To the Governor, the Legislature and all Connecticut citizens, if you care about regular public education, please read this letter. With the State budget in meltdown and likely cuts to education imminent we are facing what I term 'Three Strikes Against Regular Public Education'. I write as superintendent of the Bristol Public Schools, but my colleagues in other cities and towns across the state are facing equally daunting challenges to save regular public education.
The Problem. Connecticut is facing the worst crisis in public school financing in memory; there simply is not enough new money around to solve it. Thus, extraordinary steps are needed to reduce staffing costs and unburden public schools from unfunded mandates for two years (or until the State gets its financial footing back in place). The scope of the problem is as follows:
Strike 1: Bristol's budget, like others across the State and Nation, will increase by 6-7% due to fixed costs and for special education that continues to escalate beyond normal budgetary expectations. In Bristol, a 6% increase amounts to about $6M in new revenue needed or about 1.5 mils on the local tax rate.
Strike 2: The State is broke and is proposing a cut in Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) revenue. We estimate that the cut in aid to the City of Bristol will be around $5M or so. This represents 1 mil on our local tax rate. If other grants, such as special education excess cost grants, are also reduced, the shift to the local tax payer rises further.
Strike 3: If the City does not raise taxes and the scenarios above emerge (which are looking more likely every day), then we have a $10-12M budget shortfall in Bristol for next year or about 10-12% (and it gets worse the following year – FY11). In this case major layoffs are inevitable and we will have to target regular education only for these cuts. The problem is that reductions cannot be made in special education or other 'protected-mandated' services so the cut must come from regular education alone. Reducing $10M next year from Bristol's remaining $70M budget allocated for regular education amounts to a cut of around 14-15%. Since the State problem is deepening for FY11 our problem grows worse locally the following year. As a result we could experience a net cut in regular education of 25-30% over the next two years. This would be devastating and would be 'Strike Three' for public education as we know it. All districts that receive ECS and special education aid in the State have the same problem, to a lesser or greater degree depending on how much aid they receive. The impact in all the urban districts will be devastating. I am not proposing a reduction in special education services; these children need support. We need to find a way to keep programs intact and people working for the next two to three years until the economy rebounds.
Scenario Planning. We have conducted several scenarios as to what this would actually mean programmatically for Bristol. They are dramatic and suffice it to say that class sizes would rise dramatically, all enrichment programs would be eliminated, and high school course options would be severely reduced. Beyond the operational budget we most certainly will have to reduce services provided by other State grants no matter what else happens with the budget. In Bristol we provide much needed support services for children through these special grants.
Solutions. This problem is bigger than us (Bristol) and it cannot be solved here alone. CAUS (the CT Association of Urban Superintendents) has proposed a two-year reduction in the school year by 10-15 days. If CMT/CAPT testing is suspended for two years, as well as professional development, we could save 10 days alone without impacting students' programs. And there are a range of other mandates that need suspending for two-years. Only the State can legislate these changes through emergency acts. There are ways to provide certain safeguards to employees but drastic measures are needed now given the unfolding crisis in public financing.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org