Matthew Nittoly: Proposed GOP cuts would devastate CT charter schools

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The CT House and Senate Republicans recently proposed a series of cuts to close our state's budget deficit. While some of their cuts make sense, it is inexplicable to us in education that they also proposed chopping $12.9 million from this current year's public charter school budget. Doing this would retroactively diminish our funding by over $1,500 per child and jeopardize the future of CT Charter Schools and the children we educate.

As public schools that are consistently getting results from our students, charters are the last educational program lawmakers should consider cutting. But it goes well beyond that ­charters are already significantly underfunded and widening that inequity defies all logic. Small, independent, "mom and pop" public charter schools like Side by Side Charter School in Norwalk don't have the resources to survive this proposal. A reduction of this magnitude would equate to more than $300,000 in lost funding for our students.

Charter students already receive less in funding per year than students in traditional district schools. That alone is fundamentally unfair. Our students have the same learning needs as their peers in Norwalk Public Schools, and every other host district where charters are located. They don't deserve any less in support.

Politics and opinions about charter schools aside, the fact remains: We are public schools. Our children are no different than all other public school children. State and federally driven mandates for curriculum, state testing, teacher certification, and fiscal management are no different for charter schools than they are for any other public school system. Yet, unlike other public schools, our per-pupil allocation from CT state funding is the only significant source of revenue that we receive. It is the base from which we build and improve everything. Cutting it, even a little, has major consequences.

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For school staff, these cuts would be overwhelming. This proposal by the CT GOP would deprive Side by Side, and all CT Charters, of sufficient operating revenues to continue our successful operations. If these cuts were to be implemented, it would reduce our operating revenue by nearly 50 percent in the fourth quarter. We're comprised of two certified administrators and 18 certified teachers, along with administrative and instructional support staff --  we're a really small public school.

A little over $300K would amount to nearly five full teacher salaries, or more than a quarter of our teaching staff. Just as significant, these cuts would amount to more than the cost of our entire administrative department, which is responsible for everything traditionally required of both a superintendent and a building principal in any other public school. Simply put, we would not be able to afford enough staff to keep our school running.

What's more, as one of the oldest charters in the state, we have been in our school building for a long time. That facility is in dire need of repairs, especially our middle school annex, which is currently housed in a modular building. Although we are a public school, CT charters are not eligible for state funds that are available to traditional CT public school districts or RESCs. As a result, we've had to carefully save and manage our own limited capital budget to afford any new building construction. This proposal would completely negate all of the strides we have made towards updating our current facilities, ignoring our responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Most important in all of this, these cuts and changes would have a grave effect on the children we serve.

Despite overwhelming odds, given inequitable charter funding and fast-paced reform-oriented timelines that all public schools are working to meet, Side by Side students are reaching achievement levels that guarantee they are on track to college and career readiness as they head toward high school. This progress has largely been dependent on stretching our current staff almost beyond capacity ­ thanks to our dedicated team of educators who are the backbone of our school. These proposed cuts would completely undermine those efforts to prepare our students for success. To be clear, we cannot continue to meet the demands of closing the achievement gap if we lose this funding.

As things stand, our financial situation is already dire. Any further cuts would be utterly devastating.

Rank and file Republican lawmakers should condemn this irresponsible proposal, and the rest of the General Assembly should follow suit. Public charter schools like Side by Side are beating the odds to provide a great education for their students. Those children do not deserve to be hurt by a severe and unplanned reduction in resources.

Matthew E. Nittoly is the executive director of Side by Side Charter School in South Norwalk.


This piece originally appeared on The Hour.

 

Matthew Nittoly is the Executive Director of Side By Side Charter School in Norwalk.
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Matthew Nittoly: Proposed GOP cuts would devastate CT charter schools
Matthew Nittoly: Proposed GOP cuts would devastate CT charter schools
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