Report by Paula Antolini
August 12, 2017 4:00PM EDT
OPINION / LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Plea to Connecticut Legislators: Don’t Destroy Public Education in the Budget You Should Be Developing! Letter to the Editor from Larry Craybas
To: All Connecticut Senators and Representatives, August 7, 2017
In the last number of days you have had to receive urgent e-mails from most Connecticut school Superintendents regarding the Governor’s unilateral decision to cut Education Cost Sharing (i.e. ECS grants) state-wide. As Chairman of Bethel’s Board of Education I would like you to hear a Board’s take on the concerns and extremely important issues raised by Superintendents in these e-mails and phone calls.
We are 2½ weeks away from the start of the new school year. The problem the Governor has created in his Executive Order of August 2nd affects all School Districts, including the Alliance Districts he anticipates helping. DRG D Districts like Bethel and our neighbor New Milford, both face monumental cuts in state education support. Schools will open on August 30th in total confusion, and with parents very upset with the Legislature’s delay and inaction in constructing a fair and reasonable approach to continuing state educational support. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike unanimously believe this is an obligation that should not be so easily dismissed in a state that has always prided itself on the quality of educational opportunities it has fostered and expected for decades.
Both of our Districts in western Connecticut will have to immediately cut upwards of a quarter of their teaching and support staffs (e.g. 119 positions in Bethel and I would guesstimate close to 200 in New Milford). Larger class sizes at every Grade level are imminent. Intervention support for children that need this additional help to learn, grow in achievement, and eventually become productive members of society will be seriously reduced or eliminated entirely.
Meanwhile Alliance Districts will have more money thrown at them, and according to OPM Budget Director, Ben Barnes, these additional ECS funds might not have to be used on education if the Municipality decides the monies are needed elsewhere.
Alliance Districts have been infused with tens of millions of dollars over the last 5 years starting with Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. It is common knowledge that remedial programs take time to work effectively and efficiently. ECS money taken from Districts like Bethel and New Milford eventually might have a positive impact, but not for many years as recent history has demonstrated. In the meantime “the losing Districts” will have their educational quality and delivery reduced, perhaps even down to the level Alliance Districts are attempting to correct. This makes no sense whatsoever. Money does not fix all ills.
The Governor’s indefensible manipulation of ECS funds will dramatically damage what Bethel has been able to achieve in the education of our school children over many years. The damage from cutting 119 people will last for generations of students. Our schools will unnecessarily be forced to take a huge step backwards, possibly joining the ranks of Districts in the Alliance. I believe this is in violation of the state’s Constitutional dictate that says Connecticut is obligated to provide good public education to ALL of Connecticut’s children.
It may be easy for some of you to say this is not my issue … I have no kids or grandchildren in elementary or secondary school. Neither do I, but I know Connecticut’s historic success has always been based on quality. The quality that resides in our institutions of learning, and the graduates who leave prepared like no others to take-on the challenges of the 20th and now the 21st Century.
Both sides of the aisle need to get back to work and collaborate, do what you were elected to do. Call a Special Meeting as soon as possible (this week is not soon enough) and get a budget done for the well-being of Connecticut … and please, please do not do this on the backs or the future of our school children.
Chairman, Bethel Board of Education