The governor’s recent proposal to flat fund Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funds—which provides two-thirds of New Britain schools’ annual funding—for local municipalities has drawn the ire of education officials and employees in the Hardware City.
Several folks associated with the Consolidated School District of New Britain—including Board of Education President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra, Data Facilitation Manager of Smalley Academy Linda Skoglund, New Britain High School custodian Jason Karwowski and District Coordinator of Health, Physical Education & Athletics Leonard Corto—recently submitted testimony to the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee detailing the dire effects the governor’s budget proposal would have on city schools.
“Although I fully appreciate and understand the financial difficulties the state faces, I cannot fathom going down this road again—adopting a multi year proposal of flat funding ECS while expecting our educators to close the largest achievement gap in the nation,” said Beloin-Saavedra in her testimony.
“This would be pulling the rug out from under us,” she furthered. “You cannot continue to strive for excellence by way of passing laws and new mandates without the resources to implement.”
Beloin-Saavedra added that poor communities such as New Britain, which has a per capita income of $20,655 and a median household income of $40,294, are “not able to tax its citizens enough to make up the difference.”
New Britain needs an additional $5.3 million just to fund the “status quo operation next year,” Beloin-Saavedra added. “We cannot improve student outcomes if we have to lay our teachers off, thus increasing class size and reducing course offerings. Our high school is currently going through the NEASC [New England Association of Schools & Colleges] accreditation process—we need more support not less and we need to be able to provide a stable, consistent environment with a viable continuum of services and program options to meet the diversity of needs our students have.”
Skoglund, a 35-year veteran of New Britain schools, called the ECS funding formula “racist and classist at the core, and this proposal only makes it worse.”
“Flat funding the ECS will have devastating consequences in New Britain,” she continued. “We already have class sizes of 29 in kindergarten; of the six kindergarten classes we have, there is only one veteran teacher because it is too hard for new teachers to succeed in this environment. We don’t have space to meet even basic needs. Classes are held on the stage daily, and in the custodian closet several days a week.”
A recent pipe burst added insult to injury and exacerbated conditions for some city students, she noted. “A recent burst pipe destroyed thousands of dollars of equipment and materials, and without the resources to replace even classroom rugs, children are sitting on cold, hard floors to receive instruction in photocopied books,” said Skoglund.
Karwowski explained that providing students with a good education also involves providing a good environment in the school building—which obviously costs money.
“Beyond sweeping classrooms and hallways it is our duty to ensure proper lighting in classrooms, sanitized bathroom fixtures, safe grounds leading up to and around the building, functioning windows and doors in the event of an emergency, and remedy any leak, spill or happening throughout the day that interferes with the educational process,” said Karwowski of he and his fellow custodians.
“Unfortunately these tasks require funding, and so the battle begins on how to offer the best buildings possible while concurrently offering the best education possible. When a school is inadequately funded the strain is felt uniformly, and the victims are the students.”
In 2013-14 New Britain was ranked 157th in per pupil expenditures at $12,842—while the state average was $15,180 and the DRG I average was $16,027, according to Corto; in addition, within the DRG, four cities receive a higher per pupil allocation: Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Windham.
“It is true that the state funds two thirds of our budget; however, our students are among the neediest children in the state,” explained Corto. “They need more. Equity is not everyone receiving the same—it is receiving what you need. Our children, the majority of whom come from poverty (free/reduced lunch approx.79-80%) need more not less. We must be properly equipped to close the achievement gap (opportunity gap, accessibility gap, resource gap). We need to lower class size, increase support for Tier ll and Tier lll students, offer more children extended day/extended year and wrap around services.”
The governor’s budget proposal includes a $36 million increase for 1,800 more magnet school seats and a $12 million increase in 2016 for 1,250 new charter seats and $7.9 million in 2017 for 612 seats.
Beloin-Saavedra asked the legislature to consider “a more equitable distribution of the $48 million in the budget for new magnets/charters with some of the poorest school districts in the state.”
“Please do not send the message to my New Britain public school students that they are less of a priority than the minority of students who attend the academic silos of charters and magnets,” she said. “Unlike those silos, traditional public schools are all inclusive and act as the default school when students are counseled out of charters, magnets, private schools and technical schools. We accept everyone and counsel no student out. There is no lottery, no selection process—here is the place your civil rights of a public education are provided.”