The state’s largest teachers union filed a lawsuit Wednesday in an attempt to block $557 million in education cuts the governor has ordered.
The Connecticut Education Association is seeking an injunction that would stop the state from reducing and reallocating last year’s $2 billion in education cost-sharing grants and ensure that districts receive at least the same amount of funding they got last year.
Outside Superior Court in Hartford Wednesday, education leaders and teachers from three towns named as plaintiffs in the suit — Torrington, Plainfield and Brooklyn — said the education cuts impede their legal obligation to offer Connecticut children a proper education.
“These cuts to our students and schools are the worst in Connecticut’s modern history,” said Donald Williams, the education association’s executive director. “Left unchecked, these cuts will cause chaos.”
Because state legislators and Malloy have been unable to agree on a state budget, the governor has sought to preserve funding for 30 struggling school districts. To do this he has eliminated education cost-sharing funds for 85 wealthier districts and reduced funding for 54 more towns.
The bulk of the education cuts have not taken effect yet and the legislature is still meeting to try to come up with a state budget.
Three teachers, a parent and two students were also named as plaintiffs in the suit.
Nancy Andrews, a spokeswoman for the CEA, said the towns were selected because they all received substantial cuts in the executive order budget and also have high levels of poverty.
Malloy has reduced Torrington’s education funding from $24 million to $4.9 million, an 80 percent plunge.
“The Torrington mayor told me they could close the high school, close the middle school, and still not equal the cuts in this executive order,” Williams said.
Funding for Plainfield and Brooklyn schools would be cut from $15 million and $7 million, to $9 million and $4 million, respectively.
Many districts have since contacted the union wanting to join the court action, but Andrews said the union wanted to move swiftly and didn’t have time to include more.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday that the “CEA is acting in a premature basis. Under normal circumstances, those checks don’t go out until the end of October. Secondarily, they’ll have to handle the issue of the fact that we have a lot less money to spend without a budget than we do with a budget.
“Their stronger argument might be that we can’t make any payments to communities in the absence of a budget. That one I’d be afraid of.”
Torrington teacher Veronica Gelormino said her district has already received a check for the first quarterly installment of education funding. At $1.2 million, it was nearly $6 million less than last year’s payment, she said.
“What kind of an education can we deliver, losing $20 million?” Gelormino, a seventh grade social studies teacher, asked.
“They’re our kids, they’re our future, and how can we look at them and say, ‘No, you can’t do it because we can’t pay for that program. I’m sorry there’s no more club, because we can’t afford the late bus. And sorry, there’s no more tutoring for you.’ How can you do that to a kid?”
Gelormino said she’s seen classrooms grow more crowded and teachers lose their jobs in her district. One Torrington teacher perennially on the chopping block is Michael McCotter, in his fourth year at Southwest Elementary School. He’s received a pink slip all four years, and Torrington debated closing his school entirely last year, he said.
Williams, the CEA director, said in the absence of a state budget, Malloy was “bound” to appropriate to schools the same level of funding as the previous fiscal year, citing the State v. Staub Supreme Court ruling in 1892.
“Quite frankly, this situation is catastrophic,” he said. “It’s going to cut teachers, increase class sizes and result in layoffs of specialists and aides. You can’t enact [an] 80 percent cut in Torrington, a 40 percent cut in Plainfield and a 40 percent cut in Brooklyn without devastating cuts to the school budget.”
Daniela Altimari and Kathleen Megan contributed to this story.