MONTPELIER — Education officials are calling on lawmakers to support the mandates they impose by adding additional staff to the Agency of Education and the State Board of Education.
Members of the State Board of Education offered testimony before the House Education Committee on Monday calling for staff members to support the many educational initiatives imposed by the General Assembly, from school district mergers and universal Pre-K education to dual enrollment and personalized learning plans.
“In our opinion, the Agency (of Education) is suffering with inadequate staff,” said Stephan Morse, chairman of the State Board of Education, who discussed the staff reductions the agency has faced during the past eight years.
Since fiscal year 2008, the agency has lost 43 positions, falling from 213 to the current staffing level of 170. At the same time, 70 percent of agency staff are paid for with federal funds, which limits the scope of work they may perform, Morse said.
Morse noted the State Board of Education, which is just beginning what will be a multi-year process of reviewing and approving school district merger proposals, does not have any staff of its own, and requested three positions: administrative, clerical and legal.
Board member Mark Perrin noted that while the State Board of Education has been able to handle the volume of merger requests coming in, it is likely that in the coming years, the proposals will be much more complex.
“We are seeing the low-hanging fruit coming through right now,” Perrin said. “The future applications will be much more complicated.”
Board member William Mathis argued the lawmakers had an obligation to fund the staff necessary to carry out the laws they have enacted.
“We would like to not see unfunded mandates,” Mathis said. “If you’re not going to fund them, then don’t do it.”
However, the board members argued the first priority should be funding positions within the Agency of Education, and called for nine additional positions to address school district mergers, data analysis and professional development for both teachers and school administrators.
The request drew the ire of Rep. Kevin Christie, D-Hartford, who said, for several years, his committee has repeatedly requested a report from the Agency of Education on its needs and its staffing levels, and has not received any such report.
Rep. Bernard Juskiewicz, R-Cambridge, said he shared Christie’s frustration.
“Ever since I’ve been on this committee, I’ve been asking about staffing needs,” Juskiewicz said. “It took three years to get response.”
State board member Krista Huling argued that the education secretary serves at the pleasure of the governor, whose administration determines the staffing needs of the agency, and Huling said the leader of the Agency of Education coming to lawmakers to seek additional staff would be “a break in the chain of of command.”
“Sometimes, you need to break the chain of command,” Juskiewicz said.
Committee Chairman David Sharpe, D-Bristol, said he was sympathetic to the needs of the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education, but expressed doubt that, at this stage in the budget process, there will be room in the budget for additional staff.
“I’m not really hopeful, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to try,” Sharpe said.