As state aid cuts loom, school board won’t say how to handle loss
FAIRFIELD — With a looming cut in state aid threatening to upend Fairfield’s 2016-17 budget plans with a shortfall as large as $4.5 million, the Board of Education met in special session Wednesday to grapple with the potential loss.
But the school board meeting, called in advance of Monday’s Representative Town Meeting session, produced no blueprint on ways the recommended $163.3 million education budget could be reduced to reflect the cuts proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy. Instead, the board basically affirmed its support for the level of spending already approved by both the Boards of Selectmen and Finance.
The brief meeting was scheduled in response to a letter to school board Chairman Philip Dwyer from RTM Moderator Pam Iacono that said, “We respectfully request that your board discuss this item prior to our April 25th meeting, and that as chairman, you be prepared to speak on behalf of your board regarding this issue at our meeting.”
In a bid to close a growing state budget deficit, Malloy’s proposed budget would eliminate all Education Cost Sharing funding to Fairfield, meaning a reduction of $3.5 million in expected revenue. The governor also proposed cutting the town’s sales tax sharing by $1 million. The state’s General Assembly won’t act on the its budget until after the RTM is scheduled to take final action on the state budget May 2.
The town’s budget is now in the hands of the RTM, Dwyer said, and it is his opinion that if school officials want a strong argument against spending reductions, they should refrain from detailing potential cuts at this time. If the RTM votes on the budget as it stands now — the overall spending package is $293.5 million —the school board would, as it has in the past, work with town town officials should reductions become necessary after the state adopts its budget, he said.
There is a possibility the RTM could postpone its budget vote, Dwyer said, until after the state sets its budget.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said the town attorney has confirmed the local budget vote can be delayed if the RTM chooses. “There will be a written opinion from the town attorney Monday night to confirm that,” Tetreau said. He said there are logistical issues, such as how long it would take to get new tax bills mailed, that are being investigated.
School board member Marc Patten expressed frustration that after school officials achieved substantial savings on health insurance for the 2016-17 budget, the board was planning to add programs to implement its district improvement plan.
“We will do our best,” Patten said. “If we have to adjust, we’ll do what we can.”