More Layoffs, Vo-Tech School Closures Possible As Malloy's Budget Office Seeks Spending Cuts

More Layoffs, Vo-Tech School Closures Possible As Malloy's Budget Office Seeks Spending Cuts

 Hartford Courant, October 6, 2016

 

Spending cuts that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is seeking due to the expected continuation of a slow-growth economy could result in further staff reductions and the closure of some vocational schools.

In preparing the budget for the next two-year period, Governor Malloy is seeking suggestions for 10 percent reductions from agencies in order to weigh the options for making cuts that will be decided in the coming months.

Since fixed costs could increase by more than $1.1 billion in the next fiscal year with no explosive economic growth to pay for it, Malloy's budget chief says "cuts to agency spending will be necessary" for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2017. Malloy is not expected to unveil the budget proposal until February, but his budget team has begun work.

In a detailed letter to state agency heads, budget chief Benjamin Barnes said the commissioners will need to "redouble our efforts" as they prepare for the two-year budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Barnes raised the specter of continuing layoffs by stating, "Agencies may need to further reduce, or perhaps cease delivering altogether, certain programs or services, and additional headcount reductions may be necessary."

But a budget spokesman cautioned Wednesday that no layoffs have been ordered because it is "far too early to identify whether there will be workforce reductions at all." Those discussions will take place in the coming months leading to Malloy's budget, which requires approval next year by the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Budget cuts and employee layoffs back to top

Deep budget cuts have pushed the number of state-employee layoffs and expected open positions beyond 1,250, state officials said. The executive branch announced in June that it had delivered 785 layoff notices to employees in more than 15 agencies and departments across state government, ranging from the embattled Department of Children and Families to the state's vocational-technical schools.

Besides the executive branch, the judicial branch delivered 300 layoff notices – and expected at least 200 more open positions in the current fiscal year due to retirements, a strict hiring freeze, and attrition.

If the state Department of Education's budget is cut by 10 percent, it would mean closing two technical high schools and suspending all athletic programs at the rest of the high schools, according to a proposal approved Wednesday by the State Board of Education.

The 10 percent cut would amount to an $82 million reduction in the agency's budget and includes cuts to dozens of programs and operations within the department.

"I think all of these reductions are hard," state education commissioner Dianna Wentzell said after the meeting. "Everything we do – or provide funding for other people to do – is good for kids. There's nothing you can look at on the list and say, 'Oh good, I'm glad they are cutting that because these are all programs for kids.'"

The proposal presented by the state agency to the board said the cuts would have a "significant impact on the operations of the department and services we provide to local school districts."

The cuts would not impact more than $2 billion in education cost-sharing grants awarded by the state annually to districts, nor would they affect the grants provided to struggling communities known as Alliance Districts.

Under the proposal, the Connecticut Technical High School System would need to reduce its expenditures by $16.3 million. Suspending athletics would save $3 million, while closing two schools or suspending operations at them would save $11.4 million.

Other cuts included in the proposal include a $31.3 million reduction for magnet schools, an $11 million cut for charter schools, and a $4 million reduction in the Open Choice program which enables Hartford kids to attend school in the suburbs. The Commissioner's Network program which provides assistance to low performing schools would be cut by $1.2 million.

Cuts would also be made to Neighborhood Youth Centers, Young Parents Programs, bilingual education, the school breakfast program and talent development for teachers and leaders.

Chris McClure, a spokesman for the state budget office, said preliminary budget discussions regarding potential education cuts are still taking place.

"The proposals submitted by [the education department] are for planning purposes only, and we will take the time to thoroughly and diligently work with the agency to determine which options will be included in the governor's budget proposal in February," he said. "Prudence and statute require OPM to assess each agency's budget for FY 18 now to craft the best possible budget for the upcoming biennium."