State Aid a Gain for Now, but Uncertainty Lingers, Officials Say
WETHERSFIELD - Governor Malloy’s draft of the budget-the first stage proposal of the legislative session-would have Wethersfield at a $2 million gain in Education Cost Sharing (ECS) aid, but local officials are cautioning against celebrating too early.

       “I was surprised,” said Mayor Paul Montinieri. “I told [Board of Education Chair Bobbie Hughes Granato] not to get too excited, because I don’t think it’ll hold up. There’s so much municipal pushback from towns that have significant decreases.”

       Malloy’s state budget address-an expressed desire to level the playing field on education funding with increased aid to financially ailing cities-has drawn rebuke from more affluent municipalities marked to take significant hits.

       In between both ends of the spectrum are towns such as Wethersfield, and their neighbors in Rocky Hill-who, as of the Governor’s version, would reportedly see a $1.2 million reduction in overall state aid.

       “There is a tremendous number of questions,” said Superintendent of Schools Mike Emmett. “It’s a proposal.”

       Which means that it’s more than likely to change, as legislators counter with their own pitches in the later stages of the process, Wethersfield officials said.

       Both Montinieri and Emmett said that they expect some questions to loom, even as they make the final touches on their own budgets this coming spring.

       Emmett kicked the local cycle off by presenting a requested 2.9 percent increase to the Board of Education Tuesday night, stressing the push from fixed salary and benefit raises, as well as $1.7 million in requests that were not included in his proposal.

       “As a superintendent, I have to strike that balance,” Emmett said. “I have to give our kids what they need, I also have to be responsible in a tough economic time when taxes continue to rise and funding continues to dwindle.”

       The deferred requests include a K-6 English Language Learning instructor and a K-6 special education teacher.

       “We’d certainly like to get stronger, we’d certainly like to add staff, but we have to strike that balance,” Emmett said.

       A $50,000 line item to add a high school-level lacrosse team, $400,000 in technology expenditures, and $400,000 in building improvements were also left out of the request, Emmett said.

       Salaries-slated for a 3.1 percent increase-comprise 64 percent of the budget, with benefits making up 14 percent. The latter will see a 7.1 percent raise this year.

       Other cost drivers include fuel and utilities-expected to go up 13 percent this year-Emmett said.

       The newly renovated Wethersfield High School-which the district had hoped would provide some savings by way of the building’s LED lighting-is actually a large part of the cost driver in this area, he said.

       “While we have a lot of efficient lighting, we’re using that building all the time,” Emmett said.