Groton leaders condemn proposed state cuts

February 14, 2017

Groton — Groton’s three state lawmakers and school, town and city leaders on Monday collectively denounced Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal that would cut $14.17 million in aid to Groton.
“Not only is this cut in education funding a slap in the face to the sons and daughters of our submariners, but this is a slap in the face to all who serve our country,” state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said during a news conference at the School Administration office.

Town Manager Mark Oefinger said the cut would result in a nearly 22 percent increase in the tax rate, or about 4 mills.

Malloy’s budget proposal last week delivered the largest cut in the state to Groton, partly because of a formula that calculated wealth based on the number of children enrolled in the Husky plan, a state health insurance plan for low-income families.

The calculation failed to consider that 1,092 of the 4,872 students enrolled in Groton Public Schools are the children of military dependents who live in tax-exempt military housing and are ineligible for Husky insurance. At least 42 percent of the district students with parents in the military would qualify for Husky based on income, Superintendent Michael Graner said.

The state instead excluded the students and classified the town as “affluent,” said state Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton. As a whole, about 43 percent of students in Groton Public Schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a commonly used measure of income level.

If the cut goes through, Graner said he would have to reduce the school district’s staff by 16 percent, cutting 68 teachers, five administrators and 45 paraprofessionals. “That kind of cut would be absolutely devastating” to the all of the schools and the community, he said.

The cut would also weaken Groton’s position in defending the Naval Submarine Base against another BRAC round, Somers said. BRAC, which stands for Base Realignment and Closure, is a process that determines which military bases should remain open and which ones should close.

“And when, not if, there is another BRAC, how will we defend our region’s ability to provide a suitable education for children of the defenders of our freedom if our schools are shuttered and depleted of (their) resources?” Somers said.

State Rep. Joseph de la Cruz, D-Groton, said he believes the budget proposal is “dead on arrival” and lawmakers won’t support it. He said he was “shaking” with anger after learning of the cut.
“It’s five days later and I’m more mad than I was five days ago,” he said after the news conference.

Town Mayor Bruce Flax said Malloy has visited Groton in the past to talk about Electric Boat, Pfizer Inc., and other “great things” happening in the town. But now he would like Malloy to visit to talk about the proposed budget cuts.

The Groton Town and Groton City police chiefs also spoke at the news conference. The departments are concerned about the “cascading effects” the cuts may have on public safety, town Police Chief L.J. Fusaro said.

Every municipality in the state is putting its budget together now, Oefinger said, and conversations about major changes should have occurred earlier, as towns have almost no time left to discuss proposals that alter their finances.

Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith said, “A cut that’s based on a formula that’s unworkable, that’s illogical, that results in massive increases to citizens is wrong.” But she’s glad the community is responding with one voice, she said.

“I am proud that we’re standing united on this, because united we work better,” she said.

On Monday afternoon, Malloy spokesperson Kelly Donnelly, said the governor’s budget proposal reflects “our state’s shared values and responsibilities.”

“Now, more than ever, we must look beyond the edge of one’s own town and recognize that our neighboring towns’ successes and failures matter enormously to our own,” she said. “A thriving and more vibrant New London serves the best interest of Groton residents as well. The Governor’s budget also responds to the urgent challenge confronting the state’s progress — the growing disparity in how town aid is disbursed.”
A disproportionate share of the economic burden is borne by those least able to afford it, she said. “Those towns that are better off continue to be shielded from the impact of the current challenges presented by our new economic reality. As a state, we must offer a comprehensive solution to the current system and refrain from pitting towns versus each other, but recognize that we are all in this together.”

But she added that the governor is open to having a dialogue “to explore the issue of poverty for our military families, which local officials contend is not accurately represented” by looking at Husky insurance.