AP NEWS

Where I Stand School budget — get informed and involved

March 9, 2019

It’s school budget season, and whether or not you have children in the school system, you should get informed and involved.

According to a data analysis by the Connecticut School Finance Project, Danbury Public Schools is the 7th largest district in Connecticut and educates 11,483 students. Of those students, nearly 60 percent are low-income, more than 1 in 4 are English Learners, and close to 1 in 8 need special education services.

Danbury property taxpayers pay nearly 70 cents of every dollar in the city’s education budget, roughly $8,930 per student.

Through its Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula the State of Connecticut distributes funding to local public school districts to cover a portion of the education costs. But what seems like a fair system in theory is not fair at all, and due to the state’s fiscal crisis, the formula cannot be fully funded as it stands (in fact it has not been fully funded for years).

For example, in fiscal year 2019, Danbury is estimated to receive $32.3 million in ECS funding. But, if the ECS formula were fully funded, Danbury would receive an estimated $55.7million — a staggering $23.4 million more than the district is currently scheduled to receive in fiscal year 2019.

So as a result: What happens? Team “Do not Raise My Local Taxes” vs. team “Fully Fund Us” arises in the municipal budget season, and good intentioned tensions flare.

On one side you have those who do not want local tax increases when they see 70 percent of their tax dollars invested in schools instead of in other city services.

On the other team you have those who advocate for more resources to improve our schools and serve a growing student population that has expanded in part due to the city’s ability to attract new businesses and residents.

And in the middle we have the State of Connecticut, deep in its struggle to figure out its financial crisis. Looking at the implementation of tolls and adding additional taxes to create more revenue, which will still not make it able to fully fund its own Education Cost Sharing formula.

So what needs to happen? All sides need to find a way to become part of the same team, one that is responsible with our present resources but has an eye on our future as a unified community during the budget process. One that sees all facets of the city’s growth as a positive asset, that is transforming our city into a large urban center, and is willing to invest to make it one we can all be proud of. A team that realizes a stronger school system leads to overall higher property values, with an increased desire to live and raise a family here.

We need to continue to join forces, advocate and fight for fair education funding for all at the state capitol. Funding that is based on student learning needs, is predictable, efficient, accessible and takes into consideration the depth and breadth of the different types of diversity of all communities.

But what can you do? Regardless of what team you are on, Wednesday, March 20, at 6 to 8 p.m. at Rogers Park Middle School, located at 21 Memorial Dr., Danbury, come to the Community Forum on the School Budget, where you will be able learn more about the issue. Childcare and translation services in Portuguese and in Spanish will also be provided. To register for childcare, please call 203-797-4734.

Out of the forum there may not be a solution, but it could be the start of building “Team Danbury” as one unified front for our city’s future.

Emanuela Palmares is a member of the Danbury Board of Education and Editor of the The Tribuna Newspaper.