Ansonia officials are pleading with the state to give the city’s public schools more money because they say “relying on Ansonia’s property taxes to pay the bill is not sustainable.”
Mayor David Cassetti, Board of Education President William Nimons, and First Ward Alderman Charles Stowe authored a three-page letter sent to Gov. Dannel Malloy July 16 complaining a state school funding formula awards millions to wealthy towns while “underfunding” others.
“In recent years, as the state has been stepping up its demands for accountability, it has been reducing its financial contribution, leaving a greater share of the burden on property taxpayers as well as grant funded items,” the letter says. “We are dangerously close to being unable to provide our students with the sound, basic education that is guaranteed to them by the state constitution.”
Ansonia’s central complaint revolves around the state’s “Education Cost Sharing” grants.
The grants are disbursed annually to all of the state’s public school systems, subsidizing local education to the tune of millions of dollars.
But critics complain that the state is not funding school districts as much as they should, especially when things like poverty are taken into account.
A CT Mirror story in March noted that 43 of the state’s towns actually get more ECS funding than dictated by a complicated formula that sets a “target” level of state funding.
Those “overfunded” towns include municipalities like Darien, Greenwich, Easton, and Westport — not communities that come to mind when one thinks about places in need of more state assistance.
In Ansonia, $16.1 million of the school district’s $28 million budget for 2013-2014 was paid for by the ECS grant — meaning local property taxes pay for less than half of the school district’s expenses already.
But Ansonia officials contend the amount of the state grant should have been $6.1 million higher, according to the state’s formula.
In the 2014-2015 budget year, they say the ECS grant “underfunded” the school district by $5.7 million.
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The ECS grant isn’t the only complaint Ansonia has.
In their letter Cassetti, Nimons, and Stowe say the grants the city receives to defray the costs of special education are underfunded by the state and federal government to the tune of $8 million.
It’s a question of particular concern in Ansonia, where 430 of the district’s students were classified as having “special needs” in September 2014. By the end of 2015 school officials estimate that number will be 485, the letter sent to Malloy says.
“To put this into perspective, our special needs students make up 12 percent of the student population and account for 32 percent of the budget,” the letter says. “If the state of Connecticut followed the Education Cost Sharing grant formula, and the state and federal government property funded our special needs children, Ansonia’s Board of Education would have had an additional $13.7 million in the 2014-2015 budget.”
’We Can’t Wait . . . Our School District Won’t Survive’
The letter identifies a number of opportunities the school district could offer with all that money:
- Two teachers in every K-3 classroom
- Two new science lab classes for elementary students
- Media classes for all elementary and middle school students
- More STEM programs for middle school students
- After school music programs at the middle school
- No cost for students to take the SAT
- Field trips to explore career possibilities
- More advanced placement classes, like economics
- More world language classes, including Spanish for all K-8 students and Chinese for grades 8-12
“We know the problems facing Ansonia are not solely your responsibility to solve; but we can’t wait two or three years, our school district won’t survive that long,” the letter says.
The letter concludes by asking Malloy to visit Ansonia “in order to discuss our problems and to arrive at solutions.”
“Please, Governor Malloy, please join us in August 2015 to begin a conversation on how to continue to deliver on our promise,” Cassetti, Nimons, and Stowe wrote.
Nimons said Thursday he’s still waiting for a reply.
The Valley Indy emailed a spokesman for Gov. Malloy Thursday.
The school board president said he doesn’t expect the governor to ride into town and just give the school system a sack full of millions of dollars.
But he said Malloy and other state officials have to do something to correct the current inequity.
“Basically, it’s fairness,” Nimons, who also serves as the city’s comptroller, said. “That’s all our Aldermen are concerned with, that’s all the Board of Education is concerned with, that’s all the administration wants.”
One avenue of possible relief for Ansonia — a decade-old lawsuit filed against the state by a coalition of parents and municipal leaders from throughout the state alleging Connecticut is failing to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately and equitably fund the public schools.
Ansonia is not a party to the lawsuit, but Nimons hopes an upcoming trial will result in a change to the ECS formula, and therefore more state funds.
After several delays, a trial in the lawsuit is set to begin Oct. 7 in Hartford, the Connecticut Post reported Aug. 4.
State Rep. Linda Gentile, who represents Ansonia, and was the only state lawmaker to respond Thursday to a request for comment on this story, is also hoping the outcome of the case will benefit Ansonia.
“I’m hopeful the imminent ECS lawsuit will result in a favorable decision on funding policy for all the municipalities, especially Ansonia,” Gentile said in an email. “I’m committed to working with the Ansonia Board of Education toward the best possible education for all of our students.”
The Valley Indy also reached out Thursday to Derby’s Themis Klarides, the top Republican in the state’s House of Representatives, and state Sen. Joseph Crisco.