New Britain City Journal

New Britain's Weekly Online Newspaper

Commentary

Mayoral Views – Former Mayor Lucian Pawlak (D)

The New Britain City Journal is asking candidates for Mayor questions every three weeks related to the City. It is our hope this will give residents time to understand their views and make a proper choice for mayor. The question posed to candidates this week was “Do you think the Board of Education needs to get an increase in funding in 2012?” The following candidates responded to our question.

The question is “do you think the board of education needs to get an increase in funding in 2012”.

I wish the answer was an easy one.

But let’s begin by saying that whether or not they get an increase is not the point. Where the money comes from is. I know that in the end it is all taxpayer money but the Constitution of the State of Connecticut puts the responsibility of educating children on the State and not its 169 towns and cities. So if the board of education deserves more money then it should come from the state coffers and not local taxpayers.

I was always and continue to be a proponent of the state and federal government’s total funding of education. After all, the mandates that local governments struggle to fund are not local ones but created by those governments.

Special education for example is a federal mandate and it came with a promise of funding and 40 years later the federal government is still only funding this mandate at 6 per cent. So that means that for over forty years state but mostly local taxpayers have been taxed so that this federal mandate is met. In New Britain where there is a commitment to special needs students this has cost us hundreds of millions of dollars over the last 4o years. Those dollars could have supported the school system’s special education programs and more importantly given local taxpayers a much needed reduction in their property tax bill.

Another example of how Washington effects local taxpayers is President George W. Bush’s leave no child behind legislation. Was there funding to meet all the requirements? I doubt it. So the local taxpayer was mandated to pay for a program that was the result of something that the President and Congress created.

Let me talk a little about education funding and the state of Connecticut.

I’d like to begin by explaining Connecticut’s formula for aid to local boards of education. This formula known as the MER (minimum expenditure requirement) has taken on a numinous quality. It is so mysterious that most legislators and educators will tell you that honestly it can’t be explained. And in the words of at least one legislator “it’s not followed anyway”. I do know that wealth is an important factor in determining funding under this formula and as a poor city in a very rich state New Britain should be receiving more state funding. So rather than trying to explain this magical formula let me say that I believe New Britain is being short changed.

However the one prohibition that most severely penalizes New Britain and keeps the city from getting more state funding for education is the cap or limit on how much increased aid our city can receive. This cap has cost New Britain hundreds of millions of dollars. Simply put if the state of Connecticut put education funding on a level playing field and followed its own rules New Britain’s property taxes would be much lower.

Over ten years ago the mayors of the capped towns filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut. I was in the forefront of that lawsuit fighting for New Britain and against a funding system that nobody understands and worst yet wants to fix. I would again go to the courts because New Britain continues to be penalized and the local taxpayer continues to pay unfairly for a system of funding that is broken. I believe that it is unfortunate that property tax relief has to be won in the courts because of the failure of the legislature to fix a system of funding that penalizes some and rewards others.