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Face the Facts: Many Mayors Want Changes to Funding for Conn. Schools to Happen Faster

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Executive Director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Joe DeLong explains why municipalities are concerned that changes to the Education Cost Sharing formula are not happening quickly enough.

Mike Hydeck: It has been underfunded for years. Now the state is making changes to the way we fund our schools by amending the Education Cost Sharing formula, but many mayors and first selectmen say these changes are not happening fast enough. And because of the firm financial footing the state is on right now, they would like to see lawmakers speed things up and immediately. Joining me now is Joe DeLong, Executive Director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. He brings their message to state lawmakers to know what they're talking about so they can be heard. So you have said, Joe, you have said that revenue that cities and towns are slated for in the governor's budget proposal just wasn't enough. You said and in a public comment, he's tone deaf to our needs. What do you mean by that?

Joe DeLong: Well, you know, first of all, I think the term tone deaf was a little strong. And I'd probably in all honesty regret putting it that way. I don't think the governor is necessarily tone deaf. But I do think that there is a disconnect to the tremendous challenges that are going on in some of our communities with the youth and the generations that we're just losing because we're not able to meet their needs.

Mike Hydeck: Losing as in they're moving out of state?

Joe DeLong: No, losing as in their futures. You know, there are reports out there of nearly 40,000, think about the number, 40,000 disconnected young people, disconnected youth. And by disconnected that means they're not going to school, or if they're right out of school, they don't have a job, or they're not doing things productively in society. And too many times, when we talk about that population, we talk about them in terms of people who are breaking into cars. Or we talk about them in terms of crimes that are happening on our streets. But we don't talk about them in terms of, our highest need populations are the ones that we are directing the least amount of resources to, and we're losing these kids at a young age.

Mike Hydeck: So you're talking about per student cost? Are you talking about social services? All the above or something I'm not mentioning?

Joe DeLong: All the above. It's per student cost. If you look at our highest needs children, those who be considered the most at risk, typically those within urban communities, per student, we are spending less on those students than the ones that are coming from two parent households with incredible resources being given to them. And that's correlating into lost generations. And we just believe there's an opportunity here, there's great need. We also have the resources right now to create the opportunity to address that need.

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Mike Hydeck: So right now, the cost sharing formula is expected to be metered out and changed over a 10 year period. You'd like to see that shrunk how much?

Joe DeLong: Yeah, well, really, if you look at it, that the cost sharing formula that was put into place back in 2018, is supposed to be fully funded by 2028. So the state is already on course to meeting that commitment. But what the state didn't know, 2018 was an incredibly different time in our state. We were facing massive budget deficits. We were talking about layoffs. We were talking about reductions in municipal aid. We're in a different place financially now. So what we believe is why wait till 2028 to do what we have the resources to do right now. So what we're asking for, is to speed that 2028 up and have it fully funded by 2025 so we don't lose another generation of kids.

Mike Hydeck: Take three years off it. So a bipartisan group looked at ways to change how municipalities have to pay into retirement when it comes to police and teachers and things. And they came up with a proposal this week, that seems to be getting a lot of attention. In fact, the first selectman in Windsor said 'wow, this is huge.' This could take a lot off our balance sheet. Is that what you're hearing? And what did they actually accomplish if this goes through?

Joe DeLong: Well, first off, let me say great praise for comptroller Sean Scanlon. He took on something that other people for years have talked about, but have not been willing to take on. So I want to begin there. Tremendous praise to him. Tremendous praise to this group. We're excited to look at the product. As you know, the product was just released. We have a board of directors meeting coming up this week. And so, Comptroller Scanlon is going to come in, he's going to present it to the CCM Board of Directors, get a full understanding of everything that was done. And you know, and then we'll take our positions based off of our process there. But I will tell you that our entire board, I think would give tremendous praise to comptroller Scanlon.

Mike Hydeck: So we've heard a lot lately that cities and towns have been hit hard by this historic inflation. It was at 9% at one point. Now it's trickling down towards 5%. How does that make a difference on the bottom line of a local city or town?

Joe DeLong: Well, it costs more money to do everything in a town the same as it does in your regular household. You think about electricity costs and how much they've gone up. Think about how much electricity it takes to turn on the lights in a school or in our town buildings. Filling a pothole costs more money, you know, so all of these things trickle down to the bottom line. And if we're not careful, once the federal dollars and all of that run out, we could hit this cliff where we're looking at massive property tax increases to cover those inflationary costs. And we certainly don't want to see that happen.

Mike Hydeck: Alright, so last question. I have a little less than a minute. We got a lot of money pumped into the state in the last three years or so. Infrastructure money. Pandemic money. There's a lot of reports out that say a lot of these cities and towns aren't spending it. Do you know why?

Joe DeLong: You know, I'm not hearing that as much from our towns and cities. I'm not hearing a lot of complaints that they're having trouble getting that funding out the door. There are some regulatory measures and some hoops that you have to go through. But frankly, that's probably a good thing. When you're talking about this amount of federal funding, you want to have oversight. So, you know, at this point, I think that there might be some ancillary issues here and there, but for the most part, my members are not complaining to me about having trouble allocating those funds.

Mike Hydeck: Can that help the overall balance sheet? Because it's money you're not spending. If infrastructure money is going to take care of your roads, that's not money you budgeted can go back into the general fund, right?

Joe DeLong: I think for the most part, what we want our towns and cities to do, most of them are doing is they're spending that money on one time expenses or capital projects. You don't want to spend that money to balance your budget or to do ongoing costs, because when that money runs out, you have a big budgetary deficit.

Mike Hydeck: And they call it that fiscal cliff. Joe DeLong, the Executive Director of Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Joe DeLong: It's good to see you. Thanks for having us.

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