Budget Season

At Sharon’s Board of Finance Budget Meeting last week, more than half the time allotted for discussion was devoted to the Connecticut statute everyone loves to hate, Minimum Budget Requirement, or MBR.

First established by the Connecticut General Assembly in 1975, it was, with the best of intentions, meant to ensure that towns and school districts, particularly those with lower- or under-performing schools, used monies earmarked for education for that purpose and no other.

But over time MBR compliance has morphed into a remarkably complicated bureaucratic process and led to a wealth of unintended consequences. The basic tenet of MBR says that a school cannot make a budget that is less than the budget it had the previous year unless it can meet a set of “exceptions.” These exceptions have many requirements.

The bottom line: Schools and the towns their students come from do not control their own education budgets. They must make budgets that meet the state’s requirements, and cannot make budgets that reflect the actual spending they plan to do in any given year.

The frustration this leads to — for parents, taxpayers, town officers, educators, and board of education officials — is very real. The solution lies in getting the General Assembly to change the statute to return budgetary control, or at least more budgetary control, to communities across Connecticut. Local boards of education can’t fix this by themselves, the legislature has to step up.

If you are concerned about MBR, contact your state assembly representatives, Maria Horn or Stephen Harding, on their websites, or Kevin Chambers, who runs the MBR program, at kevin.chambers@ct.gov.

 

 

Another topic that surfaced in Sharon during the budget deliberations —  should town governments help support the nonprofit organizations that bring services and cultural enrichment to their communities or should these groups be left to go about their own fundraising? It’s an interesting and somewhat surprising question. Many U.S. nonprofit groups get support from, and work collaboratively with, government entities at the local, state, and even federal level.

Institutions such as the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon and the Sharon Historical Society help anchor and build the communities they serve, communities of passionate readers, of life-long students, of families and friends, of energetic and engaged volunteers, providing many different opportunities for Sharon residents to connect with each other around shared interests and concerns.

These activities align with the town’s responsibility to promote the public good. Town support of its nonprofit partners is not frivolous, it’s essential.

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