Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Mayor takes on taxes at Board of Education meeting

By Lee Sawyer
Journal Inquirer
January 24, 2006

VERNON - Mayor Ellen Marmer Monday appealed to state legislators at Monday's Board of Education meeting to update the school funding formula to increase state funds for local school systems.

In particular, Marmer told legislators - they were sitting in on the Board of Education meeting - she was troubled by what she described as a disparity between the resources directed to the large cities and those aimed at smaller communities like Vernon.

As state representatives Claire Janowski, D-Vernon, and Joan Lewis, D-Coventry, and state Senator Anthony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, looked on, Marmer expressed concern that high property taxes might be driving some residents to leave the state.

"If you are in a certain category - older, retired, on a fixed income, lifelong resident of Vernon, you may be left with no alternative than to leave the state. We are driving a lot of people out of Connecticut," Marmer said.

Increased education funding from the state would allow towns to offer tax relief, Marmer said.

Guglielmo, a member of the Senate Program Review Committee, which has studied the state's tax code, said that Connecticut is one of the nine states most overly reliant on property taxes.

In response to Marmer's concern about the lack of focus on smaller communities, he said that recent changes in legislative leadership and the governor's office had ousted an old guard of politicians from cities, and the changeover would likely bring a philosophy more sympathetic to the plight of small communities.

Marmer joked that if small communities east of the river didn't get treated more fairly, they might need to unite to boycott the state government, refuse to pay for unfunded mandates, or even secede from the state.

Lewis said she understood the mayor's concerns, but noted that local funding of schools was a way to maintain local control. She added that she is working on legislation that would freeze property tax rates for the elderly.

The legislators also heard a request from board member Susan Norlie-Hesnan, a Democrat, to create state initiatives to encourage minorities to pursue teaching careers. She noted that although the number of minority students in the school system has increased sharply, the schools employ only a handful of minority teachers because it was difficult to attract minority applicants.

In other business, Rockville High School Principal Brian Levesque and Housemaster Sue Andrews highlighted gains in CAPT scores.

The administrators gave the board the good news during a presentation of the 2005-06 instructional plan, an annual program designed to raise CAPT scores and participation rates at the high school.

The plan sets goals for continued improvement, an initiative mandated by the No Child Left Behind" act.
The high school achieved 100 percent participation in both the math and reading portions of the CAPT test in 2005, up from 92 percent for math and 95 percent for reading the year before.

"We worked hard, got great results, and I'm very pleased with what we've achieved so far," Andrews said.

Despite across-the-board improvement in nearly all areas, officials said they remain concerned by the gap in scores between students receiving free or reduced lunches and those not.

The data showed that 58 percent of economically disadvantaged students earned proficiency on the math CAPT; other students had 85.6 percent proficiency or above.

Though gaps of more than 20 percentage points separated the groups in every subject area, more underprivileged students reached proficiency in science, reading, and writing than in years past, according to the presentation.

© Journal Inquirer 2006