Legislators from Greenwich met on Wednesday with Connecticut’s Secretary of Policy and Management (OPM), Benjamin Barnes, who is Governor Malloy’s budget chief. The purpose of the meeting was to appeal to Mr. Barnes to reconsider his advice to legislators not to approve state funding for a new New Lebanon School.
The funding would be in the form of a reimbursement for about 80% of the $37 million school construction project, which is possible under Connecticut General Statute 10-286h, for a Diversity School.
In his Dec 29 memo to a dozen legislators on various committees, Barnes said that the statute making the Diversity School reimbursement possible, “was not good public policy then, and it is not good public policy now.”
He added that, “the statute is flawed because it rewards districts for “avoiding the difficult decisions around redistricting and school reconfigurations.
After the meeting, all four legislators from Greenwich – State Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149), State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151), State Rep. Mike Bocchino (R-150) and State Senator Scott Frantz – expressed optimism that the situation might be resolved.
Senator Frantz said that anything can happen in the Capital building. “Especially when we are facing another fiscal crisis, but it appears that the potential for partially funding the New Lebanon School project is still alive,” he said.
“We had a very productive meeting with Ben Barnes and Deputy Secretary Susan Weisselberg,” Floren said. “We articulated our concerns about changing the funding paradigm in the middle of the process, especially when New Lebanon has followed all of the guidelines set forth in the statute and by the Dept of Education and Dept of Administrative Services…and has favorably met or exceeded all criteria.”
Floren said there is always a reason for optimism. “While there is life, there is hope… even in Hartford,” she said.
Fred Camillo said he was pleased that Mr. Barnes had listened to the points made about the state honoring its commitment to fund the project.
“He certainly wasn’t against the project as much as he was against the method of doing it,” Camillo said. “We impressed upon him that we followed the rules and met all the criterion, and changing the rules at the last minute was something we strongly objected to, while understanding his position going forward.”
Camillo said that the racial balance formula does have merit. Racial balance is based on a school’s population having not more than 25% or not less than 25% less than the town’s overall minority population. But, Camillo added, “Achieving the numbers in many towns will be impossible, and that needs to be acknowledged.”
Mr. Frantz said the project still has to pass the School Construction Committee, the Education Committee and the Finance Committee.
“We will do whatever is necessary to assure the highest level of support at each of these committees,” Frantz said.
Mr. Frantz agreed with Mr. Camillo that the there is merit to the spirit of the racial balance law, but that it is nearly impossible to achieve in most towns in Connecticut.