Amid the latest developments with the state budget, leaders in the Tolland School District are relieved.
Earlier budget proposals called for the district's state funding to drop by 80 percent, but Thursday’s finalized budget only slashes the number by about 5 percent.
The difference will save dozens of district jobs.
“It's clearly a time to be thankful for the late nights and hard work that the legislature did,” said Tolland Superintendent of Schools Walter Willett.
He isn’t exactly jumping for joy though, he wants people to understand that the delays stemming from the budget debacle created significant problems here that can't be undone.
“We are still suffering from that fiscal malpractice it's like we went in for surgery on our tonsils and had a lung taken out and we are supposed to happy that we still have another lung,” Willett said, adding that the district has had to prepare for the worst.
He had to cut more than a dozen staff members, and others left the district because of the unsettled financial future the budget quagmire created.
“The damage to Tolland has been significant, even with them getting it right as it were,” Willett said. “I think that they have gotten it right, I just wish they had gotten it right three or four months ago.”
Other educators also weighed in. The state's largest teacher’s union is pleased cuts to district will be relatively small but feels a provision requiring teachers to pay one percent of their salaries to pension costs is unfair.
The Connecticut Education Association wrote “The fight for a fair budget that invests in public education has ended in the legislature with a bipartisan agreement that does not substantially cut ECS funding or shift the cost of teacher retirement onto cities and towns. Teachers do not agree with everything in the budget, but we do appreciate the effort of legislators to protect education funding for our students and schools, and to solve the budget impasse. We are pleased that many thousands of teachers contacted their legislators-urging them to invest in public education-and that their voices were heard. We are dismayed, however, that after receiving tens of thousands of emails and calls from teachers, legislators still voted to increase the payroll tax on teachers. While we appreciate the fact that legislators reduced the two percent increase in the teacher tax down to one percent, this increase does not strengthen the teacher retirement fund-it simply allows the state to reduce its share and pocket the $38 million in new tax dollars paid by teachers. This is wrong because teachers have reliably contributed their fair share every year. These 117 days have been extremely tough and anxious for all of us, but especially for our students, our schools, and our teachers-who were targeted with a variety of cuts to close the state budget shortfall. Teachers recognize the challenges facing the state and the tough decisions that must be made, and going forward we encourage legislators to not shortchange students, their futures, and the future of our state.”
Willett said he believes the budget is a good step overall, just one taken far too late.
“I think that they have gotten it right I just wish they had gotten it right three or four months ago,” he said.
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