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Stamford Lawmakers Demand More School Funds

STAMFORD, Conn. – Enraged state legislators in Stamford and Norwalk — who say their school systems are being short-changed in state education funding — are demanding changes in the way Hartford doles out the money.

Lawmakers form both parties say a change made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the state's complex Educational Cost Sharing formula, or ECS — which relies heavily on a community’s property values to determine funding — leaves the two cities far short of amounts provided to school districts of comparable size in Fairfield County and the state.

“The formula penalizes Stamford and Norwalk. We have a very high student population in Stamford, about 15,000, and large pockets of poor people who rent and live in multiple-unit dwellings,” said state Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, a Stamford Democrat who is a member of the legislature’s Education Committee.

“Yet our ECS funding is far lower than similar cities because of some high property values,” said Miller. “We are definitely getting the short end of the stick compared to cities like Bridgeport, Danbury and New Haven. The formula has to be changed to make it more equitable so we get state funding we need to provide quality education to all of our students.”

But that won’t be easy, said State Rep. Michael Molgano, a Stamford Republican who serves on both the legislature’s Education Committee and the ECS Task Force appointed last year by Malloy to revise the formula.

“I’ve been angry about this for a very long time,” said Molgano. “But it’s tough to change the formula in any significant way because other cities that benefit are not willing to give up their ECS funding and prefer it the way it is now. There’s really no way to change the formula and make everybody happy.”

The governor’s new formula, which is part of his overall education reform bill, doesn’t help Stamford and Norwalk, Molgano said.

“Stamford and Norwalk are out in the ocean all by themselves,” said Molgano. “In fact, because of all the complexities, Stamford is actually ending up with fewer dollars per pupil than before.”

Some lawmakers are still trying to change that. Led by House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, legislators in the two cities want the formula to better reflect their communities’ economic status and educational needs.

“The best evidence that the ECS formula is unfair is that a city like Norwalk can be considered affluent, despite having been classified by the state as a distressed municipality,” said Cafero. “We are also currently classified as a high priority (low-performing) school district by the state.

“Our (Republican) caucus is working on a new formula to present to the legislature within the next two weeks,” Cafero added.

The battle is also being waged by Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiaramonte. In testimony to the legislature’s Education Committee last week, he said the funding provided to Norwalk is “an insult.”

Chiaramonte pointed out that under the current formula, Norwalk and Stamford are slated to receive less than $9 million in ECS funding in fiscal 2012-13. But Danbury, a similarly sized city, will receive more than $25 million.

“We are very diverse, blue-collar communities, but Norwalk and Stamford are being treated like crabapples … and I told that to the committee,” said Chiaramonte.

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