It appears the state legislature has preserved the largest single source of state support to municipalities, Education Cost Sharing Grants. There are, however, some devilish details that should be noted.
First, because of cuts and authorized holdbacks, all but 30 Alliance towns begin 2018 with 12.95 percent less than 2017.
Second, the legislature has reworked the ECS formula so the “fully funded grants” of most towns have been substantially decreased. Consider, for example, Woodbury and Bethlehem which comprise Region 14. Woodbury’s formulaic need goes from $3.2 million to $2.1 million, and Bethlehem’s from $1.24 million to $764,500.
These two towns send their children to the same schools. They have similar median household incomes. Yet in 2018 Woodbury will receive $1,095 million, 55 percent of its fully funded grant, and Bethlehem will get $1.107 million, 159 percent of its fully funded grant. That excess $350,000 for Bethlehem comes out of Woodbury’s pocket.
Thus the unfair proportional distribution of ECS dollars continues. Ninety-seven towns will get less than their due, and 77 will get more than 100 percent. Farmington, Killingworth, Canaan, Woodbridge, Trumbull, Brookfield, Orange, Stonington, and Guilford will get double to six times their fair share!
Recognizing this inequity, the legislature presented a ten-year incremental phase-in whereby every town will ultimately attain 100 percent of its formulaic full-funding. But why should Woodbury, Southbury, and 95 other towns wait so long for their fair share? And what if the legislature changes its mind as it did in 2013 after the last formula revision, or if insufficient revenues cause additional regressive holdbacks?
Education Cost Sharing is as much, if not more, an issue of taxation as it is education. For the near future, state taxes paid by citizens of 97 towns like Rocky Hill, Southbury, even Waterbury and Danbury will be spent subsidizing other towns’ budgets while local tax rates in those 97 towns will be elevated to make up for ECS dollars they should be getting.
Maybe the courts will rule that the legislature’s plan is rational and sufficient, but ten years is too long to wait, and what is supposed to happen by 2028 must happen immediately.
William A. Monti is a member of the Woodbury Board of Finance.