming traffic and struck another vehicle before crashing off the side of the road. Waterford police did not press charges, concluding Maynard had a seizure. He suffered a concussion in the accident.
In the wake of that mishap, and mounting evidence that Maynard was not able to adequately carry out the duties of his office, this newspaper urged him to step down. The senator is not seeking re-election.
We have to wonder whether a fully engaged Maynard would have vigorously lobbied his fellow Democrats against proposing such a damaging cut in his district, given Groton’s unique challenges. Instead there is, again, only silence from the senator and his office.
In objecting to the Groton cut, the two freshmen Republican lawmakers from Groton, Reps. John Scott and Aundré Bumgardner, raised the prospect at a press conference Monday that the Democratic leadership on the Appropriations Committee targeted Groton.
“I think the partisan aspect of it is very clear to us,” Scott said.
Adding to the appearance of unfairness, state Sen. Beth Bye, a Democrat and co-chair of Appropriations, saw ECS funding for her hometown of West Hartford increased by $1.3 million. Bye, however, said this resulted because the state has been underfunding West Hartford under the ECS formula. The rest of the towns in her Senate District would see a collective $767,000 ECS cut.
As for Maynard not making the fight for Groton in the Democratic caucus, Bye said the committee subjected every community to the ECS formula without exception or political calculation. The Senate deputy majority leader said as the process continues, Groton lawmakers can try to make the case that their town deserves special treatment.
That’s fair enough. This budget fight has at least a few weeks to go. While Appropriations may have used an objective standard to allot education grants, that standard needs adjusting if it leads to a military community seeing massive cuts while affluent West Hartford gets a raise.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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