Our Schools – Our Children – Don’t Cut Budget

April 11th Town Council Meeting

Background

On February 28th the Stratford Board of Education voted on a proposed 2022-2023 operating budget that was a 4.57% increase over the current year’s adopted budget. This budget was proposed after a series of budget workshops, the Superintendent and his staff to consider all possible ways to enhance the efficiency of our schools’ funding. The BOE proposed budget is a responsible and necessary step to meet our contracted financial obligations and respond to the evolving educational needs of our students. The increase is fueled primarily by our rising contractual obligations and the growing needs of our students with exceptionalities. These areas alone require a 4.1% increase in the budget.

The Stratford Board of Education voted on a proposed 2022-2023 operating budget of $125,679,660, a 4.57% increase over the current year’s adopted budget. BOE proposed budget: https://www.stratfordk12.org/…/2022-2023_Proposed…

On March 12th, the Mayor submitted her proposed budget to the Town Council which significantly undercut the amount that our schools require. The budget recommended a 4.25% increase in the town’s operating portion of the budget, but only a 2.5% increase for the Board of Education. A 2.5% increase would create a significant gap in what our schools need to meet the educational needs of our students. Mayor’s proposed budget: https://www.stratfordct.gov/…/Proposed_Operating_Budget

This is devastating and would result in some very difficult cuts at a time when our schools and students need it the most. Students are struggling across the country because of the challenges of COVID and our students are struggling in particular. Stratford has just been designated as an Alliance district – which means we are one of the 33 lowest performing towns in the state.

Some of our financial difficulties were temporarily veiled by COVID funding. Last year the Board funded several staff positions with COVID grants due to underfunding, but this funding is temporary and without sustained direct investment from the town, we will face even more cuts.

On April 20th, the Ordinance Committee will hold a budget workshop on the BOE section of the overall town budget and decide on what the increase will be. The public will not be allowed to speak at that workshop.  This workshop is scheduled during the April school break despite multiple requests by the BOE to move the date so stakeholders could be present. This was also a point of contention of those who attended and spoke during the public forum of the Town Council meeting on April 11th.

At the April 11th Town Council meeting there was support from several residents regarding this budget.  Those speaking against the budget cut were: Andrea Corcoran, Board of Education Chair, Andrea Veilleux, Chris Greene, and Alicia Duncan.  No one during the public forum spoke in favor of the budget cuts, and in fact they all reminded the Town Council that a strong school system is crucial to the success of any town or city and its ability to thrive economically. This requires a commitment to invest in educating our students.

Why We Need More Funding For Our Schools

Our students are struggling, and Stratford has just been designated as an Alliance district – which means we are one of the 33 lowest performing towns in the state.

In a letter to parents March 30th Superintendent Uyi Osunde explained that the town’s public school system has been recognized as an Alliance District by the state.

Alliance Districts are those in the state with the lowest accountability index data — a 12-variable metric used to track a district’s performance. “The Alliance District program is a unique and targeted investment in Connecticut’s lowest-performing districts,” Osunde wrote. “We are one of three other districts added to the Alliance District list which was compiled using pre-pandemic accountability index data. While this is not the optimal news we want, it comes with some pragmatic opportunities for improvement driven by the district’s overall strategy to improve academic performance and achievement for its children.”

The designation as an Alliance District means that the district will have access to additional state funding.  Stratford has not yet been notified of the funding appropriation it will receive but is hoping to find out the final figure before May, so it does not impact its planning phase, Osunde said. According to the Connecticut Department of Education a total of 25 of the 33 districts in 2019-20 received at least $1 million in funding, including seven that exceeded $10 million.

Some of our financial difficulties were temporarily veiled by COVID funding. Last year the Board funded several staff positions with COVID grants due to underfunding, but this funding is temporary and without sustained direct investment from the town, we will face even more cuts.  The Town needs to stop funding our educational system with “handouts” and develop a real balanced budget that does not break our backs in the future when bonded items come due.

The Brookings Institute did a study on The Effects of Investing in Early Education on Economic Growth, as Economists have long believed that investments in education, or “human capital,” are an important source of economic growth.

Economic Development is the creation of wealth from which community benefits are realized. It is more than a jobs program; it is an investment in growing your economy and enhancing the prosperity and quality of life for all residents.

Education tends to raise productivity and creativity, as well as stimulate entrepreneurship and technological breakthroughs. All of these factors lead to greater output and economic growth.

The designation of our Stratford school system as an Alliance District is just another blow to our Town’s reputation and indicative of a town lacking in governance.  Is Stratford the most financially stressed municipality in Connecticut? According to the Hartford-based Yankee Institute, the answer is yes.

The think tank focuses on state government, and recently updated its 2018 report “Warning Signs” that claims the town is overburdened by its pensions to government employees. Town officials and finance experts, though, say the findings utilize a specific set of data to prove a pre-ordained point.

For the second year in a row Stratford was designated one of the 25 distressed municipalities in the state, indicating poor fiscal capacity. This is important information to understand as Stratford is readying to receive substantial amounts of money from the federal government and the state of Connecticut. There needs to be a sense of urgency to break the downward spiral and move toward recovery and growth.

What exactly are distressed municipalities?

  • aging housing stock
  • low wealth (Adjusted Equalized Net Grand List)
  • low per capita income
  • low or declining job creation growth rate
  • low or declining population growth rate
  • low or declining per capita income growth rate
  • high unemployment
  • high poverty
  • low high school degree and higher

As Stratford residents we all need to pay attention to who, what, where, and how our Town is going forward.  Are you happy with our development?  Are you happy with our environment?  Are you happy with our school system?  If not, reach out to your Town Council member and have a conversation.

Remember:  A strong school system is crucial to the success of any town or city and its ability to thrive economically. This requires a commitment to invest in educating our students.

 

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