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Budget Sagas Continue for Local Towns

The CT Mirror has an article today you’ll want to check out titled Public schools confronting ‘catastrophic’ budget woes–and the worst is ahead.  The article surveys the budget problems towns around the state are facing.

In Norwich, as in other cash-strapped public school districts, spring is the mean season.

Trying to balance its budget, the district has decided to cut out middle school sports, foreign language classes and an instrumental music program. It will end some after-school bus routes. Officials are considering closing an elementary school.

And nearly a quarter of the district’s teachers have been notified that their jobs are on the line.

It is a scene being replayed across the state as school districts prepare budgets for the 2010-11 school year and confront what educators say is the worst financial crisis in decades.

State Comptroller Nancy Wyman’s letter to Governor Rell today projected this year’s deficit at $371 million – about $147 million below Wyman’s March 1 projections.

“As this is part of the stimulus program, the savings are temporary,” Wyman warned in her letter to Rell. “Neither of these current year expenditure reductions addresses the long-term structural imbalances in the state budget.”

The legislature and governor continue to work to close the gap in the budget but they have yet to agree on a plan.

Majority Democrats in the Senate tried to eliminate the rest of this year’s deficit, adopting a plan Saturday that includes a mix of spending cuts, tax hikes, and additional federal revenue. But after Rell pledged to veto the plan, demanding more spending cuts and objecting to a proposed increase in the tax on multi-million dollar estates, the Democrat-controlled House suspended their plans to vote on the deal.

Governor’s Budget Continues to Disappoint

Governor M. Jodi Rell talked much about the economy and job creation in her annual State of the State today, but offered few specifics. Public education, a critical element in putting the state’s economy on a strong footing, got short shrift.

For the second year in a row, the governor proposed eliminating a highly visible, research-based school reform model for improving urban public schools (CommPACT Schools). While not providing even one dollar more in state education aid for municipalities, the governor’s budget adds $5 million more in funding for charter schools and $25 million more for magnet schools.

“We are dumbfounded that the governor has turned her back on the CommPACT Schools initiative,” says CEA President Phil Apruzzese. “Stakeholders from superintendents to parents, schools administrators, and teachers came together to support this effort to close the achievement gap in Connecticut schools. Our effort has received national attention. If Governor Rell gets her way, years of work will be placed in jeopardy.”

In distinguishing between CommPACT Schools and charter schools, Apruzzese went on to say that “the CommPACT Schools initiative seeks to turn around schools that are having difficulty. It works with existing teachers and administrators in a structured process of change. Charter schools, on the other hand, always have to start with a new group of students, a new faculty, and a new administration.”

Adds Apruzzese, “The real challenge we face in closing the achievement gap is to improve results in schools where there are problems. If we don’t attempt to do that, we’re not being serious. The governor’s failure to fund this effort makes no sense.”
The CommPACT Schools initiative – which was launched in 2008 – has attracted corporate and foundation financial support from AT&T, Balfour, the NEA Foundation, and others that will disappear if the governor’s proposed budget cut is adopted or public support is reduced.

Another major disappointment in the governor’s budget is that it maintains the same level of funding for the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant in fiscal year 2010-2011 as in FY 2009-2010. State aid for this education grant was reduced by 14 percent in last year’s budget and backfilled with federal stimulus dollars.

Says Apruzzese, “The governor is continuing the troubling budget sleight of hand that she started last year with the short-term federal stimulus money. She is setting local schools up for a whopping $270 million hole in ECS funding when the federal funds dry up in 2011.”

In addition, holding ECS grants to last year’s level does not even allow local school districts to deal with even moderate inflation without having to raise local revenues or cut expenditures. The governor has continued her pattern of gradually reducing state support for local public education.

“It’s troubling,” says Apruzzese. “The effects are likely to be the continued elimination of teaching positions, reduction in education resources, and the end of programs that serve Connecticut students. Where does it stop?”

Special Session Provides No Answers

The Connecticut House and Senate convened yesterday for a special session and quickly adjourned with no agreement in sight about how to reduce the growing state budget deficit.

The December 15 special session was supposed to deal with Governor Rell’s deficit mitigation plan that proposes cutting $337 million from the $37.6 billion budget.

As of December 1, the State of Connecticut is projected to end fiscal year 2010 with a billion dollar hole in its budget.   This is a serious shortfall, and Governor Rell and some state legislators are looking to local towns to find money.

Of particular interest to you and other municipal employees is the fact that the governor’s plan cuts $84 million in funding for cities and towns.   That’s another fiscal wallop that towns do not need.  It also will set the context for municipal officials to set their expectations low when they are putting together budgets in the coming months for the 2010-11 budget year.

Also on the governor’s list is a more than $300,000 reduction in state funding for CommPACT schools.  This reform model – backed by CEA and others – has also attracted corporate and foundation financial support. 

CEA told key lawmakers in December that it would be a, “terrible shame if this stunning public-private partnership were to fall by the wayside.”  Especially because it is making an extraordinary difference for children and teachers.

There has been no word on when another special session of the legislature will be called.   For updates on Connecticut’s budget deficit and how it will affect the state’s classrooms sign up to get email updates from BlogCEA or subscribe to BlogCEA’s RSS feed.

Former CEA Staffer Honored by Governor on 90th Birthday

Robbins Barstow

Dr. Barstow during his time at CEA.

Dr. Robbins Barstow, a former CEA employee, turns ninety today.  His many contributions to the State of Connecticut are being recognized by Governor Rell and she has proclaimed today, October 24, 2009, Dr. Robbins Barstow day.

Dr. Barstow worked at CEA for thirty-four years as Director of Professional Development.  He graduated from Dartmouth and received his Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of Connecticut .

Barstow has worked tirelessly in efforts to “Save the Whales” and is the founder of the Connecticut Cetacean Society.  He is also an amateur filmmaker whose work was selected to be used in the recently aired PBS documentary, The National Parks.  You can watch some of his films here and read about his home movie of a contest-winning family vacation to Disneyland in 1956 here and here.  Many of his films are part of the Library of Congress’ collection of historic motion pictures.

A Budget for Connecticut

As of September 8, Connecticut will finally have a budget in place for the 2010 fiscal year that began July 1.  Governor Rell announced yesterday afternoon that she will allow the Democrat authored budget to become law without her signature.  She will, however, veto $8.3 million worth of spending.

Click here to see the Governor’s line item cuts.
Click here to read the budget bill’s complete language.

Connecticut had been one of only two states without a budget for the 2010 fiscal year.  Disagreements over the last seven months between the Democratic majority and Governor Rell lead to the longest budget battle in state history.

Urge Your Legislators to Override Governor’s Healthcare Veto

Yesterday Governor Rell vetoed HB 6582, An Act Establishing the Healthcare Partnership, which would enable teachers and others to voluntarily join the state employees’ health insurance pool.  Legislators have the opportunity to override the Governor’s veto – they will be meeting for an override session on July 20.

This bill is very important to Connecticut because it takes a monumental step forward in reducing the skyrocketing costs of municipal health insurance – one of the most serious fiscal challenges facing towns and cities. The legislature’s bipartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has confirmed that HB 6582 will save taxpayers money.

Rell Vetoes Healthcare Bills

This afternoon Governor Rell announced that she has vetoed bills that would have established a Board of Directors to implement a health insurance program called SustiNet and opened the state employee health insurance program to employees of municipalities, non-profit organizations and small businesses. This is the second consecutive year that Rell has vetoed Rep. Christopher Donovan’s healthcare pooling bill.

Rell also issued an Executive Order establishing a Health Care Reform Advisory Board to develop state-level policies in response to reforms under consideration at the federal level.

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, legislative and business leaders, and advocates issued strong reactions to Governor M. Jodi Rell’s veto.

“This is a missed opportunity to give a booster shot to our ailing economy by relieving struggling families and businesses who are cutting back due to rising healthcare costs,” Speaker Donovan said. “These bills would bring comforting relief to those who are suffering from those high costs.”

Read more from the Hartford Courant’s Capitol Watch blog.

New Fiscal Year Begins Today Without Budget

Connecticut began a new fiscal year today without a budget in place for the 2010 fiscal year.  Governor Rell issued an executive order yesterday to cover state expenditures until a new budget has been signed into law.  She plans to issue a new executive order if a budget agreement has still not been reached by August.

The governor and legislative leaders are meeting today in their third day of budget negotiations.  None have been willing to comment on how the negotiations are proceeding.  Connecticut is one of a dozen states, out of the 46 that began a new fiscal year on July 1, that have yet to pass a budget resolution for 2010.

Earlier today, as promised, Governor Rell vetoed a Democratic budget bill that passed the state house and senate last week.


Urge Governor Rell to Sign Healthcare Bill

Governor Rell now has the Healthcare Partnership bill on her desk. The legislation was adopted overwhelmingly by the House and Senate, however, it is unclear whether the governor will sign the bill into law.

This bill will allow municipal employees, non profits, and small businesses to voluntarily enroll in the state employee healthcare plan.  Please let Governor Rell know that this bill is important to you and you want her to sign it.

Healthcare Partnership Needs Governor Rell’s Signature

House Bill 6582, An Act Establishing the Healthcare Partnership, was  adopted overwhelmingly by the House and Senate, and is headed to Governor Rell’s desk.  This legislation would allow employees of towns and cities, non profit organizations, and small businesses to join the big state employees’ health insurance pool.

The option to join this big insurance pool would lower municipal costs and save local taxpayers money.  In 146 towns surveyed, almost nine out of ten pay higher rates than the state pays for its employees.

However, it is unclear whether the governor will sign the bill into law.  Governor Rell has said that this might not be the “appropriate time” for this initiative.  If now isn’t the appropriate time to save tens of millions of dollars for Connecticut taxpayers, when would it be appropriate?

Asking Governor Rell to sign House Bill 6582 is crucial if we are to see lower healthcare costs.  Send the governor an e-mail asking her to sign this important legislation.