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Stamford schools do more with less as state’s political future remains uncertain

September 3, 2018

STAMFORD — As the new school year begins, Stamford Public Schools are preparing to do more with less as Superintendent Earl Kim anticipates the state’s financial woes will further affect aid to his district.

Superintendent Earl Kim showed awareness of Connecticut’s fiscal challenges last spring when he presented a record-low budget proposal for the 2018-2019 school year — he asked for $274.7 million — prompting the school board to push him to seek more money.

“We felt it wasn’t a year to go forward with an “everything under the sun” budget,” Kim said. “Our financial plan is going to be predicated on that outlook. We’re in a good place because the board added some money to the budget and the Board of Finance signed off on that. It’s not going to be a year ahead where we’re looking to expand services. We have to be creative about how we expand the level of service.”

Board of Education chair David Mannis said he advocated for Kim to ask for additional funds, but was ultimately pleased with the $273 million that the city finance board allotted to the schools, an increase of $4 million from the previous year’s budget.

“The response to the budget from the rest of government indicated we’ve done an incredible job,” Mannis said. “What it encourages us to do is to sharpen our pencils, look for efficiencies and try to be shrewd — and I think that’s what we’re doing. There’s no question we have capital needs and the money isn’t there. We’re always trying to do the most immediate things - always looking for things that involve student safety - and they consume our capacity to spend. It makes us do better with what we got, and we do that and get qualitative improvements.”

Kim said the district is working on a financial plan for the next three years that would prepare for an even tighter budget within the next year, assuming the state’s own budget shortfalls don’t resolve themselves by then. Unlike smaller surrounding communities, Stamford held onto most of its Education Cost-Sharing Grant, accounting for about half of the city’s state aide. However, Kim said the city lost another grant, reducing its total state aid by up to 10 percent.

“It certainly hasn’t gotten any better, but it’s gotten more confused,” said Mannis. “It was difficult enough to wrest money from the state the past couple of years. Now we’re going to have a new governor. Their intentions about education aid and their ability to deliver on their intentions is unknown.”

The district is also working on collaborations with community organizations like Cradle to Career.

“In some cases, our community organizations are doing the work we’re doing,” Kim said. “There’s some duplication of effort. In some cases, they’re doing things they want to do and they’re doing it better...We’re not just asking community-based organizations who can do it better, but we’re talking about enhancing our services through this partnership.”

Kim said even with a tight budget, the district is rolling out five major initiatives this year including an early grade reading plan, an expanded intervention program for students with struggling academics and a program to reduce food insecurity.

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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