Common Sense Solutions – School Funding
This is the second of an eight-part digital series where I address my position on a range of different town issues that Westporters care about. To see the first of the series on Traffic please click here.
I’m worried about what the state is doing to our school funding. We’ve already lost millions in state educational cost sharing funds. Now the State is threatening to force us to pay millions of dollars for its unfunded teacher pension plan. Even if that doesn’t happen, drastic reductions in state aid to education for Westport change the face of public education and put the future of our children in jeopardy.
So what will I do, as First Selectman, to protect our schools?
Yes, like my opponents, I will pressure our elected state representatives to stop the State from making us pay for its mistakes. But here’s the cold hard truth my opponents won’t tell you—our local state legislators have never been able to prevent Hartford from picking the pockets of Fairfield County residents and, realistically, we can’t expect that to change now. We simply don’t have enough votes in Hartford to stop it.
I also won’t hide behind the tired old promise to combine town and school back office functions. While it’s definitely worth doing, for lots of reasons, it won’t save enough money to fund even one teacher.
After years of negotiation, Westport has made much needed changes to its municipal pension agreement reducing our future liability. The result–$700,000 to $1.3 million of savings each year going forward effective July 1, 2017. If we apply half of these savings to covering shortfalls in the education budget each year, it would go a long way to ensure that school funding is protected.
Does the town have to share the monetary rewards of pension reform with the schools? No, but it’s the right thing to do. We are one town, and we all benefit from strong schools.
On the RTM, I have voted to support the school budget nine times. This year, I led the fight to restore funds cut by the Board of Finance, which would have eliminated essential programs and safety measures like school bus monitors. But it’s a new budget world now. It’s no longer the Board of Finance we have to worry about. It’s the state.
All candidates for First Selectman say, at election time, that education is their number one priority, but this specific, common sense solution of dedicating 50% of our pension reform savings to the schools going forward is a way as First Selectman that I can make a real, measurable contribution to keeping our schools excellent. And as your First Selectman, I will persist to make sure that it happens.